helen macdonald

helen macdonald

intro’d to Helen via Maria‘s suggested book read.. h is for hawk..


2015 – BBC News Meet the Author

on animals being caught up in bereavement

i realized i had to turn my gaze upon grief like mabel turned her gaze on the landscape

when you’ve lost someone close to you.. your powers of recall become crystalizing

the book was a settling down .. a good bye to my father…


2015 – @ 5×15 – H is for Hawk

i was a nightmare child… most children have obsessions.. wonderful ways to learn series of objects.. carve world at joints.. have a kind of power over parents..  when i discovered falconry.. that was it

hard to train.. very highly strung.. very nervous.. once tamed.. have to keep taming.. keep reminding them you’re not a monster

we were really good friends.. we used to look up at things.. and then one day.. he was gone…

after he was gone.. i felt the world had blown away.. and i started dreaming every night .. of hawks..

once you lose people.. you start to do things w/o really knowing why…

i started training a hawk…. probably the oldest human/animal relationships..

6 min – hawks always have to be trained from scratch.. and over and over..

learning how to be polite to a bird… they start to see you not as a monster but as a friend..

you go outside because you want to get your hawk used to people.. you want to tame it..

i was incredibly untame by this point., i’d flown to the hawk because the hawk was everything i wanted to be… the hawk was solitary, self possessed… full of what seemed to be kind of rage.. i didn’t want to be human anymore… i spent so much time staring at her to figure out what she was thinking.. i began seeing things through her eyes

i’d walk up and down this walkway every night… lost in grief..

cs lewis... and grief

some people didn’t see me at all.. the ones that did.. tended to be outsiders…

9 min – falconry is not just about that relationship.. but about loss and return…  when you let it go free.. there’s nothing to stop it going back to the world except the lines you’ve built.. love between you and the bird

ironic.. trying to fly as far from death as i could with a bird that represents death/ferocity…

then i took her out hunting and suddenly something changed.. i watched her fly and the world turned into something very different… the ontology of the countryside became very different.. very particular.. i felt inside it…

i was in a bad way – i wasn’t acknowledging my grief… i was flying from it.. becoming this hawk in order to escape it.. i didn’t think about people.. one of my regrets… i neglected my mom and brother.. i let them be.. that was a bad thing to have done..

11 min –  i started to wake up with my face completely wet… i started to cry in my sleep.. i radically separated myself from any society.. i was becoming a hawk…

12 min – i’d read all those books that said when you were grieving you should run to nature.. i took it to the extreme…

basically a balancing act between the wild and the tame.. too wild… will fly away.. too tame.. won’t be a hawk..

14 min – i’d become more hawk than human.. went to dr.. for depression

15 min – mabel taught me that we continually use nature as a mirror of ourselves.. what made mabel extraordinary.. is that she was not human.. so we honored that partnership between species.. she didn’t accompany through a year of grief… she really taught me how to be a person


h is for hawk


p 5

it’s (forest) not an untouched wilderness like a mountaintop, but a ramshackle wildness in which people and the land have conspired to strangeness… the qualities of goshawks were forgotten with the advent of the land enclosure, which limited the ability of ordinary folk to fly hawks, and the advent of accurate firearms that made shooting,rather than falconry, high fashion

p 6

elusive, spectacular, utterly at home, the fact of thee british goshawks makes me happy. their existence gives the lie to the thought that the wild is always something untouched by human hearts and hands. the wild can be human work.

p 8

he explained patience. he said it was the most important thing of all to remember, this: that ..

