Falconry as therapy
Helen Macdonald Reads T.H. White
Years ago, Helen Macdonald dared to adopt a goshawk—the most bloodthirsty of birds—to cope with grief after the sudden loss of her father. After making the life-altering decision to train the wild predator she would name Mabel, Helen writes, in H is For Hawk:
My eyes started avoiding a book that lived on the shelf by my desk. At first it was just a visual blind-spot, a tic of a blink; then something like a grain of sleep in the corner of my eye. I’d look past the place where the book was with a little flicker of discomfort I couldn’t quite place. Soon I couldn’t sit at my desk without knowing it was there. Second shelf down. Red cloth cover. Silver-lettered spine. The Goshawk. By T. H. White.
Helen had first discovered this book as an eight-year-old falconry fanatic, but she had never been entirely convinced by White’s approach. “It was unusual. It didn’t sound like my other falconry books at all,” she writes. “This was a book about falconry by a man who seemed to know nothing about it.”
However, the book became a touchstone for her, as Helen grew obsessed with White’s hawk named Gos:
Gos was real to me. Gos had steely pinions and a mad marigold eye, and hopped and flew and mantled his great wings over a fist of raw liver. He cheeped like a songbird and was terrified of cars. I liked Gos. Gos was comprehensible, even if the writer was utterly beyond understanding.
Here, she reads two passages from The Goshawk, accompanied by illustrations from the book alongside photos of White with Gos, and Helen with Mabel.
Excerpts from H IS FOR HAWK, published by Grove Press; excerpts from THE GOSHAWK, published by NYRB Classics.