Saturday, 25 March 2017

Book Review, "H is for Hawk" by Dr Helen Macdonald, Part #2

In chapter 6, entitled "The Box of Stars", an interesting explanation of her goshawk's physiology, which I found particularly interesting as I too have been researching on the perception of Hawks and Falcons, in particular, work that I have already made some short notes upon. Macdonald's explanation of her hawk is useful for me to make a note of here. She is talking about the wildness and independent irritability (it seems that they are quite truculent creatures).
She goes on to say;
 "nervousness, of course, isn't quite the right word: it is simply that they have jacked up nervous systems in which the nerve pathways from the eyes and ears to the motor neurones that control their muscles have only minor links with associated neurones in the brain. Goshawks appear nervous because they live life 10 times faster than we do, and they react to stimuli literally without thinking." (Macdonald, H. p56).

The idea of patience and waiting for the right moment that was encouraged in her upbringing is a continual theme of the book. Indeed referring to her own father's photography and obsessive observations she quotes Henry Cartier-Bresson and states "the taking of a good photograph is a decisive moment. Your eye must see a composition or an expression of that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera, the moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.(p72). This patience and sense of expectation create an anxiety of the sort in both artists and photographers alike, and it is interesting here that those same feelings come through from a source of another point of reference. The sense of patience comes through the quiet observations that the hawk has, and I suspect, all birds of prey have in their moment of seeing prey which they then arrogate for themselves, they seize, claim and expropriated the life of the hunted creature. The time in between those moments is a silent moment of introspection. Macdonald hints at this when she is describing her own observations of Mabel. "She is interested in flies, and specs of floating dust, in the way light falls on certain surfaces. What is she looking at? What is she thinking?" (p84) It is in these quiet moments that Macdonald too exposes her grief again and states "the hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life. I was turning into a hawk."

This also is a time while Macdonald is virtually spending 24 hours a day with Mabel, as a kind of habituation, getting used to each other's presence in every single way. Part of the training of the hawk requires a special bond to be created between human and raptor, and this bonding or habituation process can indeed take not just days but up to 3 weeks of intimate sharing of existence within the world together. During all of this time, Macdonald is not only watching the Hawks progress but her own dealing with her grief. The obsessive watching again comes into play.
She states "the first few days with wild new hawk dictate a reflexive dance of manners. To judge when to scratch your nose without offence, when to walk and when to sit, when to retreat and when to come close, you must read your hawk's state of mind. You do this by watching her posture and her feathers, the workings of which turned the birds shape into an exquisitely controlled barometer of mood." (p85).

This piece of text draws on my memory again; to an often remembered piece of work by one of my favourite anthropologists, and zoologist. A keen observer and that is the work of Desmond Morris. He talks at length about the ideas of human body language and its derivation from our primal ancestors. In "The Naked Ape" (Morris D, 1967) he discusses the subtle and exquisitely detailed movements of expression that humans make, which later goes on to become a foundation of behavioural study and a whole science of "body language". It is of interest that this notion of body language and communication through gesture is clearly coming through in Macdonald's articulations. She goes on to say "to train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk,… You seem to feel what it needs what it feels." (Macdonald, H. p86).  She talks about this sense of feeling what something else feels, that heightened sense of empathy.  She quotes the poet Keats, who called this a "chameleon quality"; the ability to "tolerate the loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting in the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or another environment" (page 86). This too has special appeal to me in my own attempts to see the world from another point of view. To become something else, and literally, to see with something different's vision, requires a very deep and meditative contemplation which will, of course, be speculative at all times, and hence my notion of continental philosophy and ontology through speculative realism is so important.

