Blessed Be the Passionate

Blessed is the soul who, early in life, is gifted with a passionate interest in some art, craft, sport, pastime, or field of knowledge.  The object of passion might be well-nigh anything at all, so long of course as it is not vicious: stamp collecting or field hockey, cabinetry or the Civil War, boxing or bell ringing; in one case known to me personally, the hand-manufacture of antique chain mail.  Children used to be—perhaps still are—encouraged to take up a hobby in the hope of igniting some such spark in them; but my observation has been that the most intense attachments arise spontaneously, usually during the first decade of life.

British writer Helen Macdonald is one of those thus blessed.  By age six, she tells us, she was drawing a picture of a hawk sitting on a glove.  She became a keen falconer.  When the events in this book take place she is in her late 30’s, single, a lecturer (English, history of science) at a Cambridge college, and has “flown scores of hawks.”  Up to this point, though, she has never attempted what falconers consider to be one of the biggest challenges in their sport: training a goshawk for the hunt.  This particular bird of prey has a bad reputation.  “Goshawks are famously difficult to tame,” the author tells us.  They are, she further tells us, “nervous, highly-strung birds and it takes a long time to convince...

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