Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald [8/10]

Helen Macdonald is that rare muse illuminating our lives amongst and relationships with nature. After her stunning H Is for Hawk, “Vesper Flights” collects forty eclectic essays, some short, some extended. All are stunningly wonderfully written. The range of topics reveals a questing mind. As a late-to-the-party birder, I adored “Field guides,” exploring their pleasures and how they have changed over the decades. She observes boars, ascends the Empire State Building to watch night-time migrations, follows a Mars-obsessed astrobiologist, muses about the pleasures and idiosyncrasies of bird hides. The title piece is magical, an investigation into why swifts ascend incredibly high twice a day, with amazing discoveries unveiled. I discover that “birdwatcher” is old-time British intelligence slang for “spy.” In the final lengthy essay, Macdonald reflects deeply on “What animals taught me,” dissecting why “none of us sees animals clearly,” and offering a nuanced conclusion. Turning over the final page of Vesper Flights, I found myself almost overcome with emotions and fresh insights. Brilliant.

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