Once the habituation and acclimatisation of the hawk Mabel are firm;  has become sufficiently bonded with Macdonald, she feels able to start short forays outside, with the hawk retained on the type of leash attached to her feet, through what are known as Jessies. These are tough leather anklets on which various falconry attire and furniture can be placed, such as hoops, rings and bells. The leash is known as a 'creance', which is very thin but extremely durable doubled-up leather cord, attached to the Hawks' jessies and allowed to extend at greater lengths as the training of the bird becomes more established. Out in the open, in the bigger world, the isolation that Macdonald has been placing herself within, and sharing only with Mabel, becomes apparent. Just a simple walk into the walled garden of her cottage (which seems to be within the bounds of Cambridge University), makes a frightening experience for Macdonald as she has acquired the nervous anxiety, almost agitation, with unusual objects, sounds, experiences and phenomena. She remarks on the light, the movement and noise in this outside world, but goes on to say "the hawk is unperturbed. She tips her head sideways to look up at the moving clouds-in daylight her irises are flat and shiny and slightly blurred, with pupils that dilate and contract like a camera lens as she focuses, zip-zip-zip-zip,  up to track a passing Cessna aircraft perhaps,-and then she returns her gaze and head upside down to watch a nearby fly, and then tracks another, et cetera"(p98). Macdonald then realises "the world she lives in is not mine. Life is faster for her; time runs slower. Her eyes can follow the wing beats be as easily as ours following the wing beats of a bird. What is she seeing? I wonder, and my brain does backflips trying to imagine it, because I can't."(p98). She then goes on to discuss how Hawks and birds of prey have a different perception of the world. Not only because of their acute eyesight and the deep fovea which I have discussed in a previous blog, but also the fact that a raptor's eyes, its' rods and cones, those light-sensitive receptors that are matched to the wavelengths of the colours red green and blue in our own eyes, are complemented with additional sensitivities.  These other modified rods and cones allow raptors to see well into the ultraviolet as well as polarised light ranges and even into the infrared spectrum, which allows hawks to virtually see the thermal currents of warm air during flight. It is also thought that they may even be able to sense the magnetic lines of force for them to recognise the poles of the earth! Raptors, as well as many other bird species, hence have the ability to trace the subtle variances of geography and topology with that added navigational reference.

This idea of perception of the other dimensions, that we are clearly unfamiliar with as humans becomes interesting too in my own work in trying to mediate some kind of language of recognition through the eyes of the Peregrine. I was particularly encouraged and drawn to an observation that Helen Macdonald makes during a quieter moment of her training Mabel. It is a moment where Macdonald recognises that as this hawk has been hand reared through an incubator from being an egg, she has never seen a prey animal before. Yet seems to instinctively, almost through 'a priori', to know what other animals she may hunt, and those that she may not. Described here, is the first encounter with moorhens and Mabel recognises immediately the need to chase them (p137).
But it is Macdonald's observation that occurred a few days earlier, while Mabel had been sitting on a perch and Macdonald had been going about her business when she noticed the hawk...
 "I'd seen her looking at a small drawing of partridges in the book that I'd left open on the floor. Intrigued I picked up the book and held it in front of her. She kept her eyes fixed on the picture, even when I moved the book about in the air. No way! I thought. The drawing was a link; it was stylised and sparse: it caught the feel and form of partridges, but there was no colour or detail to it. I flipped through the book, showed her the drawings: finches, seabirds, thrushes. She ignored them all. Then I showed her drawing of a pheasant. Her black pupils dilated; she leant forward and stand down her beak directly at it, fascinated as he had been with the partridges. I was amazed. Amazed that she could understand two-dimensional images, and even more amazed that something deep in her brain so these sparse inked curves as fitting the category "game birds" and had pronounced them worthy of interest."(p137).

Initial conclusions;

  • This last paragraph is a strange yet marvellous observation in itself which spurs me on to continue my own quest! 
  • The theme of drawing as a kind of articulation and the halfway point of language between man and hawk fits!
  • It is purely speculative of course, but in that short paragraph (p137) there is a sense of triangulation of proof at last, that my journey is worthwhile.


Macdonald, H. (2014) "H is for Hawk" Jonathan Cape Publishers, London.
Morris, D. (1967) "The Naked Ape" (2nd Ed. 2005), Vantage Books, London.

