Vesper Flights

by Helen Macdonald

Hardcover, 2020

Call number

824 MAC



Grove Press (2020), 288 pages


From the bestselling author of H is for Hawk comes a transcendent collection of essays about the natural world 'Thrilling dispatches from a vanishing world' Observer Animals don't exist to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves. From the bestselling author of H is for Hawk comes Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world. Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best-loved writing along with new pieces covering a thrilling range of subjects. There are essays here on headaches, on catching swans, on hunting mushrooms, on twentieth-century spies, on numinous experiences and high-rise buildings; on nests and wild pigs and the tribulations of farming ostriches. Vesper Flights is a book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make the world around us. Moving and frank, personal and political, it confirms Helen Macdonald as one of this century's greatest nature writers. **CHOSEN AS A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK TO WATCH OUT FOR AND A NEW STATESMAN BOOK TO READ**… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“It was science that taught me how the flights of tens of millions of migrating birds across Europe and Africa, lines on the map drawn in lines of feather, starlight and bone, are stranger and more astonishing than I ever could have imagined, for these creatures navigate by visualizing the
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Earth's magnetic field...”

“For days afterwards, my dreams are full of songbirds, the familiar ones from woods and backyards, but also points of moving light, little astronauts, travelers using the stars to navigate, having fallen to earth for a little while before picking themselves up and moving on.”

“There is a special phenomenology to walking in the woods in winter. On windless days there's a deep, soft hush that makes the sound of a stick breaking underfoot resemble a pistol shot. Its a quietness that fosters an acute sensitivity to small sounds that earlier in the year would be buried under a riot of birdsong.”

“Later (swifts) gather higher in the sky...And then, all at once, as if summoned by a call or a bell, they rise higher and higher until they disappear from view. These ascents are called vesper flights....”

H is For Hawk pounced on my reading life like an owl on a vole. I was quite taken with that memoir and so were many others. We all waited for what Ms. MacDonald would do next and she finally delivers a collection of essays. Yes, the bulk of these pieces are bird and nature related but she also gives a personal glimpses of her life, including her struggles with migraines. Of course there are environmental warnings, as well, with dire warnings of what lays ahead. She is a fine writer, with a big, inquisitive mind, making this a worthy read. I hope the quotes I chose, give you a taste of what to expect.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member modioperandi
Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC.

I really really like Helen Macdonald's other books. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, you learn something about animal life in each book and I really like the way that she writes about how they behave I even like the way she kinda
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goes on and on about them. Her writing is smart and the descriptions of animal behavior are my favorite things about her books and especially Vesper Flights. This is such a good read. For those looking for a straight nature read this is not that. This is one of these nature-memoir books. It is not quite at all what John McPhee does, building a narrative structure about the journalistic story he is writing. Rather this is personal nature writing. Coming to this book unaware of Helen Macdonald will not do you any favors. I recommend reading a bit about who she is and why she has the credibility to write a book and books like this. I loved it but as ever I am not 100% in-touch with Helen's memoir portions. I find those, at times in this book, and often in others, tired and unrelatable. Others love those really personal moments and for me they fall flat. The nature parts and the reporting are just amazingly good and its a book I would read again, I have with her other books.

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LibraryThing member nmele
Some of these essays I had read when they appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, but those were a richer experience for being reread. The essays I had not previously read were a delight. Macdonald can be poetic, elegiac, dispassionate, autobiographical and insightful in very few words. I
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read through this book slowly, an essay a day with one or to days when I might have read two essays. They most of them deserve slow reading and reflection after reading.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
We are in, what the scientists are calling, the sixth extinction. This is a man-made event due to our actions and inactions. Though McDonakd is aware of this, that is not the main focus of these wonderful essays.

"I hope that this book works a little like a Wunderkammer. It is full of strange things
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and it is concerned with the quality of wonder."/

Si she goes on to show us the wonder, the magical that nature provides. From a field, where as a child she would lie face down to discover what was hidden beneath the grass, to magnificent bird nests. Watching the many birds that fly at night,from the Empire State building to mushroom picking in the wild, both with knowledgeable friends. A trip to observe an eclipse that she found both terrifying and awe inspiring.

