Helen MacDonald's Goshawk


There is an abundance of birds of prey—red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks and kestrels—soaring over the fields surrounding Sebastian River High School. If you are patient, as in the lesson Helen MacDonald’s father was trying to teach her, perhaps you will see a hawk as well. Do you enjoy bird watching? Check out the live Bird Cams at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on their website, http://www.allaboutbirds.org

Literary Connection

The air reeked of pine resin and the pitchy vinegar of wood ants. I felt my small-girl fingers hooked through plastic chain-link and the weight of a pair of East German binoculars around my neck. I was bored. I was nine. Dad was standing next to me. We were looking for sparrowhawks. They nested nearby, and that July afternoon we were hoping for the kind of sighting they’d sometimes give us: a submarine ripple through the tops of the pines as one swept in and away; a glimpse of a yellow eye; a barred chest against moving needles, or a quick silhouette stamped black against the Surrey sky. For a while it had been exciting to stare into the darkness between the trees and the blood-orange and black where the sun slapped crazy-paving shadows across pines. But when you are nine, waiting is hard. I kicked at the base of the fence with my wellingtoned feet. Squirmed and fidgeted.

Let out a sigh. Hung off the fence with my fingers. And then my dad looked at me, half exasperated, half amused, and explained something. He explained patience. He said it was the most important thing of all to remember, this: that when you wanted to see some¬thing very badly, sometimes you had to stay still, stay in the same place, remember how much you wanted to see it, and be patient. ‘When I’m at work, taking photographs for the paper,’ he said, ‘sometimes I’ve got to sit in the car for hours to get the picture I want. I can’t get up to get a cup of tea or even go to the loo. I just have to be patient. If you want to see hawks you have to be patient too.’ He was grave and serious, not annoyed; what he was doing was communicating a grown-up Truth, but I nodded sulkily and stared at the ground. It sounded like a lecture, not advice, and I didn’t understand the point of what he was trying to say.

—Helen MacDonald in H is for Hawks, 2014

Helen MacDonald chooses to employ a first person point of view to narrate her experiences with her wildlife photographer father. One critical issue to address with a first person narrator is to confirm the narrator’s reliability. Can we trust this narrative voice? Is this character telling the truth? Is this narrator disabled in some way that makes the narration unreliable? Is this narrator a child, as in this example, who does not fully understand all of the implications.

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