Friday, 24 March 2017

A book review of "H is for Hawk"(2014) by Dr Helen Macdonald, Published by Jonathan Cape, London. Part #1

I finished reading this book around ten days ago, and I have since, allowed it to begin to sink in and crystallise in my thoughts.

A quick introduction of Dr Helen Macdonald; Dr Macdonald is a historian with the Department of History and philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge. She is also an illustrator and poet, and here her writing has been exemplified through a discourse of the difficulties she faced while going through her personal grief after losing her father. She is also a Falconer, which is what drew my attention to her methods and writing.

Initially, this book was recommended to me by Dr Stella Baraklianou, around a month ago during an informal discussion about my project. And the work I am trying to articulate through drawing, against the literary backbone, which is the book "the Peregrine" by JA Baker (1967, second edition 2015).

Immediately after starting to read the book by Helen Macdonald, I realised, not only elegant way in which she recorded her story, but also the profoundly moving way in which she explained her feelings. In a way, the book is almost an autobiography, however, while the book does provide a detailed insight into some of her personal thoughts, which were generated through very close but bringing and relationship with her father, it is also an utterly engaging story about her relationship with a Hawk. The hawk in question is of a type known as a 'Goshawk'.

Macdonald explains her fascination with falconry started at a very young age and at the time of writing this book, she was already a proficient Falconer and had trained many different breeds of both falcons and hawks. However, early on in the narrative, it was made clear that this particular strain, the goshawk, provides a robust and challenging raptor for a falconer to train. They virtually remain wild and that sense of independence and individualism, of the bird's thoughts, seem to come through very clearly in Macdonald's writings.

As a point of reference for "H is for Hawk", Macdonald chose to use a previous piece of literature written by T.H. White, during the early 1950s. TH White's book was entitled "The Goshawk"(1951), and it describes his relationship as a complete novice, trying to attempt to train a goshawk.  It delineates the seeming constant battle that he has with the hawk, because of his pride and deeply ingrained sensitivities, perhaps amplified, during the time that he was a schoolmaster. It is his belief that 'through kindness, children should be taught', which seems to go against the general fashion of his day. He attempts to apply this idea of 'training through kindness' to the goshawk that he acquires. His frustrations and almost frightening engagement with the bird puts him into a state of total distance from reality. As he is attempting to train this wild creature without having any previous knowledge of falconry, it is made all the harder.

In a similar way to my intentions of using JA Baker's book "the Peregrine" (1967) as a backbone for my work, much of Macdonald's writing keeps the idea of TH White's "The Goshawk" in her rearview mirror. She recognises his vain and ill-conceived ideas about training his goshawk, and yet apparently makes the tribute to the fact that TH White, the learned and scholarly man that he is, is not attempting to undertake his journey alone. That is, without having read a significant amount of practical literature which goes back to the Middle Ages on the rearing and upbringing of hawks. It is probably worth pointing out also, that TH White is more famous for writing the book "the Sword in the Stone" (published in 1938) which is an English favourite, telling the story of the legend of King Arthur. Within that book, the inference of falconry comes through in many places; for example, the wizard known as Merlyn is indeed named after one of Britain's smallest Hawks, the 'Merlin'. Furthermore, there are various references within the book concerning mediaeval hunting and falconry, as at one stage the young Arthur is himself turned into a hawk for a short time.

By the time TH White had received a good degree of fame for his earlier works, and after having sold the rights to "the Sword in the Stone" to the Walt Disney company, he wrote the book "The Goshawk" in 1951. But it reflects the turbulent time of his own life some 15 to 20 years prior.  That was before the Second World War too. Macdonald's choice in using his book as a backbone to her writings comes through clearly. Her battle with her emotions after losing her beloved father, while at the same time attempting to train this wild creature is equally reflected through her grief and in my opinion her suffering of a deep depression. Various sentences within Macdonald's writing draw the viewer towards this conclusion, such as whole chapters entitled for example "Darkness", (p92 -p98), "Hiding," Chapter 20 (p185-194); and a section entitled "Fear" (p195 - p204). I will go into these chapters a little bit further on in this review but to suffice it to say that Macdonald's suffering was made very clear. Putting grief and despair and depression to one side, the book explores how her relationship with falconry, emerges from a childhood fascination which may have originally come from her father's fascination with flight.  And in his case man's flight through aircraft.
 She tells of times she spent with her father, having almost been forced into 'plane spotting' with him, and her attention often drifting across the wide open spaces of airfields and grassland (p10). What she learnt from these excursions with her father was a sense of patience. As a photographer for a newspaper, he had a critical eye and inculcated into his daughter that same searching almost obsessive habit, of learning to wait for the right moment, and capturing it in some recordable way.

