Saturday, September 21, 2019

A Beautiful, Unusual Book, Part 2

     Last week I was lauding the book H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  What a beautifully written, deeply touching work.  In it, Macdonald details how she came to purchase and then train a goshawk, named Mabel, to hunt and then return to her.  But, really, this book is so much more than that.  It's a profoundly felt, introspective work on how this process of training Mabel helped her through her grief over her father's death.

     Interestingly, Macdonald intersperses her own personal insights with insights into another author's life and work -- T.H. White's Goshawk.  White, I had to be reminded, was the author of The Once and Future King.  He was also a deeply troubled and pitiable character who had difficulty balancing his affection for his goshawk and his own tendencies to be self-centered and cruel.  But the act of training their goshawks, in Macdonald's hands, illuminates the characters of White and of herself.

     In one telling passage about how Macdonald had almost lost herself into complete empathy with her hawk Mabel in order to escape her grief, she writes:
     All the way home on the train I thought 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.  So many of them had been quests inspired by grief or sadness. Some had fixed themselves to the stars of elusive animals.  Some sought snow geese.  Others snow leopards.  Others cleaved to the earth, walked trails, mountains, coasts and glens.  Some sought wildness at a distance, others closer to home.  'Nature in her green, tranquil woods heals and soothes all afflictions,' wrote John Muir.  'Earth hath no sorrows that earth cannot heal.'
     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.   
     Beautiful writing.  Beautiful book.  

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