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Hawks in London

And now for something completely different: Londres. Just emerging from the Tube feels, after Paris, like an entry into anarchy. There is so much more freedom and looseness here. Wonderful madness.

I am staying, for the last time, with patient young friends who have a two-year old daughter Marina with whom I madly in love. One day she will speak French like her father, Spanish like her mother and English because she lives in London.

It is cold and wet. No surprise. Out into the day – to the theatre, to walk.

On the Eurostar yesterday, I finished “Hawk” by Helen Macdonald – a beautiful book, very intense. At times, I got sick of hearing about hawking and the ripping apart of small animals. But now I see hawks everywhere in old paintings and understand much more about what they mean. Went yesterday to the fantastic Wallace Collection near my friends here – and it’s FULL of paintings of hawks and dead animals. (It’s also full of the most incredible treasure – a Velasquez, a ton of Rembrandts, a Poussin and a Claude, Titians – incredible, free, casual, just there…)

Wanted to share with you a few passages from Macdonald’s book to give you the flavour – her intensity, the flow of her prose, the force of her details, as she deals with the sudden death of her beloved father by taking on a goshawk. Gos is the goshawk trained and lost by the writer T. H. White, whose life she explores, and Mabel is her own goshawk. Exquisite.

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
213 So I sat in the stubble, woozily
glorying at the beauty of it all. The mist rising in the hollows. Flocks of
golden plover pouring over in sheaves. The way the bluish new rapeseed leaves
contrasted with the vertical straw of the stubble at my feet. The glow of the
lost sun beneath the ridge. Crickets beginning to sing. Rooks on their way to
roost passing over us in moving constellations of small black stars.
220 Gos was still out there in the forest,
the dark forest to which all things lost must go. I’d wanted to slip across the
borders of this world into that wood and bring back the hawk White lost. Some
part of me that was very small and old had known this, some part of me that
didn’t work according to the everyday rules of the world but with the logic of
myths and dreams. And that part of me had hoped, too, that somewhere in that
other world was my father. His death had been so sudden. There had been no time
to prepare for it, no sense in it happening at all. He could only be lost. He
was out there, still, somewhere out there in that tangled wood with all the
rest of the lost and dead. I know now what those dreams in spring had meant,
the ones of a hawk slipping through a rent in the air into another world. I’d
wanted to fly with the hawk to find my father; find him and bring him home.

242 It’s turned cold: cold so that saucers of
ice lie in the mud, blank and crazed as antique porcelain. Cold so that hedges
are alive with Baltic blackbirds; so cold that each breath hangs like parcelled
seafog in the air. The blue sky rings with it, and the bell on Mabel’s tail is
dimmed with condensation. Cold, cold, cold. My feet crack the ice in the mud as
I trudge uphill. And because the squeaks and grinding harmonics of fracturing ice
sound to Mabel like a wounded animal, every step I take is met with a
convulsive clench of her toes. Where the world isn’t white with frost, it’s
striped green and brown in strong sunlight, so that land is particoloured and
snapping backwards to dawn and forwards to dusk. The days, now, are a bare six
hours long.



2 Responses to “Hawks in London”

  1. theresa says:

    I loved this book, in part because it took me somewhere completely new. I see hawks quite often, but wild ones (mostly red-leggeds) but the lore, the training, the secondary story of TH White and Gos — well, strange, and often strangely beautiful, and bloody in more ways than one.

  2. theresa says:

    Oops. I meant "red-tailed" — those are the ones I see frequently here. And sometimes peregrines

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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