..when you wanted to see something very badly, sometimes you had to stay still, stay in the same place, remember how much you wanted to see it,

..and be patient.

never nothing going on… still\ness.. quiet enough.. to see

so very resonating.. esp now.. unshiny seems to unshiny at times. unproductivity so unmeasurable..

patient for that mechanism (for that person).. so we can all move on together..

p 10

both of us.. my brother too, all of us were clinging to a world already gone

let go of the things you have to cling to.. ness

p 11

here’s a word. bereavement. or , bereaved. bereft. it’s from an old english bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’. robbed. seized. it happens to everyone but you feel it alone. shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try…. so the thing is, you all share the same kind of pain, exactly the same, but you’re too busy experiencing total agony to feel anything other than completely alone.

p 13

planes still landed, cars still drove, people still shopped and talked and worked. none of these things made any sense at all. for weeks i felt i was made of dully burning metal.

p 14

The kind of madness I had was different. It was quiet, and very, very dangerous. It was a madness designed to keep me sane.

mental illness ness

the problem was that it had nothing to work with. there was no partner, no children, no home.

p 15

I read that after denial comes grief. Or anger. Or guilt. I remember worrying about which stage I was at. I wanted to taxonomise the process, order it, make it sensible. But there was no sense, and I didn’t recognise any of these emotions at all

cs lewis... and grief

i was ravenous for material, for love, for anything to stop the loss, and my mind had no compunction (feeling of guilt) in attempting to recruit anyone, anything, to assist.

p 20

of all living creatures she is the most perfect embodiment of power, speed and grace – gilbert blaine 1936

things not easy to come by unless you’re wealthy or well connected.. – falconry

p 21

it’s simple. if you want a well behaved goshawk, you just have to do one thing. give em the opportunity to kill things. kill as much as possible. murder sorts them out.. (a falconer)

something else was there, something standing next to me that i couldn’t touch or see, a thing a fraction of a millimetre from my skin, something vastly wrong, making infinite the distance between me and all the familiar objects in my house. (on thinking i was back to normal but i wasn’t)

p 25

i remember a teacher showing us photos of the cave painting at lascaux and explaining that no one knew why prehistoric people drew these animals. i was indignant. i knew exactly why, but at that age (6?) was at a loss to put my intuition into words that made sense even to me.

p 26

what i was doing wasn’t just educating myself i the nuts and bolts of hawk-training: i was unconsciously soaking up the assumption of an imperial elite. i lived in a world where english peregrines always outflew foreign hawks, whose landscapes were grouse moors and manor houses, where women didn’t exist. these mens were kindred spirits. i felt i was one of them, one of the elect.

p 27

she was beautiful; taut with antipathy (deep seating feeling of dislike); everything a child feels when angry and silenced.

p 30

marianne moore: the cure for loneliness is solitude…. t.h. white was one of the loneliest men alive

p 31

that older, wiser me decided that white’s admissions of ignorance were brave rather than stupid. but i was still angry with him…. i hated what he had made of them. i didn’t thank falconry was a war, and i knew hawks weren’t monsters. that small girl lying crossly on her bed was still cross.

p 34

he (white) was terribly afraid… he was twenty-nine, had been a schoolmaster at stowe for five yrs and a writer for seven, but he had been afraid as long as he could remember. ‘because i am afraid of things, of being hurt, and death, i have to attempt them,’ he’d explained in a book of sporting essays..

p 36

and when i trained my own hawk a little spaced opened, like a window through leaves, onto this other life, in which was a man who was hurt, and a hawk who was being hurt, and i saw them both more clearly. like white i wanted to cut loose from the world, and i shared, too, his desire to escape to the wild, a desire that can rip away all human softness and leave you stranded in a world of savage, courteous despair.

when i trained my hawk i was having a quiet conversation, of sorts, with the deeds and works of a long-dead man who was suspicious, morose, determined to despair. a man whose life disturbed me. but a man, to, who loved nature, who found it surprising, bewitching and endlessly novel.

p 37

in england have my bones white wrote one of saddest sentences i have ever read: ‘falling in love is desolating experience, but not when it is with a countryside.’ he could not imagine a human love returned he had to displace his desire onto the landscape, that great blank green field that cannot love you back, but cannot hurt you either…

