Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021
Chapter 27: The New World
It is Christmas Eve, and Macdonald and her mother are spending the holidays together in Maine, at the home of Macdonald’s friend Erin and his family. Macdonald observes that the hunting culture in Maine is not bound to class the way it historically has been in England; in Maine, “all the land can be hunted over by virtue of common law,” and the annual deer hunt is a presence in almost everyone’s lives.
During her stay in Maine, Macdonald’s friend Scott takes her hawking with his male redtailed hawk, Yoder. Rather than take Yoder and Macdonald into the woods, however, Scott leads them into a residential area. It strikes Macdonald as strange and amazing that they can fly a hawk here, just behind a suburban family’s backyard. When Yoder catches a squirrel, it is in the midst of the ordinary signs of human life and relationship that Macdonald fled from in England. “You can reconcile the wild,” she realizes. “You can bring it home with you.”
On their last day in Maine, Macdonald doesn’t want to leave. She has avoided community ever since her father’s death, and now that she has found it again, she dreads returning to her solitary, uncertain existence in England. Before she leaves for the airport, Erin convinces her to help him burn the Christmas tree on the lawn. Giddy with excitement, they set the tree ablaze; it rapidly erupts into an enormous tower of flame that goes out just as suddenly. For Macdonald and Erin, it was a “ritual burn, a ceremony of strange, protective magic.”
When she arrives back in Cambridge, Macdonald drives to Stuart and Mandy’s house, where Mabel has been staying. Mabel looks happy, but Stuart has had the flu all through the holiday season. Macdonald feels a rush of love and gratitude for her friends and all the help they have given her while she’s grieved. Thanking them both profusely, she hugs Stuart even though he might be contagious.
In the summer of 1939, T. H. White was in Ireland, avoiding the war and writing The Once and Future King, which he believed would “solve the question of why humans fight at all.” His hawk Cully had died, but he had trained several new birds since. He journals about a hawking book he might someday write. In his journal, he wrote that while his first attempt at writing a book about hawks had been a failure, he now had an idea for a new and different book: a great work of literature in which he would appear as a wizard who trains a hawk and, in the “deepest mystery of all,” allows it to escape.
Chapter 28: Winter Histories
Now it is late winter, and Macdonald is back at her mother’s house. Although her depression has receded, Macdonald still finds it difficult to be at the house without her father.
She takes Mabel out into the fields to fly. The hawk is “being extraordinary,” never losing sight of Macdonald, and making the strength of their connection clear. When she and Mabel make their way into an unfamiliar chalk field, Macdonald describes the thrill she feels in chalk landscapes. “Chalk-mysticism” has a long history in England, one Macdonald feels guilty for inadvertently participating in: this type of nature appreciation is entangled with harmful ideas of national and racial belonging, ideas that look to ancient landscapes and cultures for a sense of English identity. Macdonald remembers going to Stonehenge and walking the Ridgeway, an ancient road, as a child, when she first felt the potential power of...
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imagining oneself to be aligned with “deep history” through an “imagined lineage.” As an adult, however, she sees how these imagined histories are used to erase “other cultures, other histories, other ways of loving, working and being in a landscape.”
Looking down into the chalk valley, Macdonald sees the hare that Mabel has been pursuing, along with a herd of fallow deer. As Macdonald walks toward them, hare and deer run off in opposite directions. It is a thrilling sight, and it leads Macdonald to contemplate the history of this landscape’s wildlife: fallow deer, hares, and pheasants were introduced by the Romans, while other animals in the region came from France, North America, and elsewhere with “trade and invasion.”
Tired and rain-soaked, Macdonald and Mabel make their way back to the parking lot, where they run into an older couple from Macdonald’s mother’s village. Macdonald and the man and woman happily share their appreciation of the fallow deer—until the man remarks that the deer give him hope that there is “a real bit of Old England still left, despite all these immigrants coming in.” Macdonald is speechless, and she leaves feeling sad and furious and regretting not having replied. She thinks about the everchanging, complex nature of the landscape, and the dangerous myth of Old England: humans, she says, are too short-lived to grasp scale and time as they relate to history and the natural world. In “running to the hawk,” Macdonald realizes, she has wrongly attempted to forget the darkness of history and death, and she reminds herself to “fight, always, against forgetting.”
That night in her mother’s house, Macdonald finds her father’s old plane-spotting diaries. Macdonald’s father grew up in London in the wake of World War II, exploring bombsites and collecting and trading sets of cast-off things with his friends—“shrapnel, cigarette packets, coins.” Macdonald realizes that her father collected airplane sightings in the same spirit—an attempt to create order out of disorder. Airplanes in particular, she thinks, must have given her father a sense of escape, of his world growing larger, and his diaries attest to the patience and attention he gave to watching for them.
Between two notebooks, Macdonald finds a copy of a key to her father’s London flat that he made for her and that she lost. She remembers the lesson he taught her as a child—“be patient and wait”—and recognizes that her grief has turned to love.