I just finished reading Helen Macdonald’s simultaneously cozy/devastating H is for Hawk. The memoir about training a goshawk to hunt immediately after her father’s sudden death crosses psychic paths with an analysis (in third and first person) of King Arthur-chronicler T.H. White’s similar experience writing “The Goshawk” in the 1930s.
It was heaven for this very amateur naturalist. From ages 9-13 I expected to become an ornithologist, all wrapped up in raptors’ muscled wings and the mysteries of flight and thin air. This book brought back some of those wonders.
This spring, we headed to a segment of the Sac and Fox Trail to check out Chris’ baby — a new single-track bike trail being carved out of the adjacent woods — and scout for fungi. This was all the way back during an unsuccessful morel-hunting season.
We found something better: An eagle nesting in a slim margin of those impossibly tall, thin evergreen trees. Looking up from the rusty needle pad below, we spied the first glimpse of the nest-knot. It’s a jigsaw of sticks wrapped seamlessly around the trunk, like the branches of the tree, in a moment of panic, tied themselves in a ball.
We circled underneath to the neighboring meadow to get a better look, picking our way through the home’s detritus of rejected twigs. And there she was. White head perfectly orange-lit — she had to be perfect — in the fuzzy magic hour of Iowa summer dusk. In profile, her predator’s eyes watched our high-knee progress into the prairie. Our puny human eyes bugging out behind binoculars. Our whispered “wows.”
She got agitated as we loitered and took off.
On another night, we took a picnic to the prairie stubble to watch for her. Halfway through our chopped salad, she breached the trees above the nearby river, clutching a fish, and we felt a little wilder.