When White took up his position at Stowe in 1932 he was already expert at hiding who he was. For years he’d lived by the maxim Henry Green put so beautifully in his public-school memoir Pack My Bag: ‘The safest way to avoid trouble if one may not be going to fit is to take as great a part as possible in what is going on.’ To gain approval, to avoid trouble, he had to mirror what was around him: it was how he had tried to win love from his mother as a child. It was a life of perpetual disguise.

perpetuate\ing the broken feedback loop of not us ness

p 38

countryside wasn’t just something that was safe for whete to love: it was a love that was safe to write about. it took me a long time to realise how many of our classic books on animals were by gay writers who wrote of their relationships with animals in lieu of human loves of which they could not speak

p 39

apart from .. brownie… he insisted his animals were never pets: for pets were ‘almost always fatal, to oneself or to them.

they are ruined by their owners the same way that ‘mothers ruin their children, choke them like ivy’. pets mean dependency and he had a terror of it…

on independence from stella benson: one could not say, watching a hawk: ‘i ought perhaps to do this for him’ therefore, not only is he safe from me, but i am safe from him.

p 40

on snakes – he loved them because they were misunderstood, maligned, and ‘inevitably themselves’: they were versions of the self he aspired to be, just like the characters he called to life in his books: merlyn the perfect teacher; the wart, the orphan who was born to be king and sir lancelot the ill-made knight whose character white made his own.

white always took great pains to be gentle precisely because he wanted to be cruel. it was why he never beat his pupils at stowe.


the savagery of the hounds, he wrote, was deep0rooted and terrible, but rang true, so that ti was not horrible like that of the human… a way out of his conundrum..by skilfully training a hunting animal…. by closely associating with it, by identifying with it, you might be allowed to experience all your vital, sincere desires, even your most bloodthirsty ones, in total innocence. you could be true to yourself.


p 42

white.. wrote that the war was the fault of the ‘masters of men, everywhere, who subconsciously thrust other into suffering in order to advance their own powers’.

his fear of war meshed darkly w/all his other fears. he’d long had nightmares of bombs and poison gas…. he’d published gone to ground… in which foxhunters hiding in an underground bunker told each other stories as gas-bombs and incendiaries fell from the sky to obliterate the whole nervous, broken thing that was civilisation. civilisation was over. it was pointless. modernity was bunk, and danger, and politics, and posturing, and it was going to lead to the end of everything. he needed to run.

there was a sentence which suddenly struck fire from the mind he (white) wrote.. the sentence was… she reverted to a feral state… ferocious and free.. –

p 54

gosses are nervous, highly-strung birds and it takes a long time to convince them you’re not the enemy. Nervousness, of course, isn’t quite the right word: it’s simply that they have jacked-up nervous systems in which nerve pathways from the eyes and ears to the motor neurons that control their muscles have only minor links with associated neurons in the brain. Goshawks are nervous because they live life ten times faster than we do, and they react to stimuli literally without thinking

humans as well. no?

p 59

no wonder he felt so deeply for the hawk. the boy had been torn from the only place he’d ever felt was home and sent away to be educated in a world of exactint bureaucratic cruelty. it was a betrayal that marked white for ever.. and it would also mark his hawk. (beatings et al)

p 65

what i’m doing is concentrating very hard on the process of not being there. here’s on thing i know from years of training hawks: one of the things you must learn to do is become invisible…..

hawks aren’t social.. the understand neither coercion nor punishment. the only way to tame them is through positive reinforcement with gifts of food.

