Montana Public Radio

Dan O'Brien 30 Years After 'The Rites Of Autumn'

Nov 21, 2019

"In this case, you have to realize nature is a tough, tough mother. When you really work in biology you have to leave your human sympathies behind and that’s the most difficult part. The loss of a young peregrine falcon in the big picture is nothing, nothing. But it breaks your heart. And so you just have to steel yourself or those kind of moments, and that book is full of those kind of moments." -- Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien
Credit Jill O'Brien

The following highlight is from a conversation with Dan O'Brien about his book, "The Rites of Autumn: A Falconer's Journey Across the American West." To hear the interview, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast. 

On the lessons learned in writing "The Rites of Autumn."

In this case, you have to realize nature is a tough, tough mother. When you really work in biology you have to leave your human sympathies behind and that’s the most difficult part. The loss of a young peregrine falcon in the big picture is nothing, nothing. But it breaks your heart. And so you just have to steel yourself or those kind of moment, and that book is full of those kind of moments.

I didn’t know it at the time but it became kind of a theme in that book. What I learned from that is that the idea of species-specific restoration is a fool’s errand. It’s not about the individual. It’s about the species, and the species is about the habitat and so if I learned that during that time, and in that book, it was a good lesson. And I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to push that lesson onto other people

About the Book:

Dan O'Brien spent the summer of 1986 in the Rocky Mountains releasing young peregrine falcons on the mountain cliffs. When one of his release sites was raided by a golden eagle, he managed to save a peregrine chick, and decided to make an improbable two-thousand-mile trip with the surviving young falcon, Dolly. From the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, following the autumnal migration of waterfowl, O'Brien taught her to hunt as a wild falcon would, in the hopes of releasing her into the natural world. The Rites of Autumn is the riveting account of their incredible journey.

Dan O'Brien
Credit Jill O'Brien

About the Author:

Dan O'Brien is one of the most powerful literary voices on the Plains. Described by the New York Times as “a writer with a keen and poetic eye…”, his novels include, The Spirit of the Hills, In the Center of the Nation, Brendan Prairie, The Contract Surgeon, The Indian Agent and Stolen Horses. Dan’s memoirs on falconry, The Rites of Autumn and Equinox, are intimate and revealing explorations of his life-long search for wildness on the Great Plains. Dan’s other non-fiction book, Buffalo for the Broken Heart explores the history of his ranch and the conversion from beef to buffalo, was chosen for One Book South Dakota in 2009. Dan’s latest non-fiction book, Wild Idea – Buffalo & Family in a Difficult Land is a sequel to Buffalo for the Broken Heart.

Dan is a two-time winner of the National Endowment for the Arts’ individual artist’s grant, a two-time winner of the Western Heritage Award, and a 2001 recipient of the Bush Creative Arts Fellowship.

In addition to writing, Dan divides his time between working on the ranch, teaching ecology, and writing and serving on the Black Hills branch of The Nature Conservancy.