A vivid sense of place glows
like another limb
John Alec Baker
From fall to spring, J.A. Baker set out to track the daily comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons across the flat fen lands of eastern England. He followed the birds obsessively, observing them in the air and on the ground, in pursuit of their prey, making a kill, eating, and at rest, activities he describes with an extraordinary fusion of precision and poetry. And as he continued his mysterious private quest, his sense of human self slowly dissolved, to be replaced with the alien and implacable consciousness of a hawk.
It is this extraordinary metamorphosis, magical and terrifying, that these beautifully written pages record.
(1967) 2017, William Collins
“The first bird I searched for was the nightjar, which used to nest in the valley. Its song is like the sound of a stream of wine spilling from a height into a deep and booming cask. It is an odorous sound, with a bouquet that rises to the quiet sky. In the glare of day it would seem thinner and drier, but dusk mellow it and gives it vintage. If a song could smell, this song would smell of crushed grapes and almonds and dark wood. The sound spills out, and none of it is lost. The whole wood brims with it. Then it stops. Suddenly, unexpectedly. But the ear hears it still, a prolonged and fading echo, draining and winding out among the surrounding trees. Into the deep stillness, between the early stars and the long afterglow, the nightjar leaps up joyfully. It glides and flutters, dances ands bounces, lightly, silently away.
(…) Sparrowhawks were always near me in the dusk, like something I meant but could never quite remember.”
“Wild things are truly alive only in the place where they belong. Away from that place they may bloom like exotics, but the eye will seek beyond them for their lost home.
(…) They are fugitives who have escaped from everything but fear.”
“…Learn to fear. To share fear is the greatest bond of all. The hunter must become the thing he hunts. What is, is now, must have the quivering intensity of an arrow thudding into a tree. Yesterday is dim and monochrome. A week ago you were not born. Persist, endure, follow, watch.
(…) A vivid sense of place glows like another limb. Direction has colour and meaning.”
“If I too were afraid I am sure I should see him more often. Fear releases power. Man might be more tolerable, less fractious and smug, if he had more to fear. I do not mean fear of the intangible, the suffocation of the introvert, but physical fear, cold sweating fear for one’s life, fear of the unseen menacing beast, imminent, bristly, tusked and terrible, ravening for one’s own hot saline blood.
(…) When hawks have gone from sight, you must look up into the sky; their reflection rises in the birds that fear them. There is so much more sky than land.”