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Vesper Flights

by Helen Macdonald

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Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald is a very highly recommended collection of 41 essays and meditations on the natural world. This is 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.

As she writes: I hope that this book works a little like a Wunderkammer. It is full of strange things and it is concerned with the quality of wonder. and... Most of all I hope my work is about a thing that seems to me of the deepest possible importance in our present-day historical moment: 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.

Vesper Flights fulfills her hope admirably. The essays are written in a poetic manner with an insight, clarity, and descriptiveness that immediately pulls you into seeing the natural world through her eyes and perhaps alter the way you currently look at the natural world. Humans tend to anthropomorphize the natural world rather than trying to viewing it realistically. Macdonald's descriptions and insight help assist in creating a true picture of the subject while providing insight into both the animal and human world. The writing is wonderful and the tone she sets helped bring a peaceful calm feeling to the forefront during a stressful time.

Contents include: An Introduction; Nest; Nothing Like a Pig; Inspector Calls ; Field Guides; Tekels Park; High-Rise; The Human Flock; The Student’s Tale; Ants; Symptomatic; Sex, Death, Mushrooms; Winter Woods; Eclipse; In Her Orbit; Hares; Lost, But Catching Up; Swan Upping; Nestboxes; Deer in the Headlights; The Falcon and the Tower; Vesper Flights; In Spight of Prisons; Sun Birds and Cashmere Spheres; The Observatory; Wicken; Storm; Murmurations; A Cuckoo in the House; The Arrow-Stork; Ashes; A Handful of Corn; Berries; Cherry Stones; Birds, Tabled; Hiding; Eulogy; Rescue; Goats; Dispatches from the Valleys; The Numinous Ordinary; What Animals Taught Me; Acknowledgements.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove/Atlantic.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2020/08/vesper-flights.html
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3494529027 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Aug 13, 2020 |
I heard so much about Helen Macdonald's book H is for Hawk that I picked it up but had not had time to read it because of all my egalley reviewing. When I saw her book Vesper Flights I requested it--I would finally have to read Macdonald!

The essays in Vesper Flights include a broad range of subjects including climate change, species extinction, migraine headaches, bird migration, and solar eclipses. The wonder of the natural world is beautifully experienced through Macdonald's words.

When Macdonald talks about viewing the migration of birds from the top of the Empire State Building, I remembered one of the most extraordinary sights of my life. My husband and I were at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania when we saw the sky darkened with migrating birds, an endless stream that filled the sky! To this day, forty years later, I remember the dark silhouettes winging against a sky filled with streaks of dark clouds backlit by an autumn sun.

A chapter that caught my attention describes her trek with Nathalie Cabrol, an explorer, astrobiologist and planetary geologist specializing in Mars. They went to the high altitudes of Antofagasta, Chile, to an environment that may be like that of Mars. "They higher we climbed, the further we'd go back in time--not on Earth, but on Mars," Macdonald writes.

I love armchair travel that takes me to such extraordinary places. Cabrol takes the author to the desert salt flats and gypsum sands, a brutal environment with its dangerously high UV radiation, thin atmosphere, and volcanic activity.

"Above me, the Southern Hemisphere stars are all dust and terror and distance and slow fire in the night, and I stare up, frozen, and frozen in wonderment," MacDonald recalls.

Cabrol says the Earth will survive us after we have destroyed what has made our existence possible. It offers little comfort to humans. But we ourselves have created this legacy.

I have savored the book a little at a time, delving in when I need a break from the sad news of the world.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. ( )
  nancyadair | Jul 27, 2020 |
An enjoyable collection of essays that are a song to the benefit of observing everything in nature. Sometimes we can't get to places where nature rules, but we can hold it dear in our hearts. The author's descriptions are so clear that the reader feels as if watching and meandering alongside the author and appreciating everything more with her words. I loved it!
I requested and received a free ebook copy from Grove Atlantic/Grove Press via NetGalley. Thank you! ( )
  jetangen4571 | Apr 12, 2020 |
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