? that’s not coercion..?

i thought once, that you did it (cross gulf from fear to food) by being infinitely patient but no: it is more than that. you must become invisible.

p 108

He nods, and I do too, and in some wonder, because I am beginning to see that for some people a hawk on the hand of a stranger urges confession, urges confidences, lets you speak words about hope and home and heart. And I realise, too, that in all my days of walking with Mabel the only people who have come up and spoken to us have been outsiders: children, teenage goths, homeless people, overseas students, travelers, drunks, people on holiday. ‘We are outsiders now, Mabel,’ I say, and the thought is not unpleasant…

But I feel ashamed of my nation’s reticence. Its desire to keep walking, to move on, not to comment, not to interrogate, not to take any interest in something peculiar, unusual, in anything that isn’t entirely normal.

p 110

i look at mabel. she looks at me. so much of what she means is made of people. for thousands of years hawks like her have been caught and trapped and brought into people’s houses. but unlike other animals that have lived in such close proximity to man, they have never been domesticated.  it’s made them a powerful symbol of wildness … and too, of things that need to be mastered and tamed.


p 111

no one had ever told me that goshawks played.

p 114

i did not feel like that any more. i was not training a hawk because i wished to feel special. i did not want the hawk to make me feel i was striding righteously across the lands of my long lost ancestors. i had no use for history, no use for time at all. i was training the hawk to make it all disappear.

p 120

(on turning down offer to go to berlin uni) – but i was not sorry, and they were not the reasons for my refusal. i can’t go to berlin in december, id thought, appalled. i have a hawk to fly. ambitions, lifeplans: these were for other people. i could no more imagine the future than a hawk could i didn’t need a career. i didn’t want one.

p 122

concentrate on why you’re here, i tell myself. you have a hawk to fly. every since my father died i’d had these bouts of derealisation, strange episodes where the world became unrecognisable. it will pass.

hawking waistcoats, lie those of fishermen or photographers, are hardly clothes at all, just pockets hung in rows.

p 124

when he was small his mother had pleaded with him that he should ‘grow up a big brave ad honourable man’ and it had conditioned him to fear the reverse. ‘i felt myself incapable of being any of these noble things’, he’d written

p 126

i was the invisible girl; someone tailor-made for a secret life.

p 127

we carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost.

sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost, and sometimes we take it upon ourselves to burn them to ashes…

the book is called – you can’t keep a good man down… prisonface is terrified of life; he is a chameleon, a mirror, existing only through his reflection in the eyes of others. he loses his job at the school…. the book is a vicious satire on the educational system and teh cult of the english gentleman, but it is also a psychological exorcism, a caustic narrative written to burn away his former life.

p 128

the man is white’s vision of his future self: a white freed, a white triumphant, a man who lectures prisonface, over several pages, on the failings of the school system: ‘to anybody who has spent two months training a goshawk, knowing that it will be fatal even to give the creature even a cross look,’ the man says, ‘it seems very extraordinary that the complex psychology of a human being can be taught with a stick.’

whoa. taught..

p 129

white finished writing the speech that is perhaps the least cruel, the most humane in the whole book. he is speaking to his past self with pity and compassion. ‘you went back to school voluntarily from the uni because you sill need to go to school, because there was something still to find. you went back under the hen’s wing for safety, because you were still too small a chicken, but also in search of something: you want the talisman that would make you fit to leave.’….what am i searching for.. what you will only know when you find it.. is it wisdom or manhood.. perhaps it is love.

p 133

there was nothing that was such a slave to my grieving heart as the hawk returning.

i felt incomplete unless the hawk was sitting on my hand: we were parts of each other.

p 138

i began to think that what made the hawk flinch from me was the same thing that had driven away the man i’d fallen for after my father’s death. think that there was something deeply wrong about me, something vile that only he and the hawk could see.

p 139

i stuck a watery smile on my face and turned my head towards the window, desperately trying to remember how to have a conversation.

p 140

i was as clumsy as i had been as a child. but when i was busy with mabel i was never clumsy. the world with the hawk in it was insulated from harm, and in that world i was exactly aware of all the edges of my skin.

p 143

being a novice is safe. when you are learning how to do something, you do not have to worry about whether or not you are good at it. but when you have done something, have learned how to do it, you are not safe any more. being an expert opens you up to judgment.

