H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Helen’s father dies suddenly while on a photographic assignment in London and her life runs off the rails. She holds a temporary position at a university that is coming to a close, is losing her place to live and just doesn’t know how to make the next step she is so consumed with grief. Having experience as a falconer she decides to get a goshawk to train; a bird known for having a strong will and being notoriously hard to fly. Mabel, Helen’s goshawk, does not seem to be completely typical of the breed; she is a lovely, sweet and yet a murderous bird. As a reader you grow to care for her as Helen does and get annoyed with Helen when she makes silly mistakes and takes unnecessary risks. Always in the background it is important to remember Helen’s grief and how her actions are a reflection of her emotional state, and also how Mabel helps her heal and begin to forget her loss.
If you have ever been fascinated by birds of prey, owned a challenging pet or suffered from debilitating grief you will be able to identify with Helen and what she experienced while training Mabel. The book she read as a raptor obsessed child, The Goshawk by T.H. White, is her inspiration to chronicle her journey which thankfully is more of a what to do when training a goshawk than White’s tale of what not to do. You’ll learn lots about raptors as well as White; tales of his childhood will make you empathize with him even as he fails miserably, almost unforgivably, to train Gos, his goshawk.
Local aside: Interested in raptors? I highly suggest visiting The Raptor Trust in nearby Millington. There you can get pretty close to all kinds of varieties of hawks and raptors. No goshawks, but vultures, bald eagles, and ravens are among the current residents. Hint: be nice to the turkey vultures; make eye contact and talk soothingly. Then, crouch down next to the enclosure. One of them really likes people and may come right up to the fence to “visit” with you. Yes, they are not pretty, but the oddness of their heads and the gorgeous iridescence of their feathers are neat to see up close.