H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

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Chapters 17–18 Summary

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Chapter 17: Heat

The rain gives way to heat, and Macdonald cannot sleep. She knows the time is coming to let Mabel fly free. It is a frightening thought, especially because Macdonald has lost her trust in the world, in the “lines” of love that hold the world together. One morning in a cafe, as she drinks coffee and reads about global warming in the newspaper, Macdonald sees people lining up outside—there is a run on a bank. She’s never seen something like it before, and it starts her thinking about history and its supposed end, about the world falling apart and people losing the money and security they’ve built up as “bulwarks against death.” For the first time, Macdonald thinks seriously about the consequences of her training of Mabel; when she lets the hawk fly free to hunt, Macdonald will be actively participating in death.

“The hawk was a fire that burned my hurts away,” Macdonald writes. “There could be no regret or mourning in her. No past or future. She lived in the present only, and that was my refuge. My flight from death was on her barred and beating wings. But I had forgotten that the puzzle that was death was caught up in the hawk, and I was caught up in it too.”

White’s neglect caused Gos to act like a wild hawk again, and White felt like a failure. Macdonald describes the terror and shame of White’s childhood: in a photograph, he stands in front of a play castle on his birthday, weeping silently because he thinks his father is going to execute him with the gun attached to the battlements. White initially saw the hawk as symbolic of hidden self, but in the end he realized he was not his hawk, but his own father, repeating the abuses of his childhood in the hope of eventually conquering them. Hoping to reconcile with Gos, White attempted to give the hawk more room to fly by tying him to both a perch in the barn and a perch outside so that Gos could fly back and forth. But when he returned to the barn later that day, he startled Gos, and the hawk bated and flew outside. White looked for Gos on the outdoor perch, but the poor-quality twine he’d used had snapped, and the hawk was gone.

Chapter 18: Flying Free

Macdonald is excited: today is the day she is going to fly Mabel free. As the day wears on, however, she becomes frustrated and anxious. On her way to the hill with Christina to meet Stuart, there is terrible traffic caused by a car accident; Macdonald feels like she might lose her mind. When they finally arrive, it’s almost dark, and Mabel bates at the sight of the kite Stuart has been using to train his falcon. Macdonald is discouraged, but with Stuart’s help, she lets Mabel fly into a copse of trees. She is terrified that the hawk won’t return, but after flying in circles and perching in a tree, Mabel returns to Macdonald’s fist.

White desperately searched for Gos in a storm. He spotted the hawk high in a tree, and it seemed as if Gos was about to fly to White, but then the hawk was buffeted away by the wind, partially because White’s petting of Gos had worn away the waterproof oil that naturally coats a goshawk’s feathers.

Life is made of loss, Macdonald says—this is something we all learn as we grow older. Just before she is due to move out of her college housing, she goes to her...

(This entire section contains 794 words.)

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mother’s house for the weekend. It is hard to be home without her father. She returns to her childhood animal books and considers that all the animals in them die at the end—all except Gos, who merely vanishes. In her grief, Macdonald can finally relate to the horror White felt when he lost his hawk.

White made many futile attempts to recapture Gos. He knew that the hawk would probably die in the wild, hopelessly tangled in his jesses.

Macdonald takes Mabel to a nearby farm to fly her. At the edge of the wood, Macdonald and Mabel spot a group of rabbits and a pheasant, and Mabel immediately flies after them. Macdonald hears the sounds of a struggle in the undergrowth, but Mabel returns to Macdonald’s fist apparently without having caught her quarry—though her talons are covered in mud. The experience of letting Mabel fly free is like high-stakes gambling, Macdonald says: “You feel safe because you are at the world’s mercy. It is a rush.” Losing herself in flying Mabel is to become Macdonald’s addiction.


Chapters 15–16 Summary


Chapters 19–20 Summary