When I last left you, Gentle Reader, I hadn’t finished talking about the wonders of Scarborough Faire — the yearly Renaissance Festival currently underway outside of Waxahachie, which is about 25 miles south of DFW. This is a great festival to visit. It’s a lot cheaper, admittance-wise, than most amusement parks, and it’s at least as much fun. Especially if you like such things as turtle races and falconry demonstration shows.
Speaking of falconry, the Royal Falconer was giving quite the demonstration about the time we walked in, and I was most impressed.
We sat way in the back, so we couldn’t see everything, but that was okay — the falconer had a tendency to send his birds out over the audience to various spots, to let them go through their paces and show how he could get them to come back to him. Several times, they swooped over our heads or passed right by. Here’s how the stage looked from where we were.
The Royal Falconer is the white-haired fellow standing up there. If you look close, you can see the Queen sitting behind him with her lady-in-waiting. Queenie’s the one in the red cloak. I’ll have a better close-up picture of her (from the Grande Parade) to show you later.
The falconry show was incredible; my sister (who was my boon companion for the day) was as taken by it as I was, and that’s saying something for someone more interested in the Internet and writing stories than in just about anything else. The birds were jessed and hooded, of course, but a bird’s not much use to a falconer if it can’t fly free. After all, the whole point of falconry is to have the raptors take down game birds (like grouse, pheasant, and partridge) and small game animals like rabbits for milord’s dinner. Once it was time for the birds to hunt, the hoods were removed, the jesses released, and the birds sent into the air to hunt.
This falconer had these birds perfectly trained, and they would do everything from come when he called to clamber back to their lairs (behind the little doors in yon castle) when he said, “Go home.” He did show off several hawks and falcons, but he also had an owl or two, and even a black vulture — what we Southerners call a buzzard. Buzzards serve a vital role in the local ecosystem. In fact, you might say we Americans have a kind of symbiotic relationship with them: we provide copious roadkill, and they clean it up for us. So I’ve always respected buzzards — but I didn’t know they could be trained. This one was.
Of course, to me the avian star of the show was the bald eagle they brought out last. Look at this guy.
These guys used to be endangered (mostly because of the use of DDT, which caused egg development problems), but they’re now off the Endangered Species list. And thank goodness. Can you imagine what it would be like to lose these very symbols of our great nation? I’ve had the good luck to see two of these magnificent birds in the wild, once at Lake Livingston here in Texas (where they nest in the winter), and once at a lake in Kansas near the Republican River. The only reason this fellow was in captivity was because he was crippled; in fact, he wasn’t able to do many tricks because of it, and couldn’t really fly. You can’t tell it in the above picture, but most of his left wing is gone. It’s a little more obvious in the picture below, which I thought was rather humorous.
Look at the way he’s looking at the Falconer’s assistant. Incidentally, that’s the Queen there in the background.
After the show we moved on, and what should we find but people offering elephant and camel rides? No, really. I guess it could have happened in medieval England, but it seemed a bit anachronistic (though not as much so as the llama in the Grande Parade, which you can see clearly here). If I recall, llamas are from South America, which was barely known back then…
Llamas always look so poised and interested in things, unlike their cousins the camels, which usually just look pissed off. Now, my pictures of the camel weren’t so hot, but the elephant’s pictures came out very good. I like this one best.
It’s hard to tell, but in the background on the left you can see where the elephant has worn the ground down walking around in a circle. The whole way is strewn with hay, and as the elephant went along, she was constantly picking up hay and stuffing it in her mouth. She was straining her trunk in my direction because a lady was climbing on the fence beside me, trying to give her a peanut or something. She couldn’t quite reach, and the lady kept leaning further and further over the fence. The blond guy on the right finally had to tell her in no uncertain terms to stop it. Incidentally, do you see the pointy thing the guy in the blue is holding in his right hand? That’s called an ankus. It’s traditionally used by mahouts in Southeast Asia to control their elephants. The little point on the end doesn’t really hurt them — elephant hides are tough — but it’s more of a tool to enforce their verbal commands. These guys used them to get the elephants moving around their circle.
I believe the elephant above is an Indian elephant, given the size of the ears. The other one, who was in the back of the enclosure bobbing around like it was jiving (or more likely, scratching its butt on an unseen post somewhere) was an African, I think. Take a look-see yourself.
Well, folks, that’s all we have for today. I’ll wrap it up in Part III. Till then, onward through the fog!
The Scarborough Renaissance Festival is located just outside of Waxahachie, to the south of the DFW metroplex. It’s open rain or shine for eight consecutive weekends from April 5-May 26, 2008, as well as Memorial Day (May 26). Regular admission costs a whopping $19.99 for adults, and $6.50 for kids 5-12 (kids under four are free). In some cases, you can qualify for discount tickets, and of course season tickets are available. For more information, check out their lovely website at http://www.scarboroughrenfest.com/index.html.