Maria’s staff pick: ‘H is for Hawk’

by Clint McKnight

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald

Imagine standing in a rolling, grassy English landscape, a world of green hills receding into the purple distance, white clouds racing across the sky. And on the gloved fist raised at your side, a fierce and feathered predator: a goshawk!

In this exceptional true story of heartbreak and resilience, author Helen Macdonald tells the unlikely story of how she came to deal with the grief over her father’s sudden death. Finding a match for her pain in the fierce independence of a sharp-clawed bird of prey, Macdonald challenges herself to master both the bird and her crushed spirit.

Macdonald finds inspiration for her task in the writings of T.H. White, whose The Goshawk chronicles his own efforts to train a bird particularly notorious among falconers. Macdonald recognizes that White, too, is on a difficult emotional journey. While his traditional training techniques would be considered harsh and even cruel today, Macdonald’s connection with the goshawk is gentler. This produces a unique kind of nature writing, for it offers an intimate window into the mind and behavior of as wild a creature as surely exists, and dangles the tantalizing possibility of a relationship with the beast.

Durangoans will understand this compulsion (for that’s what it becomes to Macdonald). For so many of us, the desire to get into the wild, and become a part of it in some way – even for a moment when something fundamental and awesome is revealed – is why we are here.

H is for Hawk has been showered with critical acclaim and literary awards, but it’s not for everyone; no book is. This soaring memoir should resonate, however, with anyone who’s found emotional redemption in wild places, among wild hearts.

— Clint McKnight

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