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Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald is very aptly titled The book of personal essays should be considered as the author s personal flights of memories and experiences I thoroughly enjoyed reading H is for Hawk and although Vesper Flights is a very different type of book, it is extremely interesting I wish the book had photographs of the places and the themes of the essays because it would be a perfect display or coffee table book The writing is filled with emotion and the careful thought of on Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald is very aptly titled The book of personal essays should be considered as the author s personal flights of memories and experiences I thoroughly enjoyed reading H is for Hawk and although Vesper Flights is a very different type of book, it is extremely interesting I wish the book had photographs of the places and the themes of the essays because it would be a perfect display or coffee table book The writing is filled with emotion and the careful thought of one who is serious about nature, birding, and how our environment changes the lives, habitation, and migration patterns of birds There are so many pages I read which had me wanting to get outside and look again to the skies and woodland areas trying to spot birds in flight I felt it was so appropriate as I read of the author watching the night sky with Andrew Farnsworth of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology during a migratory season I am reading this during May 2020 migratory week and following the live migration map on BirdCast Publication Date August 25, 2020Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book I won t say much about this because the author is almost a sure bet, whatever she produces If you re a nature lover on any level, and maybe even if you re not, this is likely to resonate with you 4.5 Stars I really appreciate the ARC for review @FREE E-PUB õ Vesper Flights ä 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 Helen Macdonald S Bestselling Debut H Is For Hawk Brought The Astonishing Story Of Her Relationship With Goshawk Mabel To Global Critical Acclaim And Announced Macdonald As One Of This Century S Most Important And Insightful Nature Writers H Is For Hawk Won The Samuel Johnson Prize For Nonfiction And The Costa Book Award, And Was A Finalist For The National Book Critics Circle Award And The Kirkus Prize For Nonfiction, Launching Poet And Falconer Macdonald As Our Preeminent Nature Essayist, With A Semi Regular Column In The New York Times MagazineIn 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 Songbirds From The Empire State Building As They Migrate Through The Tribute Of Light, 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 With H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald wrote a showstopper that was at the top of many lists Vesper Flights, beginning with its beautiful title, is composed of numerous essays, and at least in the prepublication galley I had, they are all strung together, no breaks Until I understood this odd presentation, I had to put on the brakes and reread several beginnings to regather the context But the material itself is mesmerizing Whether she is talking about migratory habits and going to the top of With H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald wrote a showstopper that was at the top of many lists Vesper Flights, beginning with its beautiful title, is composed of numerous essays, and at least in the prepublication galley I had, they are all strung together, no breaks Until I understood this odd presentation, I had to put on the brakes and reread several beginnings to regather the context But the material itself is mesmerizing Whether she is talking about migratory habits and going to the top of the Empire State Building for a nature hike, or describing her own migraines, she does so with grace, power, poetry and blazing intellect This is a luminous book, a guide to Macdonald s life and ways of thinking, and, along, the way, a meditation on birds and nature and change and cows and falcons and deer I can t wait to be able to give this book to people who love words and nature and will savor every poetic phrase and observation. If you are a lover of birdswell, of anything and everything in the natural worldyou might feel you could have written this collection of essays yourself Each piece is a delicate vignette of minute, sensitive discoveries in the natural world I so admire Helen MacDonald for her heartfelt appreciation of all the things in nature that pull at my own heart I nominate her Nature Writer Queen. I liked but did not love this diverse collection of essays about nature, plants, animals and humans troubled relationship with the natural world I think perhaps if I had been reading this slowly, in paper rather than as an e book, I might have found it asatisfying read Nonetheless, a solid collection filled with interesting ideas and reflections. Fans of H Is for Hawk will rejoice, as will any lover of first rate nature writing In her new essay collection Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald plumbs the depths of the meanings man has spun around animal life, and does it all on sharp and soaring wings. On warm summer evenings swifts that aren t sitting on eggs or tending their chicks fly low and fast, screaming in speeding packs around rooftops and spires Later, they gather higher in the sky, their calls now so attenuated by air and distance that to the ear they corrode into something that seems less than sound, to suspicions of dust and glass And then, all at once, as if summoned by a call or bell, they rise higher and higher until they disappear from view These ascents are called vespersOn warm summer evenings swifts that aren t sitting on eggs or tending their chicks fly low and fast, screaming in speeding packs around rooftops and spires Later, they gather higher in the sky, their calls now so attenuated by air and distance that to the ear they corrode into something that seems less than sound, to suspicions of dust and glass And then, all at once, as if summoned by a call or bell, they rise higher and higher until they disappear from view These ascents are called vespers flights, or