Vesper Flights


Helen McDonald's memoir H is for Hawk, about her goshawk, Mabel, was one of my personal books of the year. Vesper Flights, a collection of her essays, doesn't pack quite the same emotional punch, but is still a beautiful, meditative and moving read.

The essays are mostly grounded in nature, but range over a multitude of topics: loss and grief, refugees, climate change, freedom, headaches, mushrooms. Pre-pandemic, she writes of how observing urban falcons can transport us 'away' -- in this case, from personal grief; but as members of the 367 Collins St falcon-watching community can attest, observing our own peregrine family was also a welcome distraction from the monotony of Melbourne's Covid lockdown. 

Again and again, McDonald returns to the themes of close, thoughtful observation and what it can teach us, and to the uses of imagination. She urges us not to be seduced into thinking that animals are just like us, nor to believe that we can be just like animals, but to try to grasp and appreciate them in their own unique strangeness, and above all to recognise that the natural world is there with us, but not FOR us, to try to resist centring their lives on ourselves.

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