The personal, as she suffers from migraines and discusses how they affect her and a discussion of migraines themselves. There is so much more, and I loved each and every one.

A look into the mystery, the wonder if nature, what is there to experience if we only open our eyes. What will be lost, if we don't protect and act now.
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LibraryThing member jetangen4571
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A lovely collection of essays about nature. Ho hum, you say? No, no! These are truly lovely. Helen MacDonald uses lyrical prose to take the reader on quiet, profound, thought-provoking sojourns which cause the reader to realize that quiet understanding of nature's subtleties can provide visions of
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our human frailties, meaning where there had been none, and beauty absolutely everywhere. On these sojourns we meet hawks, swans, cuckoos and more creatures, each of whom enlightens the reader, once the reader quietens themselves enough to observe and absorb. MacDonald is a treasure! You might want to also read, " H Is For Hawk".
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LibraryThing member coffeefairy
I want everyone to read Vesper Flights. Helen Macdonald writes the kind of book I love, a book that speaks of nature and humanity and how they intersect. And how they don’t. And maybe how they should and shouldn’t.

I especially would love this book to be a part of school curriculum. But why stop
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there? I’d love for scientists, politicians, new age practitioners, tarot card readers, ornithologists, naturalists, shamans, falconers and wildlife rehabilitators to read Vesper Flights. To name a few groups of people! ;)

Macdonald weaves great stories around her personal experiences with birds, her thoughts and how those two worlds intersect. She does it beautifully, and I found myself rereading the last few paragraphs of each vignette, sometimes out loud, so I could let the words really sink in.

Vesper Flights also contains a sobering section about our planet and its future, that will likely serve as a jumping off point for some readers to research what they can do to help.

I often find that my mind and compassion expand when I read and this is definitely true of Vesper Flights. It’s a thoughtful, honest, beautiful and engaging collection.

Note: I received this book via Netgalley. These are my unbiased thoughts.
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LibraryThing member Berly

Havarti Dill
This soft, creamy Danish cheese was invented by Hanne Neilson in the mid-1800s. She traveled around Europe to learn cheesemaking. Nielsen's farm was in Havarthigaard, north of Copenhagen, and in 1852, after returning from her travels, she developed the technique to create
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havarti, a semi-firm cheese dotted with small holes. She named her washed curd, slightly sweet cheese “Havarthi,” after her farm. This rindless cheese melts easily and has tiny pinprick holes or “eyes”. It is delicious straight-up or studded with dill, caraway or other herbs.

A hard yellow Swiss cheese named after the town of Gruyère. In 2001, Gruyère gained the name d’appellation d’origine contrôlée*. Gruyère is classified as a Swiss-type or Alpine cheese, and is sweet but slightly salty, with a flavor that varies widely with age. It is often described as creamy and nutty when young, becoming more assertive, earthy, and complex as it matures. When fully aged (five months to a year), it tends to have small cracks that impart a slightly grainy texture.

a French phrase which shows that a product comes from a certain area. Some products must come from a certain area and be made in a certain way in order to have the name of the product.

Smoked Cheddar
Scholars are divided on the true history of cheddar cheese. Some believe that this delicious and popular cheese began in Roman times, with the recipe traveling from Roman-controlled France into the Somerset region of England. Others believe that cheddar is a purely British invention.

The exact origins of smoked cheese are unknown, but it’s most likely that it was discovered by accident. A lucky accident of course! Some food historians think that perhaps the owner of an ancient cheese store kept his product close to a wood burning fire and noticed that it gave the cheese a distinct flavor over time. Most cheesemongers choose to smoke their cheese in smokers now, but there are still some who prefer the traditional method of an open wood fire. There are also unconventional methods – you can use a newer method of ‘liquid smoke’. The smoked flavor is liquified and mixed directly in.