vesper flights, after the Latin vesperfor evening Vespers are evening devotional prayers, the last and most solemn of the day, and I have always thought vesper flights the most beautiful phrase, an ever falling blue For years I ve tried to see them do it But always the dark got too deep, or the birds skated too wide and far across the sky for me to follow.Written as assignments or for friends, for the joy of exploring a subject, for piecing together a story or investigating something that troubled or fascinated , the forty some essays in Vesper Flights cover an array of naturalist topics very often autobiographical, very often political in the beautifully lyrical writing style of Helen Macdonald that would be instantly recognisable to fans of her acclaimed memoir, H is for Hawk I was fascinated by the range of scientific topics here and inspired by Macdonald s travels not only through space, from experiencing the top of the Empire State Building with an Ornithologist to camping in Chile s Atacama Desert with an Astrobiologist, but also sharing Macdonald s travels through her own interior landscapes and it all solidly underpins her ultimate quest for finding ways to recognise and love difference The attempt to see through eyes that are not your own To understand that your way of looking at the world is not the only one To think what it might mean to love those that are not like you To rejoice in the complexity of things Helen Macdonald has lived a rich and curiosity filled life, and being a poet, a naturalist, and a historian, she has the factual knowledge and literary skills to make persuasive art out of her experiences Exquisitely suited to my own tastes and interest Note I read an ARC from NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms I know it s unfair for me to excerpt so extensively here, but passages are preserved for my own future recollection of what inspired me, and are not to be considered authoritative Mea m xima culpa When I was a child I d assumed animals were just like me Later I thought I could escape myself by pretending I was an animal Both were founded on the same mistake For the deepest lessons animals have taught me is how easily and unconsciously we see other lives as mirrors of our own As an odd and solitary child with an early and all consuming compulsion to seek out wild creatures , Helen Macdonald felt privileged to grow up on an estate complete with woods and meadow, teeming with wildlife for her to observe, engage with, and explore This compulsion seems to have never left her and these essays cover a huge range of the places and species, mostly birds, that Macdonald has sought out around the world It would be impossible to offer a summary of everything these pages contain, so what follows are just some of the bits that I found personally engaging in Macdonald s philosophy And one of the main threads of that philosophy seems to be that we humans are blind to the diversity of life around us and that which we don t see, we don t concern ourselves with We find ourselves fascinated by raptors and especially in urban landscapes Falcons haunt landscapes that speak to us of mortality mountains, by virtue of their eternity industrial ruins, by virtue of their reminding us that this, too, in time will be gone, and that we should protect what is here and now But something like the fungal networks underpinning forests some of the oldest and largest organisms in the world are all but invisible to us We are visual creatures To us, forests are places made of trees and leaves and soil But all around me now, invisible and ubiquitous, is a network of fungal life, millions of tiny threads growing and stretching among trees, clustering around piles of rabbit droppings, stitching together bush and path, dead leaves and living roots We hardly know it is there until we see the fruiting bodies it throws up when conditions are right But without fungi s ceaseless cycling of water, nutrients and minerals, the forest wouldn t work the way it does, and perhaps the greatest mystery of mushrooms for me is in how they are visible manifestations of an essential yet unregarded world I was particularly intrigued by Macdonald s trip to the top of the Empire State Building for night bird watching a glimpse at an annual teeming swirl of life going on mostly unobserved, far above human notice As she notes, insects travel above us in extraordinary numbers half a billion a month over a square mile of English farmland making up nearly three tons of biomass a number estimated to be higher over New York City as a gateway to a continent , and in the wide open air over Manhattan s skyscrapers, it is said, Once you get above six hundred and fifty feet, you re lofted into a realm where the distinction between city and countryside has little or no meaning at all During the day, chimney swifts feast on these vast drifts of life during the night, so do the city s resident and migratory bats, and nighthawks with white flagged wings On days with north west winds in late summer and early fall, birds, bats and migrant dragonflies all feed on rich concentrations of insects caused by powerful downdraughts and eddies around the city s high rise buildings, just as fish swarm to feed where currents congregate plankton in the ocean Whether writing about how she lives in denial of the symptoms of oncoming, crippling migraines which Macdonald then extrapolates to explain how humanity can live in denial of the biggest threats to our collective existence , or writing about viewing a solar eclipse and feeling an overwhelming sense of community, Macdonald makes many surprising connections here And as I opened with, many of them are political connections Conservatism and Swan Upping, deer as jingoistic symbolism, waiting for a thunderstorm like waiting for the next Brexit or Trump, Waiting for hope, stranded in that strange light that stills our hearts before the storm of history A few examples that gave me pause, as in the morality of tagging and tracking migratory animals In our age of drone warfare, it is hard not to see each animal being tracked across the map as symbolically extending the virtues of technological dominance and global surveillance Or watching a gathering of migratory Eurasian cranes in northeastern Hungary and contemplating the razorwire on that country s southern border, meant to keep out Syrian refugees Watching the flock has brought home to me how easy it is to react to the idea of masses of refugees with the same visceral apprehension with which we greet a cloud of moving starlings or tumbling geese, to view it as a singular entity, strange and uncontrollable and chaotic But the crowds coming over the border are people just like us Perhaps too much like us We do not want to imagine what it would be like to have our familiar places reduced to ruins In the face of fear, we are all starlings, a group, a flock, made of a million souls seeking safety Or the flaw in thinking that a species is native just because it s familiar The history of hawfinches in Britain reminds us how seamlessly we confuse natural and national history, how readily we assume nativity in things that are familiar to us, and how lamentably easy it is to forget how we are all from somewhere else Several times Macdonald returns to the idea of people conflating natural and national history and it made me wonder if it reflects a new idea a pushback against globalisation and freer borders by those who idealise a return to some purer past but she also shares older stories, like the farmers during WWII who attacked migratory birds that gleaned their fieldsNo protection for the Skylark ran the headlines in the local press Skylarks that sing to Nazis will get no mercy hereShe writes about the glamour she assigned to Bewick s swans when she was a child because they migrated from the Soviet Union, crossing the Iron Curtain with absolute unconcern And she tells the fascinating story of a book she loved as a child and foundinsidious when she revisited it as an adult A Cuckoo in the House by Maxwell Knight a former MI5 intelligence officer known as M yes, he was the inspiration for the James Bond character was a popular book about the bird famously known for its nestly subterfuges, and Knight not only hid within its pages the vocabulary of his secret world of agents, runners, and handlers, but its release somehow transformed Knight into an avuncular naturalist who began a second career on BBC radio, encouraging children to observe, explore, and report on their environments, in a way that incidentally was training the country s next generation of spies and spooks I suppose this conflation of the natural with the national has always been with us.If there is a common theme here, I suppose it s a call to beaware of both the hidden ecosystems around us and the hidden biases we harbour and through this awareness, to spreadof that notion of love that Macdonald opens with to see with the eyes of others and rejoice in the complexity of things Thoroughly worthwhile read, beginning to end To be human is to see ourselves as the center of the world, to hold nature at an arms length and look at it as a mirror of ourselves separate from us but not entirely discrete a reflection of our needs, our thoughts, and our lives Vesper Flightsa collection of over 40 luminous narrative essays by the acclaimed naturalist Helen Macdonald brings the natural world out of the woods not as an entity we have dominion over but as something beautifully complex and worthy of sav our ing for reasons To be human is to see ourselves as the center of the world, to hold nature at an arms length and look at it as a mirror of ourselves separate from us but not entirely discrete a reflection of our needs, our thoughts, and our lives Vesper Flightsa collection of over 40 luminous narrative essays by the acclaimed naturalist Helen Macdonald brings the natural world out of the woods not as an entity we have dominion over but as something beautifully complex and worthy of sav our ing for reasons beyond the ones we ascribe and assume Ask someone about science and you would be told that it is a pursuit of both knowledge and pleasure the same also holds true for reading However, in cleansing itself of the lyricism inherent to nature as modern science overwhelmingly does, it often perverts both knowledge and pleasure into something that is by definition dispassionate and utilitarian, which is how we regard the non human today In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald mixes science and naturalism, social commentary and memoir into a sort of transcendent literature that can communicate the qualitative texture of the world and re turn nature to explicable magic something that we value and can urge ourselves to save WhereasH is for Hawkmade us look afresh at the way we connect to nature, this book surpasses it vastly in merit it examines the intersection of humanity and habitat on a wider and far deeper plane, covering the ways in which we interact with animals, birds and the ecosystem on both personal and on cultural community levels Macdonald has a gift for subtlety as well as poetry, and weaves in socio political conditions including Brexit, nationalism, and the crisis of immigration with personal recollections and factual information with breathtaking, thought provoking ease.Here, migraines become the perfect metaphor for our approach to climate change the distress of changing childhood landscapes is contextualised against worries just as great and migratory birds and cold war politics come together Here, I learnt about people like Nathalie Cabrol about Aeroecology, mushroom, swifts, berries, and bearded reedlings about how nature can be unrecognisably man made fascinating things that I would never have known otherwise and am all thegrateful for Some of my favourites essays in this volume were Tekels Park, Migraines, The Student s Tale, Ashes, Swan Upping, and Rescue all full of facts, emotions and experiences, of the mundane and the extraordinary, of love and respect for diversity being sown and nurtured This is a book I desperately wanted to finish for all I would have known and cherished and the end of it, but also one that I wished would never end I was provided with an electronic ARC of this book by Vintage Digital and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, but I can t wait to actually purchase my own physical copy so much to underline, so many sections I d like to photocopy and pass under people s doors So many reasons to commend this book ontopeople s bookshelves