p 157

When I was an undergraduate we were told that history had ended, and we all believed it. When the Berlin Wall fell, what history was made of was over. No more Cold War. No more wars. And yet here it was, and is, and all of it falling apart. Endings. Worlds dissolving. Weather systems, banking systems, the careful plans of municipal gardeners. Families, hearts, lives. Distant wars and small trees wrenched in two. I look at the line of people and all their fierce possessiveness and all their hidden terror at the thought that their bulwarks against death might be lost. Money. Security. Knots and lines. The ends of things. And it is sitting there with a cooling coffee that I think seriously for the first time about what I am doing.

what i am going to do with the hawk. kill things. make death.

and the vocab i’d learned from the books distanced me from death. trained hawks didn’t catch animals. they caught quarry. the caught game. what an extraordinary term. game. i sat quietly watching the line and wondered.

p 158

The hawk was a fire that burned my hurts away. There could be no regret or mourning in her. No past or future. She lived in the present only, and that was my refuge. My flight from death was on her barred and beating wings. But I had forgotten that the puzzle that was death was caught up in the hawk, and I was caught up in it too

p 160

after talking of white’s painful childhood..

What had he done? He had taken something wild and free, something innocent and full of life, and fought with it. The cost of his mastery would be to reduce it to a biddable, broken-feathered, dull-eyed shadow of the bird it was meant to be.

white saw that the hawk was himself, a bird that was a ‘youth who had been maddened by every kind of clumsiness, privation (state in which things essential for wellbeing.. ie: food warmth .. are scarce/lacking), and persecution.

p 168

white’s constant stroking had taken the waterproofing oil from his feathers..

p 169

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.

p 170

‘..death will be like this, something too vast to hurt much or perhaps even to upset me.’ – white

p 174

at its heart was a willed loss of control. you pour your heart, your skill, your very soul, into a thing – into training a hawk, learning the form in racing or the numbers in cards – then relinquish control over it.

you feel safe because you are entirely at the world’s mercy. it is a rush. you lose yourself in it. and so you run towards those little shots of fate, where the world turns. that is the lure: that is why we lose ourselves, when powerless from hurt and grief in drugs or gambling or drink; in addictions that collar the broken should and shake it like a dog. i had found my addiction on that day out with mabel. it was as ruinous, in a away, as if i’d taken a needle and shot myself with heroin. i had taken flight to a place from which i didn’t want to ever return.

p 178

i think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. and how they are disappearing – not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. the rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. eventually rarity is all they are made of.

ray & wild ness

i know that some of my friends see my keeping a hawk as morally suspect, but i couldn’t love or understand hawks as much as i do if i’d only ever seen them on screens. i’ve made a hawk part of a human life, and a human life part of a hawk’s, and it has made the hawk a million times more complicated and full of wonder to me.

p 181

i look at the hawk, the pheasant the hawk. and everything changes. the hawk stops being a thing of violent death. she becomes a child. it shakes me to he core she is a child. a baby hawk that’s just worked out who she is. what she’s for. i reach down and start,  unconsciously as a mother helping  a child with her dinner, plucking the pheasant with the hawk. for the hawk….. for the pheasant, for the hawk, for dad and for all his patience, for that little girl who stood by a fence and waited for the hawks to come.

p 184

out with the hawk i didn’t need a home… i could not hear my mother’s pain. i could not feel my own.

p 190

he (white) believed that war came from society’s repression of innate human urges

p 192

he (white hiding from poachers) has become invisible. it is something like a miracle. the suffering of his body is as naught to the joy of being free from the pain of being seen. 

p 193

i couldn’t let that suffering happen. hunting makes you animal, but the death of an animal makes you human.

p 194

there’s no better phrase than the old one to describe it: you have to harden your heart. i learned that hardening the heart was not the same as not caring.

p 196

The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.

cs lewis... and grief

p 197

I’d never believed in Baker’s falcons, because I’d met real ones before I’d ever read his book: cheerful, friendly falconer’s birds that preened on suburban lawns. But most of my bird-loving friends read Baker’s book before they ever saw a live one, and now they can’t see real peregrines without them conjuring distance, extinction and death. Wild things are made from human histories.

