Vesper Flights is the new book by the author of H is for Hawk, which has been on my list for ages. I’m very grateful to Net-Galley and the publishers, Random House Jonathan Cape, for the opportunity of a pre-release copy.
It turns out to be a very personal read, since Helen Macdonald lives in Suffolk, and many of her birding and wildlife experiences are in places I know. On several occasions I identified both where she was (to within a few hundred metres) and what she was going to talk about from the first description e.g. ‘the sun set over the Kings Forest’. Yes, I too have gone nightjar and glow-worm hunting there.
This made me nostalgic for my old home patch… but I just have to get out and explore my new home patch more extensively, and add new wild experiences to my memories.
From the internationally acclaimed author of H is for Hawk comes Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world. In Vesper Flights Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved pieces, along with new essays on topics and stories ranging from nostalgia and science fiction to the true account of a refugee’s flight to the UK. Her pieces ranges from accounts of swan upping on the Thames to watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary to seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, what we do when we watch wildlife and why.
This is a book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make the world around us, by one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers.[goodreads]
Helen Macdonald writes with passion and soul. She can find words I’d never dream of to describe a deer magically appearing through the mist in a woodland, or to handle some violent and blood-thirsty act. She puts joy into her words, and brings out the compassion and horror connected with the darker side of life.
Through this series of articles and vignettes written for various publications over the years, and possibly some that are special for this, she provides a tender snapshot of the dichotomy of English life the late 20-teens. The divisions brought about by the Brexit referendum were only to get worse, but this sets some of the cultural issues relating to wildlife, travel and the state of the environment into context. If anything, it gave me a certain nostalgia for the time before us Brits descended into a world of complete madness.
Reading about wildlife is often uplifting. MacDonald gives us plenty of joyous occasions, not least when she releases a rescued baby swift into the wild. After a heart-stopping moment it flies off, to the cheers of the local cricket teams, who stopped play to watch. But she also gives us plenty to mull over, not least the plight of refugees, who could be aiding us in all the areas we urgently most need professional input. These people are stuck in detention centres that are worse than prisons, with no end to their sentence in sight. There is a petition, doing the social media rounds, to change the law to allow these skilled workers to resume their lives in places we need them. Reading this article has made me share the information as much as I share climate change initiatives.
Some of the pieces are enjoyable, some surprising, most are educational, if you want to learn something to take away into your life. But above all, they are of our time, of the state of our world, and we would do well to take Ms MacDonald’s words and turn them into our own actions. Vesper Flights is a remarkable book. Buy it!VESPER FLIGHTS Animals don’t exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves. #vesperflights by Helen Macdonald #netgalley @vintagebooks… Click To Tweet