Noisy sex, lots of food, long naps–Helen Macdonald, author of âH is for Hawk,â shares unconventional life lessons from a raptorâs perspective.
By Vicki Croke
How do you get past grief and go on living after the death of someone you love?
“Whatâs precious about animals is how different they are from us. Itâs good to love things that are not like us. Learn to love difference,â says Helen Macdonald. (Seen here with a Gyrfalcon). Courtesy of Helen Macdonald.
For Helen Macdonald, author of the breathtaking and bestselling new book âH is for Hawk,â the answer to finding her way after losing her beloved father was to raise and train a goshawk named Mabel.
Her journey is profound, poetic, and deeply moving. In my review of âH is for Hawkâ in the New York Times, I wrote that âMacdonald renders an indelible impression of a raptorâs fierce essence â and her own â with words that mimic feathers, so impossibly pretty we donât notice their astonishing engineering.â
Animals-as-healers is a common motif, but Macdonaldâs voice and insights are beautifully uncommon.
She writes: “I was in ruins. Some deep part of me was trying to rebuild itself, and its model was right there on my fist. The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life.”
Mabel, the beautiful goshawk who filled Helen’s house “with wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent.” Courtesy of Helen Macdonald.
Raising a hawk is not for everyone. But introducing Macdonald at a reading at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge recently, I had the chance to ask the falconer for the hawkâs guide to a few essentials:
âMy books said that goshawks were highly-strung remorseless killers. Mabel was those things, of course. But she was also playful, funny, bewitchingly fascinating and friendly. She taught me that things you meet in life are usually far more complicated and interesting than they seem.â
âThe goshawk taught me that ultimately, whatâs precious about animals is how different they are from us. Itâs good to love things that are not like us. Learn to love difference.â
âGoshawk sex is nervous, noisy, and extremely quick. Itâs not ideal as a model, really itâs not.â
âEat local; eat fresh; eat free-range meat, donât waste anything. Also, itâs completely fine to eat so much you can hardly move and then spend an afternoon in a slow doze while you digest it.â
âHawks regret nothing!â
WEARING A BELL ON YOUR TAIL (falconers place bells on the birds to hear where they are)
âItâs a good thing to let people know that youâre there. For all the lure of invisibility, if youâre utterly silent itâs easy to get lost.â