Lightly Child, Lightly

I worked at a falcon-breeding center. In one room were banks of expensive incubators containing falcon eggs. Through the glass, their shells were the mottled browns of walnut, of tea-stains, of onion skins…These were forced-air incubators with eggs on wire racks. We weighed them each day, and as the embryo moved towards hatching, we’d candle them: place them on a light and scribe the outline of the shadow against the bright air-cell with a soft graphite pencil, so that as the days passed the eggshell was ringed with repeated lines that resembled tides or wide-grained wood. But I always left the incubation room feeling unaccountably upset, with a vague disquieting sense of vertigo. It was a familiar emotion I couldn’t quite name. I finally worked out what it was on rainy Sunday afternoon. Leafing through my parents’ albums I found a photograph of me a few days after my birth, a frail and skinny thing, one arm rings with a medical bracelet and bathed in stark electric light. I was in an incubator, for I was exceedingly premature. My twin brother did not survive his birth. And that early loss, followed by weeks of white light lying alone on a blanket in a Perspex box, had done something to me that echoed with a room full of eggs in forced-air boxes, held in moist air and moved by wire. Now I could put a name to the upset I felt. It was loneliness.

That was when I recognised the particular power of eggs to raise questions of human hurt and harm. That was why, I realised, the nests in my childhood collection made me uncomfortable; they reached back to a time in my life when the world was nothing but surviving isolation. And then. And then there was a day. One day when, quite by surprise, I discovered that if I held a falcon egg close to my mouth and made soft clucking noises, a chick that was ready to hatch would call back. And there I stood, in the temperature-controlled room. I spoke through the shell to something that had not yet known light or air, but would soon take in the revealed coil and furl of a west-coast breeze and cloud of a hillside in one easy glide at sixty miles an hour, and spire up on sharp wings to soar high enough to see the distant, glittering Atlantic. I spoke through an egg and wept.

— Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020) 


Notes:

  • Photo: Incubator
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Comments

  1. This is incredibly moving

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow – this was extraordinarily moving…the cure for loneliness found in the connectedness to a soon-to-enter chick. My eyes filled too

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lump in my throat.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I would cry too 🦅

    Liked by 2 people

  6. David, I Just picked up this book yesterday! I should have known you’d have it too. 😊 Such beauty in her writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Wow!! … the wonder of life!! … “I worked at a falcon-breeding center. In one room were banks of expensive incubators containing falcon eggs. Through the glass, their shells were the mottled browns of walnut, of tea-stains, of onion skins … I spoke through an egg and wept.” – Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Everything clucks back, if we’re paying attention.

    Loved this, DK! Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This was incredibly powerful and moving and I cannot help but wonder if that’s what my son felt in his first days, even though we could touch him and hold him during the day.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. wonderful…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Another one that just sucks all the air out of the room.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Yes, Helen Macdonald writes with such intimacy with her experience–got to know her when [H is for Hawk] she was 8 and learning more about goshawks, through her wonderful relationship with Mabel (what a creature). How not surprising that she can still summon up the ability to bring us into her unique experience! Vesper Flights, next!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Love that!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. How extraordinary. What an amazing experience (to survive that birth and then relive that sensation of isolation on viewing the falcon eggs later in life).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I heard Helen Macdonald interviewed about her new book about swifts on BBC Radio 4 the other day. She’s a really interesting person. Apparently, she doesn’t have a pet falcon anymore. She has a parrot, which has inflicted many more pecks on her than her falcon ever did!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh, I just realise that this is a book cover to make me wish buying the book FOR its cover! I have seen it, I took note of it, it WAS recommended to me….. wow

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: