Helen Rockstar!

Randy Davis wrote me today to tell me about a signing for Tom McGuane’s new book– I will delay getting it until I can get an inscribed one in Denver. He was at the Strand with Tom Brokaw.

“My oldest son went to see/hear the McGuane – Brokaw show at  Strand  Books in Manhattan.  Late in the session there was the usual question about what are you reading now, McGuane answered  and I’m paraphrasing, a lovely book that I thought had no commercial prospects, but has proven otherwise: H for Hawk.”

Otherwise indeed! Two big time British literary awards for a personal memoir with falconry is unusual. But I am not sure anyone I ever knew has had as meteoric a rise as Pluvialis in the US…

Partisan? You bet! But consider: this past week she had TWO NYT rave reviews , one Wall Street Journal, one Atlantic, one “Daily Beast”, a long article about her with a photo in the New Yorker, and an NPR interview on Wednesday in which she quoted me– on my birthday! A fine present for my slightly scary 65th…

So in her honor, from her blog Fretmarks, a 2006 description of a Gos in the riparian forest on the Syrdarya in Uzbekistan. You may want to go out and get H is for Hawk when you finish.

“Just near here, I looked up and thought I saw a man standing in a tree.
That’s what my brain told me, momentarily. A man in a long overcoat
leaning slightly to one side.

“And then I saw it wasn’t a man, but a goshawk.

“Moments like this are very illuminating. I’d never thought before, much,
about the actual phenomenology of human-hawk resemblance, the one that
must have brought forth all those mythological hawk-human bonds I’ve
studied for so long.

“I looked at a hawk in a tree, but I saw a man. How curious.

“This goshawk must have been eighty feet away, so dark against the bright
morning sun, so I couldn’t see whether he was facing me or the river.
His short head and snaky neck craned: he was looking at me.

“I raised my binoculars to my eyes as slowly as I could, half-closing my
eyes so my lashes fringed the glare. There. There he was. The glare
wasn’t so bad. I could see his edges very clearly. The light was very
bright. But I could also faintly see the horizontal barring on his chest
feathers. This was an adult male goshawk, and he looked very different
from the ones at home. He reminded me of old photographs of goshawks
flown by falconers on the northwest frontier. Hell, he was
one of these goshawks. He had a dark, dark head with a flaring pale
eyebrow, and the bars on his chest were close-set and far from the hazy,
broken lines of European birds. Imagine tracing—with a ruler—each
horizontal line of a narrow-ruled notebook with a thick, dark-grey
felt-tip pen. That’s what his front looked like, through the glare. And
he was standing on a bare branch and making up his mind what I was,
exactly, and what he should do about it.

“Slowly, he unfolded his wings, as if putting on a coat, and then, rather
quietly and leisurely, he took to the air, one long leg and
loosely-clenched foot trailing as he went. I was astonished by how
long-winged he was, and how much he looked like a big — albeit
long-tailed — falcon. His shape was very different from the goshawks at
home. He was a migrant gos; he’d travelled down mountains and across the
plains to winter here.

“Happy Pluvialis! I wandered back to camp, had a snooze, compared bird
notes, smoked a cigarette and had a cup of coffee. Halimjan made soup
for lunch; there it was, bubbling in the cast-iron pot over the gas
flame and we were sitting around our red plastic table chewing on stale
bread waiting for the soup, and all our heads went up at once. A noise
like ripping, tearing hessian, like a European Jay, only with real
terror in it, was coming towards us right there
and we watched — and slow as syrup and fast as a blink all at once,
came the male gos trying his damnest to catch a magpie; they flashed
right through the trees in front of the table, and gos nearly had a foot
to the magpie before he saw us — five humans and a fire and a truck and
a Giant Red Table right below
him — ack! — wave off! wave off! — and the magpie dove downwards to the
fork of a branch, crouching like a man avoiding a blow, and the gos
spooled away through the trees. He looked like a coin falling through
water, flashing silver and grey. Some kind of metal. A very fierce one.
Potassium, Sodium, Goshawk.”

5 thoughts on “Helen Rockstar!”

  1. You can add People magazine to the list of glowing reviews as well. And I must preface that by stating I wasn't actually reading People Magazine. Well, I suppose I was, but not, you know, reading reading it, or enjoying it(don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I actually wrote for People magazine for a number of years, and I had to preface pretty much every conversation like this…).

    At any rate, I was at the dentist's office last week, and my choices in the waiting room were People magazine or more People magazine, so as I was leafing through a copy of People magazine while trying to make it look obvious that I was only reading People magazine because I was being forced to, I noticed a review of H Is For Hawk in the books section. Yeah, People magazine. Who needs all those fancypants reviews from all the usual highbrow suspects…

    Actually, just read the New Yorker piece. Been meaning to buy the book ever since I read about it here. Will do that this week…

  2. Don't worry, Chad. A few thoughts…

    1) When Rage for Falcons came out in 84, I got the usual box of free author's copies. The first went to someone I had never met, the late Patricia Ryan– you can search my obit for her here.

    She is probably the reason good sporting literature still exists in the US. In the late sixties, as editor of Sports Illustrated, she published the hunting and fishing journalism of Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Russ Chatham, Gatz Hjotsberg, and some others we don't see as much of today. Add the already seasoned Bob Jones, who wrote the stories for the most Time Magazine covers ever but had previously had no outlet for his hunting stories, nature writers like Bil Gilbert, England's Clive Gammon on angling, Dan Gerber on auto racing, and you have the roots of the renaissance of sporting letters that crested in Gray's Sporting Journal and that still sputters on today.

    They inspired me, but I had no idea how to approach SI in my early, ever un- credentialed 20's.But when Gray's started up, with offices on Beacon Street in Brookline, I just walked in–a story to be told soon..

    People? By the time Rage came out, Pat had been moved over to run the struggling People. Her version was far more intelligent than the present version(maybe her celebrities were slightly less vapid) but it was still People. My friend Eric, who occasionally comments here, had sold some high- end Asian rugs to Pat in Maine, and gave me her address.

    I sent her the first copy of rage, with an inscription saying that it would not have existed without her. She never replied, but in a month or maybe slightly less, a review of a falconry book, with one of Jonathan Wilde's illos and a photo of ME, appeared in People's then rather prominent review section. I suspect Helen and I are the only falconry books ever reviewed there.

    2) Around that time, someone from the east wasvisiting, and began to give me crap about the People on the bedside table. I picked it up to reveal a tattered copy of Montaigne's complete essays under it, dogeared and lined, and said "when you show me this beside your bed, you can give me grief about People."

    Maybe this is a blog post and not a comment…

  3. Recall that James Salter, our hopefully immortal literary mandarin wrote for PEOPLE with interviews and profiles of Graham Greene, Nabokov, Antonia Fraser…where did that magazine go?


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