And then the shock of receiving the news that her father has passed away is soon to turn her world upside down. Like all people suffering from profound grief, the usual reaction is shocked, then to withdraw from society and take stock of what is important in life. I too have suffered many times in that loss, of not only my parents but also more recently, my eldest brother. And again, more recently, and so the feelings that Macdonald articulates are still quite raw in my mind, even though a long time has elapsed since the death of my parents, but the painful memories are still quite near to the surface, and I expect them to remain so.

Clearly, the subject matter in most hunting and falconry discourses have to engage with the theme of death at some stage. Whether that is the death of the prey animal or indeed other aspects of mortality, those notions are always near to the surface too. The idea that life goes on and things just happen almost in a parallel existence is also articulated in "H is for Hawk". A hint is found of that otherworldliness on page 21 where Macdonald describes some men hunting and quotes
"the disposition of their [the falconers] Hawks was peculiar. But it wasn't unsociable. It was something much stranger. It seemed that the Hawks couldn't see us at all, that they'd slipped out of our world entirely and moved to another, wilder world from which humans had been utterly raised. These men knew they had vanished. Nothing could be done except to wait."
This passage is where Macdonald is talking about her early observations and first encounters with falconry and how the men that kept the Hawks retained this sense of patience.  - Allowing things to happen and unfold in their own ways. It is a deep sense of respect that the falconers have for their charges as they know and understand that the birds have a choice; to be wild completely, or, to acquiesce in some small way, but only when they, and they alone, decide to do so. It is also at this point in the book that Macdonald points out the difference between a hawk and falcon, the latter being a bird of prey and raptor whose name is derived from the Greek word meaning sickle. The very words sickle and Falcon, which somehow infuse a sense of speed, both slicing through the air. Moreover, she explains the general view that "falcons seem to be better than hawks", as the latter have an apparent wildness and, in Macdonald's words "psychopathic" (p22) aspect to the way that they hunt and kill their prey. Indeed she quotes a line by Captain Gilbert Blain (1936) which suggests that "the Peregrine Falcon is the finest bird on earth." "Of all the living creatures she is the most perfect embodiment of power, speed and grace" (Blain, 1936).

At first, it seems that Macdonald is coming to terms with the loss of her father but again, like many experiencing grief, there are good days and bad days, which turn into good weeks and bad weeks, or good months and bad months and so on. The idea of presence and notions of liminal existences comes back again after a few months. "Something else was there, something standing next to me that I couldn't touch or see, the thing a fraction of a millimetre away from my skin, something vastly wrong, making infinite the distance between me and all the familiar objects in my house. I ignored it. I'm fine, I told myself. Fine." (p24), and later, "I dreamed of the hawk slipping through wet air to [something] somewhere else. I wanted to follow it."(p24).
It is clear that Macdonald needs some sort of outlet to the grief that she is experiencing and decides that the time is right for her to acquire one of the hardest hawks of all to befriend and to train. As already explained, the Goshawk.

It is here that she starts to also recall her reading of TH White, and "the Sword in the Stone" (1938). His own intention in writing 'The Goshawk' (1951), the book, he said "it would be about the efforts of a second-rate philosopher, who lived alone in a wood, being tired of most humans in any case, to train a person who is not human, but a bird" (White, T.H. 1952, in an unpublished manuscript found by Macdonald).
Macdonald states on page 38, "when I trained my hawk I was having a quiet conversation, of sorts, with the deeds and works of the long dead man [that is, TH White], who was suspicious, morose, determined to despair. A man whose life disturbed me. But a man, too, who loved nature, who found it surprising, bewitching and endlessly novel." Macdonald goes on to then say "by skilfully training a hunting animal, by closely associating with it, by identifying with it, you might be allowed to experience all your vital, sincere desires, even though most bloodthirsty ones, in total innocence. You could be true to yourself." (p43).