Stilton with Blueberry
The cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, now in Cambridgeshire, where it has long been sold. Stilton is an English cheese, produced in two varieties: Blue, which has had Penicillium roqueforti added to generate a characteristic smell and taste, and White, which has not. Both have been granted the status of a protected designation of origin (PDO) by the European Commission, requiring that only such cheese produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire may be called “Stilton".

However, Stilton cheese cannot actually be produced in Stilton village, which gave the cheese its name, because it is not in any of the three permitted counties. The Original Cheese Company applied to amend the Stilton PDO to include the village, but the application was rejected in 2013.

It is pale in color with a slight grayish tinge under a rind of white mold. The rind is typically eaten. Legend has it that in the eighth century, French Emperor Charlemagne first tasted this soft cheese at a monastery in Reuil-en-Brie and fell instantly in love with its creamy, rich flavor. The favorites of kings eventually become favorites of the people, and Brie is no exception.

Legitimate Brie must be made in the Seine-et-Marne area south of Paris, but many countries now commercially manufacture a similar cheese which is also sold as brie. There are now many varieties of brie made all over the world, including plain brie, herbed varieties, double and triple brie and versions of brie made with other types of milk. According to French law, a double-crème cheese must have between 60-75% butterfat. Although brie is a French cheese, it is possible to obtain Somerset and Wisconsin brie.

If the thought of a colony of crawlies (albeit microscopic) scuttling over cheese makes your stomach churn, avert your eyes now. For we’re about to discuss the unsavory secret behind Mimolette’s trademark nutty tang.

In one (spine-tingling) word: mites. The little bugs burrow in the rind and munch their gluttonous way through the thick skin, leaving behind a trail of flavor-filled dust. Technically a Dutch concoction, Mimolette, also known as Boule de Lille or Vieux Hollande, received a French makeover of sorts in 1675, during the French-Dutch war. Louis XIV’s wily Minister of Finance, Colbert, banned the import of the brittle cheese and instead ordered Flemish farmers to come up with an equally mite-smattered alternative. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course, the mites are long gone before Mimolette reaches our cheeseboards. Their task complete, the beasties are swiftly removed, usually with a blast of compressed air or firm hand-brushing.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
In the introduction, Macdonald describes this book of essays as a Victorian Wunderkammer – a cabinet full of curiosities and wonders.

Although I enjoyed Macdonald’s first book, [H is for Hawk], I loved these short sparkling essays. They encompass a variety of subjects – nature, birds, mammals,
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climate change and growing up out of step with her peers.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member HippieLunatic
Particularly liked: "Nothing like a Pig" and "Eclipse."
LibraryThing member hhornblower
I normally shy away from essay collections, I really can't explain why, I just do, but I so thoroughly enjoyed H is for Hawk that I had to pick up this book (actually, my wife and I gave it to each other for Christmas (returned one copy and ended up walking out with three more books)). Some of the
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essays are more engaging than others, but all are coming from Ms. Macdonald's heart. She writes how I feel.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Alone among the literate world, I was made uncomfortable by the relationship between naturalist Macdonald and Mabel the formerly wild hawk told in H is for Hawk. These essays on many topics are written in Author Macdonald's justly celebrated elegant prose, and include so many aperçus that my
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commonplace book blew up. If you don't share my unease with people venerating wildness while taming it out of a fellow being, you'll enjoy this collection without my unshakeable unease.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Slightly uneven as any collection of essays probably would be, but there are real delights in here. Some of my favorites were "Eclipse," "Vesper Flights," and "Goats," which made me laugh out loud. Lovely writing and often thought-provoking as well.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
In this series of forty-one essays, Helen Macdonald writes beautifully about the natural world and how humans interact with it. It is a unique combination of scientific and poetic writing. She addresses topics such as deer, hares, swans, various birds, mushrooms, badgers, trees, and fireflies. She
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offers insight into habitat destruction, decreasing biodiversity, and climate change. She includes observations about Brexit and the refugee crisis. It can feel a bit fragmented and, as in many collections, I enjoyed some essays more than others. It is obvious that Macdonald loves nature, and her passion comes through in her writing. I listened to the audio book, read by the author. She has a pleasant reading voice and creates a peaceful ambiance.
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