The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

Turns out the version I purchased of  The Peregrine also contains another writing, ‘Hills of Summer’, so I was much nearer to the end than I thought in my previous post. I’m now finished, and it ends just as it began, with prose of the highest order.

This is the kind of book that can only really be appreciated by someone who is a writer, or someone who reads a LOT, or someone who is a fanatic about nature. Fortunately for me, I am 2.5 of those, so I enjoyed it immensely.

There is barely a plot, so be forewarned. This is, on the surface, a series of journal entries written by someone who is watching hawks(peregrines). Every few days, a journal entry of what he saw that day, focusing on the hawks.

But there is a sort of arc to it. Each entry, the writer gets more and more obsessed with the hawks, and starts to imagine that they are accepting him as one of their own. He writes increasing asides about how humans suck (in prettier words) and the hawks are glorious and amazing. The end of the book is a clear end and is great when you look at the whole thing in context.

But, for someone looking for an actual story with plot and tension and conflict and enemies and goodguys, you’re not going to get that.

What you will get is prose that is so delicious and rich and new and perfect that you’ll be highlighting every other line. And you’ll get birds and nature up to your eyes and beyond, you’ll get imagery so lush you’ll drown in it in the most wonderful way.

If you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate the skill. If you’re a reader of many things you’ll appreciate the newness (maybe) and if you love nature, it will make you feel like you’re out in it.

Give it a shot!

A slow burning fuse

I’m still reading  The Peregrine , and it is taking me a while. It is such beautiful writing but with no conflict, it is easy to set it down. But I always come back eventually, for the beautiful writing. It’s like an expensive box of rare chocolate, you have one now and then and savor it, instead of wolfing it all down in one sitting.

But now, about 30% through the novel, it is starting to grab me with interesting things. Things other than descriptions of nature. It took a long time to get there, but I don’t think it would have been possible without all the buildup and setting of the tone and scene. And it is amazing, once it starts…

Now I’m getting the ‘what will happen’ urge to go back to it. Now I know something strange is going on, and I wonder what the conclusion will be. But I really don’t think it could have been done if it just started out that way.

Some things require patience and build up and preparation… sadly, things most people don’t have time for in entertainment anymore. If something isn’t exploding on page one, we put the book down.

I found myself imagining how a movie of this would be. Just shots of birds and animals, and a man walking through nature, watching, and his reactions to it and slow change in personality… no dialogue, no running around shooting or crying or fighting or arguing. Just shots of hawks killing wood-pigeons, and the man staring weirdly at the picked clean bones.

I’d watch it… but it would never be made.


Star sand

One of my co workers brought back some star sand for me from a beach in Taiwan. The star shaped grains of sand are actually tiny exoskeletons of foraminifers, a marine protozoa. These creatures lived on the ocean floor, but their skeletons are washed up by the tide. Walking along a beach like that, you would be walking over millions of skeletal remains of creatures from an alien world you’ll never visit…Nature is strange, and interesting…

Nature is angry

The air is filled with smoke. Ashes fall like snow. It’s hotter than it’s ever been. Winds and waters destroy our infrastructure, explode our factories. Is it hubris to think we can do whatever we want and still thrive on this planet? Look to the future. It’s time to change ourselves.

Nature as an alien world

I’m still reading The Peregrine, very slowly because the lack of narrative drive makes it a bit hard to get into. But it is starting to draw me in with the eerie feeling of looking into an alien world, even though all he is describing is perfectly natural Earth.

Seeing the lives of animals without any human involvement gives me a feeling of otherworldlyness, of being somewhere I don’t belong and couldn’t live. The amount of detail and care he puts into the descriptions makes me feel I’m really standing there observing these hawks and crows and ducks and pigeons and starlings and sparrows and all the dozens of other birds he describes. To be there, watching them live their lives and die their deaths, completely uninfluencing and uninfluenced by anything human, has a very alien feeling to it.

The animals of this planet live in their own world, in their own ways, and their lives go on whether we watch them or not.

In the shadow of the moon

I saw the eclipse, the total eclipse, and though I’ve seen pictures and knew what would happen, no words or pictures can match the effect of being there.

It begins slowly, a sliver of the sun gone black, a sense of surreality at seeing such a common fixture in the sky and our psychology shifting that way.

Then you begin to notice the light is dimming. It’s around 10 am but it feels like the sun is about to set. It is setting, in a way.

Then you realize that there is hardly any heat on your face anymore. The sun is cold, a winter sun. It gives off chill, thin light that fails to warm your forehead as you stare at the thinning crescent.

Then the moment comes, when you watch that crescent turned line turned dying ember finally blink out–and an instant later, the halo of white, ethereal flames surrounding the black void disk of the moon. The sky is that of twilight, all around you the horizon appears like a sunset. And that strange white light and preternaturally black disk hangs above you like some alien vision. You’re laughing, you’re cheering, you’re putting your hands on your head and jaw hanging open. You feel some connection with something huge, and brief, and singular and completely out of your or anyone’s control or design.

Then, a white flare like magnesium from a single point on the black disk, and the sky lights up with the triumphant return of the sun.

These words are not enough, you have to experience it. You’ll feel a thrill of elation, emotion, of knowing that you witnessed an event that in the past brought millions to their knees, spawned religions and cults and ended rulers and tyrants, and shifted human events that we will never know.

Bird watching

I recently started reading The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, and am stunned by the beauty of the prose. I have always been endeared by birds and though I’ve never gone birdwatching, this is making me want to.

How he can go on about all the details of how these birds live, and make it so completely engaging and lovely, I don’t even know… I wonder how he can keep this up for an entire novel, and I have no idea, but am excited to find out.