Once she had acquired her new charge, a young female goshawk (that she named Mabel), Macdonald describes her initial meeting with it through a brilliant examination and description and says "she is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A Gryphon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water". (p53)

It seems fitting to pause here and allow this opening of the book review to sink in further.


Blain, G. (1936), "She is Noble in her Nature"(pp229-230) from "Falconry",(1936), Phillip Alen,       London.
Macdonald, H. (2014) "H is for Hawk" Jonathan Cape Publishers, London.
White, T.H. (1951), "The Goshawk", Jonathan Cape, London.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Reflections on a lecture by Dr Juliet MacDonald, regarding Adobe 'InDesign' application, workshop #2

The initial overview of last week's activities included a recap on
a) a new document
b) outline of the "work spaces" and panels.
              Format of pages/facing pages.
              Panels:-pages, swatches et cetera.
C) Master pages and their manipulation.

Placing images. [File]-Place = puts the [linked file] onto the workspace Artboard (Remember the file needs to be located in the same file system); Use shortcut [command] plus ['D']

Right click and drag the placement box. [The ratio of an image is constrained in this function]
for an alternative method, use [left mouse button] click to position a full-size version onto the page being displayed.

It is possible to make multiple placements by positioning a range of files through the selection of them in the file open dialogue. [File-place-"select"]

When sending a file to an external printers shop for example, use the file package option to send all the images and links embedded within a single file

Working with colour-swatches and colour pallets.

Drawing with text, boxes and paragraphs/tables;
use the [Windows] tab to select all the panels you need on your visible desktop;
 For example, use "object" and "layout" to make alignments and changes to the visual form.
Another useful tool is to select 'smart guides', which allow for a visible interaction through the movement of your mouse cursor.

"Frames"; consider changing the standard frame of a rectangle or square into a polygon as well as star shapes;

Use the shortcut "W" in order to preview your work as your progressing through a design.

To position page numbers onto various selected pages, use the "Master" page and create a text box where you wish to position your page number. Then in the "type" menu, select "special characters" and then "markers" to the current page number. There is a shortcut for these actions which is "[option], [shift], [command] plus [N]"

In academic documents a "running head" can also be installed onto the master page as well as any preformatted text, together with picture boxes, so that all pages have linked formatting, and can display headers, footers and whatever other design on every single page.

In "layout" it is possible to change the page numbering according to the sections and cover pages required.

When installing videos to PDF documents, use [Windows-interactive-media]
Treat videos like images.

Create a frame first that is quite large in order to accommodate the pixel dimensions of the selected video.
Place the video file within the design document. It will create a submenu and video viewer.
Please note however that Adobe InDesign is happy with the '.swf' and also 'Flash' file formats, and sometimes (but not always!)  '.MOV' files from Apple QuickTime as H264 files.
However, remember it is important to edit videos and be careful with compression as InDesign is very fussy about which type of compression is used.

Click on the ["show import options"] to open the media panel within your display area.
The media panel can be used to create a "poster" within the finished document that shows a specific image frame of the video.
Also remember that with videos, only e-PUB (fixed layout) and Adobe PDF (interactive) formats are available. Clearly, it is necessary to only use fixed formats for academic assessments.

Example outputs;


  • It is also possible to make transitions within PDF documents and it is possible to demonstrate an elaborate set of transitions. However, it is best to do this on an actual verbal presentation rather than trying to incorporate it into the submitted presentation for academic purpose. 
  • Indeed with regards to academic documents it is probably best to avoid transitions I think.
  • A very useful on-site online web resource is the webpage HTTP:/
  • Also there is a wealth of information that Adobe's own website under HTTP://