H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

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Chapters 29–30 Summary

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Chapter 29: Enter Spring

Frantic, Macdonald arrives at Mandy and Stuart’s house and asks to use the phone. She has left Mabel in the car, and her thumb is bleeding terribly. Macdonald calls the college to apologize: she was supposed to be there teaching a class by now.

Spring is coming, and for Macdonald this means she will have to part with Mabel: the hawk must spend the season moulting in an aviary. Not wanting to acknowledge spring’s approach or the hawk’s increasing restlessness, Macdonald decided to fly Mabel for an hour before class. But in the field, Mabel slipped away, flew onto private property, and, before Macdonald could intervene, grabbed a pheasant in each foot. They had accidentally trespassed on a pheasant release pen, Macdonald realized. In retrieving Mabel and dismembering the dead pheasants, Macdonald cut her thumb badly, then drove directly to Stuart and Mandy’s house.

In 1949, publisher Wren Howard visited T. H. White at his new house in the Channel Islands and persuaded him to allow The Goshawk to be published. White agreed on the condition that he could add a postscript explaining what he should have done differently with Gos. After the book was released, readers wrote to White expressing all kinds of opinions; the most memorable of these was a letter chastising White for his treatment of the hawk and condemning him as “abnormal.”

Macdonald moves back to Cambridge and, while unpacking, rediscovers her copy of The Goshawk. She finds that as she has become happier, she has spent less time thinking about White and all the qualities he projected onto Gos. Looking out into her garden, Macdonald sees how content Mabel looks. There is a danger, she reflects, in “mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it”—in ascribing human meanings to the parts of the natural world that we ought to value precisely because they have “nothing to do with us at all.” Sharing her life with Mabel has helped Macdonald to heal from her grief, and she no longer looks to lose herself in the hawk’s world.

Chapter 30: The Moving Earth

It is late February, and tomorrow, Macdonald will take Mabel to her friend Tony’s house, where Mabel will moult in Tony’s spare aviary. The thought of parting from the hawk leaves Macdonald feeling “distinctly wobbly.”

In the middle of the night, Macdonald awakes to a terrifying, violent shaking that she soon realizes is an earthquake. Earthquakes are unusual in England: Macdonald’s neighbors go out into the street in their pajamas, and Christina calls immediately. For Macdonald, the event brings back her old fears of apocalyptic destruction. Worried that Mabel will be terrified, Macdonald races downstairs, where she finds the hawk asleep on her perch, having felt the earthquake and been unconcerned. Mabel is “at home in the world,” Macdonald realizes; and for Macdonald, she is also a “protecting spirit.” As Macdonald sits with the hawk, all her fear disappears.

The next day, Macdonald drives Mabel to Tony’s house in Suffolk. The large aviary has everything Mabel will need during the moulting season, and Macdonald knows the hawk will be well cared for. Everything changes, all the time, she thinks; when she next sees Mabel, the hawk’s coloring will have changed completely, and Mabel will have forgotten her. Macdonald says goodbye to Mabel and tells the hawk she will miss her. Knowing what she must be feeling, Tony invites Macdonald into the warmth of the house.

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Chapters 27–28 Summary