sounds like Ed.. like manufacturing consent ness

p 201

desire that had never flowered in his courting of the nurse were unleashed in a wave of darkness.

p 203

two months ago she was a bomb-proof, crowdproof goshawk. but goshawks are’t like other hawks: they need constant carriage to stay tame. now we’re living in the empty suburbs we’ve not seen people for weeks. she’s forgotten how not to be scared of people. and so have i. my teeth are clenched so tight in the face of the crowds i feel pain blossoming up my jaw.

p 205

the apples cheer me. the stalls have too. i decide the fair is a wonderful thing. i wander back to my chair, and as mabel relaxes, so do i….

it strikes me.. how british falconry has changed… back then.. secretive, aristocratic sport of officers and gentlemen. .. here we are now in all our variousness… a carpenter ex-biker, a zookeeper ex-soldier, two other zookeepers, and electrician and erstwhile historian…. i swig from a bottle of cider and this company is suddenly all i’d ever wished for.

finding tribe ness

I know how it feels to hold onto a creature who wants to be somewhere else.

let go of the things you have to cling to.. ness

p 206

the world around her slows. she seems to be moving at precisely the right speed.. everything around her… slows down as if they’re moving through liquid….

barry lopez: called ‘the conversation of death’ something he saw in the exchange of glances between caribou and hunting wolves, a wordless negotiation that ends up with them working out whether they will become hunter and hunted, or passers0by……. these are the rabbits she has been conversing with..

p 208

the conversation of death. the sentence kept coming to mind… i didn’t hear what it was saying. things were going wrong. very wrong….. something was wrong with me. it wasn’t just a hawk inflicted injury. i was becoming vastly anxious….. i began to believe the only explanation was a terminal disease.

p 209

You could explain what it was like by running to books and papers. You could read Freud, you could read Klein. You could read any number of theories about attachment and loss and grief. But those kinds of explanations come from a world the hawk wasn’t in. They aren’t any help. They are like explaining how it feels to be in love by waving an MRI scan of a lovestruck brain. You have to look in different places.

(hunters dressing in deer skin) – transformations very dangerous, because they can make you lose sight of your ‘original species identity and undergo and invisible metamorphosis’. turing into an animal can imperil the human soul….that was what it was like. i’d turned myself int a hawk.. nervous, et al..


i had assumed – in my imagination… her alien perspective, her inhuman understanding of the world… it brought something akin to madness, and i did not understand what i had done. when i was small i’d thought turning int a hawk would be a magical thing what i’d read in the sword in the stone encouraged me to think it, too, as a good and instructive thing; a lesson in life for the cild who would be king. but now the lesson was killing me. it was not at all the same.

p 215

i left (funeral) w/a song in my hear. i felt my family had expanded by about two hundred….. all the way home o the train i though of dad and the terrible mistake i had made. i’d thought that to heal my great hurt, i should flee to the wild. it was what people did. the nature books i’d read told me so.. now i knew this for what it was: a beguiling but dangerous lie. i was furious with myself and my own unconscious certainty that this was the cure i needed. hands are for other human hands to hold. they should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks. and the wild is not a panacea for the human soul; too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.

i was furious with myself when i realised that first great error on the train. but this second realisation brought self-hatred. i’d been so blind, so miserable, i’d not seen my hawk was miserable too. i’d not seen her at all.

