From the New York Times bestselling author of H is for Hawk and winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction, comes a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world.
Animals don’t exist in order 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.
In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep.
Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.
By one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers, Vesper Flights is a captivating and foundational book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make sense of the world around us.
English naturalist Macdonald (H Is for Hawk) offers meditations on the natural world and its inhabitants in an inviting collection of 41 new and previously published essays that are infused with wonder, nostalgia, and melancholy. Macdonald ruminates on the pleasures of watching animals in "Wicken," and recalls encounters with fierce creatures in "Nothing Like a Pig," about wild boars, and in "Hares," about boxing hares "magical harbingers of spring" that are increasingly rare in Britain. She reflects on her childhood in "Nests," in which she recalls collecting detritus like seeds and pinecones, and in "Tekels Park," about roaming a meadow in the 1970s that's since been sold to developers. Her appreciation of birds is displayed in essays including "A Cuckoo in the House," which details how cuckoos trick other birds into sheltering them, and the title essay, about the flight patterns of "magical" swifts. The message throughout is clear: the world humans enjoy today may not be around tomorrow, so it should not be taken for granted. This will inspire readers to get outside.
The first book I read by Helen MacDonald was her novel, H is for Hawk. I bought the book because it was about a bird. Reading the review, I thought it was going to be all mushy and nostalgic because it was written in response to her father’s death. I was surprised. It was anything but mushy. It put the word death into my mouth. I thought when I finished reading the book that she was not finished with writing what she was feeling and experiencing from the training of the hawk and her father’s passing. So I read everything she wrote that I could find. The New York Times essays I taught to my students. I collected as many of her words and insights as I could. This book, Vespers Flight has some of those essays included but as the book progresses, so do her realizations about life, about death and about H is for Hawk. This is more than a beautiful book. It is a gentle woman who does not take your hand, just walks with you and shares her understanding of what she sees with you to weave your thoughts into when they fit naturally.