There is a musician in the house. That sometimes means we have beautiful music coming through the wall. More often it’s scales and arpeggios.
My old son Joseph is practicing again. Hands whizzing up and down the fretboard like creatures with an independent life.
There are two reasons for practicing. The first is to get good; the second is to stay good. You need to develop muscle strength and muscle memory: once you’ve got them you need to keep them. Let go and you start to lose both.
Eddie and I were watching the birds coping with a lively wind: buzzards, marsh harriers, herring and lesser black-backed gulls, and later a pair of red kites. All of them flying when they didn’t really need to.
There seemed to be very little territorial patrolling, pair-bonding formation flying, attacking of rivals, still less any active hunting going on. It all seemed – well a little aimless.
Then, as Eddie and I discussed wind and flying and Frisbees and how he’s getting much better at throwing and catching, I thought of Joe and his eternal arpeggios.
Perhaps these birds were flying for the same reason that Joseph practices the guitar. You need to keep the muscles and the skills at top level. Flying is a learned skill: young birds get better at it. You can observe the improvement in wild birds; a falconer can measure the improvement when training a young bird to hunt.
And perhaps when you have acquired the skill you need to practice it: to test and hone your abilities by riding a big wind, feeling the satisfaction of a tight and economical turn and the exhilaration of a long glide with the wind in your tail.
People are always writing stuff about birds of prey being magnificent and how their flight is both effortless and perfect. Well, it’s practice that makes perfect – an uncountable cluster of notes in a high-speed run down the fretboard, a decisive twisting dive that loses a hundred feet in a second. Lucky people – and as Gary Player said, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.