.. i’d recruited him to serve my loss, made him everything i needed no wonder he had run away.

p 217

melanie klein wrote that children go through states of mind comparable to mourning, and that this early mourning is revived whenever grief is experienced in later life.

p 219

They are pathetic dreams. I don’t need an analyst to explain them. I know now that I’m not trusting anyone or anything any more. And that it is hard to live for long periods without trusting anyone or anything. It’s like living without sleep; eventually it will kill you.


you don’t play with goshawks. it’s not what people do. but i have had to , to somehow leaven the chill. because other people w/goshawks have people too. for them their goshawks are their little splinter of wildness, their balance to domesticity; out in the woods with the hawk, other falconers get in touch with their solitudinous, bloody souls. but then they come home and have dinner, watch tv, play with their kids, sleep with their partner, wake, make tea, go to work. you need both sides, as they say… i don’t have both sides. i only have wildness. and i don’t need wildness any more. i’m not stifled by domesticity. i have none. …. human hands are for holding other hands. human arms are for holding other humans close....

oh my heart.

everything is so damn mysterious…i’m a roadside phenomenon. i am death to community. i am missing the point…..

p 221

i love mabel but what passes between us is not human.

there is a kind of coldness that allows interrogators to put cloth over the mouths of men and pour water into their lungs, and lets them believe this is not torture. what you do to your heart. you stand apart from yourself, as if your souls could be a migrant beast too, standing some way away from the horror, and looking fixedly at the sky.

he (dr she went to see for depression) hands me a multiple-choice questionnaire. this strkes me as grimly funny. i sit in front of it for a very long while fiddling with the pen, worrying that i’m not getting the answers right. when it is finished it is hard to give it back: i’m convinced i’ve done it wrong. i don’t cry. i hand him the piece of paper and he takes it, turns it over and regards it for a while.

so many oh my s .

i sob right through twenty minutes of delicate discussion, and agree to try a course of antidepressants… he is a good doctor.

an hour later i’m walking down the street with a white paper bag in my hand. it weighs almost nothing. he says it will make things better. which is ridiculous.

p 223

this ability of hawks to cross borders that humans cannot is a thing far older than celtic myth, older than….

p 239

give me a pencil ad paper now and ask me to draw a map of the fields i roamed about when i was small, and i cannot do it. but change the question, and ask me to list what was there and i can fill pages.

p 245

whit’e imagined future self. merlyn was born at the wrong end of time. he must ‘live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forwards from behind.’……being merlyn was white’s dream, and it makes the sword and the stone not just a work of fiction, but a prophecy… for a little boy who stood in front of a toy castle convinced he would be killed, being merlyn is the best dream of all. he will wait, he will endure, and one day he will be able to stop the awful violence before it ever started.

p 247

but he (erin) survived the gloom, and we became friends. proper friends. the kind people say you only make once, twice in a life….

but we do not need her system of land management..

p 251

i don’t want to go back, i think. i had fled from community. at my father’s memorial i’d remembered it existed. now i am back in it, in the middle of a community, in the middle of a family home, and i do not want to leave. this place is fixing my broken heart. i can feel it mending, and i’m fearful of what will happen when i’m gone. i’m not sure how i will cope back in england, back in my jobless, hopeless, lonely old town.

p 252

erin shouts, and we’re both of us children again, delighted at what we have made (burning xmas tree) and fearful of disaster

p 263

old man saying… before all immigrants came…. i’m sad, and angry, and fired up as hell. i wish that we would not fight for landscapes that remind us of who we think we are. i wish we would fight, instead, for landscapes buzzing and glowing with life in all its variousness…

p 264

tupolev 104 takes off and know it will cross borders  you cannot cross except in your imagination

p 265

and the first time i understood the shape of my grief. i could feel exactly how big it was. it was the strangest feeling, like holding something the size of a mountain in my arms you have to be patient, he had said. if you want to see something very much, you have to be patient and wait. there was no patience in my waiting, but time had passed all the same, and worked its careful magic. and now, holding the card in my hands and feeling its edges, all the grief had turned into something different. it was simply love. i tucked the card back into the bookshelf. ‘love you to, dad,’ i whispered.

p 272

in my time with mabel i’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not. and i have learned, too, the danger that comes in mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it. goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities. their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all.


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Helen Macdonald is an English writer, naturalist, and an Affiliated Research Scholar at the University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science.[1][2] She is best known as the author of H is for Hawk, which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book Award.[4]