Tag Archives: H is for Hawk

H is for Hawk (for Edexcel IGCSE

A powerpoint, based hugely on the Edexcel text book.  PLease feel free ot use it.

H is for Hawk

From H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
[When Macdonald’s father died suddenly of a heart attack, Macdonald was
devastated. An experienced falconer, she adopted a goshawk to distract her
from her grief. In this extract Macdonald meets her hawk for the first time.]

‘We’ll check the ring numbers against the Article 10s,’ he explained, pulling a sheaf of
yellow paper from his rucksack and unfolding two of the official forms that accompany
captive-bred rare birds throughout their lives. ‘Don’t want you going home with the
wrong bird.’
We noted the numbers. We stared down at the boxes, at their parcel-5 tape handles, their
doors of thin plywood and hinges of carefully tied string. Then he knelt on the concrete,
untied a hinge on the smaller box and squinted into its dark interior. A sudden thump of
feathered shoulders and the box shook as if someone had punched it, hard, from within.
‘She’s got her hood off,’ he said, and frowned. That light, leather hood was to keep the
hawk from fearful sights. Like us.
Another hinge untied. Concentration. Infinite caution. Daylight irrigating the box.
Scratching talons, another thump. And another. Thump. The air turned syrupy, slow,
flecked with dust. The last few seconds before a battle. And with the last bow pulled
free, he reached inside, and amidst a whirring, chaotic clatter of wings and feet and
talons and a high-pitched twittering and it’s all happening at once, the man pulls an
enormous, enormous hawk out of the box and in a strange coincidence of world and
deed a great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury. The
hawk’s wings, barred and beating, the sharp fingers of her dark-tipped primaries cutting
the air, her feathers raised like the scattered quills of a fretful porpentine1. Two
enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways. She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen
angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary2. Something bright and
distant, like gold falling through water. A broken marionette3 of wings, legs and lightsplashed feathers. She is wearing jesses4, and the man holds them. For one awful, long moment she is hanging head-downward, wings open, like a turkey in a butcher’s shop, only her head is turned right-way-up and she is seeing more than she has ever seen
before in her whole short life. Her world was an aviary no larger than a living room. Then it was a box. But now it is this; and she can see everything: the point-source glitter on the waves, a diving cormorant a hundred yards out; pigment flakes under wax on the
lines of parked cars; far hills and the heather on them and miles and miles of sky where
the sun spreads on dust and water and illegible things moving in it that are white scraps
of gulls. Everything startling and new-stamped on her entirely astonished brain.
Through all this the man was perfectly calm. He gathered up the hawk in one practised
movement, folding her wings, anchoring her broad feathered back against his chest,
gripping her scaled yellow legs in one hand. ‘Let’s get that hood back on,’ he said tautly.
There was concern in his face. It was born of care. This hawk had been hatched in an
incubator, had broken from a frail bluish eggshell into a humid perspex box, and for the
first few days of her life this man had fed her with scraps of meat held in a pair of
tweezers, waiting patiently for the lumpen, fluffy chick to notice the food and eat, her
new neck wobbling with the effort of keeping her head in the air. All at once I loved this
man, and fiercely. I grabbed the hood from the box and turned to the hawk. Her beak
was open, her hackles raised; her wild eyes were the colour of sun on white paper, and
they stared because the whole world had fallen into them at once. One, two, three. I
tucked the hood over her head. There was a brief intimation of a thin, angular skull
under her feathers, of an alien brain fizzing and fusing with terror, then I drew the
braces closed. We checked the ring numbers 45 against the form.
It was the wrong bird. This was the younger one. The smaller one. This was not my
hawk.
Oh.
So we put her back and opened the other box, which was meant to hold the larger, older
bird. And dear God, it did. Everything about this second hawk was different. She came
out like a Victorian melodrama: a sort of madwoman in the attack. She was smokier and
darker and much, much bigger, and instead of twittering, she wailed; great, awful gouts
of sound like a thing in pain, and the sound was unbearable. This is my hawk, I was
telling myself and it was all I could do to breathe. She too was bareheaded, and I
grabbed the hood from the box as before. But as I brought it up to her face I looked into
her eyes and saw something blank and crazy in her stare. Some madness from a distant
country. I didn’t recognise her. This isn’t my hawk. The hood was on, the ring numbers
checked, the bird back in the box, the yellow form folded, the money exchanged, and all
I could think was, But this isn’t my hawk. Slow panic. I knew what I had to say, and it
was a monstrous breach of etiquette. ‘This is really awkward,’ I began. ‘But I really liked
the first one. Do you think there’s any chance I could take that one instead . . .?’ I tailed
off. His eyebrows were raised. I started again, saying stupider things: ‘I’m sure the other
falconer would like the larger bird? She’s more beautiful than the first one, isn’t she? I
know this is out of order, but I … Could I? Would it be all right, do you think?’ And on
and on, a desperate, crazy barrage of incoherent appeals.
I’m sure nothing I said persuaded him more than the look on my face as I said it. A tall,
white-faced woman with wind-wrecked hair and exhausted eyes was pleading with him
on a quayside, hands held out as if she were in a seaside production of Medea. Looking
at me he must have sensed that my stuttered request wasn’t a simple one. That there
was something behind it that was very important. There was a moment of total silence.

1 porpentine: a type of porcupine animal
2 bestiary: a (medieval) descriptive passage on various kinds of animals
3 marionette: a puppet worked by strings
4 jesses: a short leather strap fastened to the leg

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