The Peregrine

More aptly titled The Peregrines, since he followed at least three different peregrines as he tracked them through the winter. Is there such a thing as misogyny toward birds? His descriptions of the falcon always seemed to denigrate her while the tiercel is a swooping majesty (“sleepy, lethargic, eyes had a brown ceramic glaze” for the female hawk vs. “crisp, golden, muscular undulations” for the male). I know, ridiculous. This 1967 book by an Englishman determined to follow the progress of these magnificent creatures, now threatened to extinction by pesticides. He seems a bit clumsy, flushing birds and creeping ever so closely to the hawks to test their limits, even intruding on their post-kill dinners. Yet he is persistent, always there, and feels that the birds grow used to his presence. Quite an enjoyable book for anyone who loves nature, especially birders. His descriptions are pure poetry: “an hour of drenching rain extinguished the day. The valley was a sopping brown sponge, misty and dun.” Or his exposition on mud:

Mud was deep in the lanes and along the sea-wall; thick ochre mud, like paint; oozing glutinous mud that seemed to sprout on the marsh, like fungus; octopus mud that clutched and clung and squelched and sucked; slippery mud, smooth and treacherous as oil; mud stagnant; mud evil; mud in the clothes, in the hair, in the eyes; mud to the bone. On the east coast in winter above or below the tide-line, man walks in water or in mud; there is no dry land. Mud is another element. One comes to love it, to be like a wading bird, happy only at the edges of the world where land and water meet, where there is no shade and nowhere for fear to hide.

The feeling while out in nature, returning to reality, to real time:

Time is measured by a clock of blood. When one is active, close to the hawk, pursuing, the pulse races, time goes faster; when one is still, waiting, the pulse quietens, time is slow. Always, as one hunts for the hawk, one has an oppressive sense of time contracting inwards like a tightening spring. One hates the movement of the sun, the steady alteration of the light, the increase of hunger, the maddening metronome of the heart-beat. When one says ‘ten-o-clock’ or ‘three-o-clock,’ this is not the grey and shrunken time of towns; it is the memory of a certain fulmination or declension of light that was unique to that time and that place on that day, a memory so vivid to the hunter as burning magnesium.

On trying to blend into the environment:

As so often on spring evenings, no birds sing near me, while all the distant trees and bushes ring with song. Like all human beings, I seem to walk within a hoop of red-hot iron, a hundred yards across, that sears away all life. When I stand still, it cools, and slowly disappears.