Monday, May 26, 2008

Eagles, Owls, Vultures, and Cricket(s)

Today was a "bank holiday" in England. These seem to be invented so that Brits never have to go more than a month without a vacation day--a system sort of half-way between the States' workaholism and France's (admirable) habit of keeping the working year to about 120 days! Anyway, we were able to join an impromptu crew of folks from York Evangelical Church who convoyed out to Ripley, a little village west of York, home to Ripley Castle. Here are just a few highlights of a fun day:
Castle Ripley is one of the dozens and dozens of "stately homes" that one finds all over England (with a number here in Yorkshire). They often date back centuries (Castle Ripley dates back 700 years), testament to a long legacy of aristocracy in Britain. They often have expansive grounds with stunning gardens and lakes, great for picnics and strolls. And some--like Ripley--still have families living in them. Deanna was lamenting today that we don't have anything like this back home to enjoy. (Yeah, just one of the effects of that nasty little thing called, the American Revolution! This is why Ruskin said he would never visit America: he couldn't go to a country that had not castles.)

Castle Ripley had a special treat today: a display and demonstration of birds of prey, including eagles, vultures, owls, and hawks. It brought to mind the "falconeries" that would have often been part of such stately homes.
The trainer was an absolutely charming guy (Alastair remarked that this was a guy who had found his true calling in life and just exuded joy). He explained how the birds navigated wind and currents, and then set them to flight. It was amazing how he could communicate with the birds in the most subtle ways.This picture doesn't do it justice, but we were seated just about 10 feet from the birds, and seeing them take flight was absolutely incredible. First, they are massive; this vulture had a wing span of probably 7 feet. You could just feel it pump the air in the first couple of strokes, hunting for a wind or current that would lift it without effort. It was a particularly windy day, with swirling currents around the lake, so it was fascinating to watch the birds navigate these winds. And then seeing them come back in: often they would climb on a current to just over the take-off area, then fold in their wings like an F-16 fighter jet, diving to the earth, pulling up just before the trainer. Amazing.

After exploring the castle grounds, we made our way for Ripley's "world famous ice cream." Ice cream over here is creamier, and not as sweet; a welcome treat.

And then the day ended with an impromptu game of cricket (the Jakemans, being Englishmen of good stock, always have cricket equipment in the "boot" of their car!). The kids did great defending their wickets, bowling the ball, etc.

No comments: