Macdonald's collection of nature writing essays (a followup to her brilliant 2015 book H is for Hawk) was the perfect COVID-Trump-2020 escape for me - a dose of balance inserted into my days. Whether learning about how swifts sleep on the wing or that seven billion insects "pass over a square mile of English farmland in a single month" or reading of her early childhood on the grounds of the very British estate Tekels Park (a gorgeous essay, that) or passages like this one, from an essay about summer storms:
All my clearest summer memories are of storms. The afternoon in the early 1980s on the Kennet and Avon canal when I heard my first nightingale singing into charged grey air, accompanied by distant thunder that swung closer and seemed a voice answering the bird. Or that hot week in Gloucestershire in the 1990s when thunderstorms came every evening so the air turned sepia at six and before the first drops of storm rain sent pollen-dust up in puffs from the skylight I'd open the windows and wait for thunder while little owls called through the thick air, and in the morning tiny white dots of storm-blown blossom covered the house with wet French lace. I've measured all my summers by their storms.
Perfection. -sm— From Seth's Picks
“I wish I could give Vesper Flights twelve stars out of five. In this beautiful, loving, poignant portrait of a nature lover’s world — gosh, what an understatement — Helen MacDonald continues to prove herself a nature-writing powerhouse. Her literary skills make her a modern legend, and Vesper Flights is sure to touch as many hearts, if not more, than H Is for Hawk did.”
— Nikki F, Bookie's Chicago, Chicago, IL
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.