The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

I spotted this a while ago whilst browsing the nature section in Waterstones and proceeded to ask for it for Yule. I devoted my time over the holidays to consuming this novel that was quite unlike anything I have read before.

The introduction to the text is lengthy – lots of waffle about his writing style – which, although interesting, is enough to put any keen reader off – so I skipped this and just took in a few points made in the introduction about his writing style. His interesting blend of poetic text in prose is a refreshing change from the text I am accustomed to.

This is a non-fiction text that follows Baker’s wanderings into the wilds over several months and his recordings of the activities of the local peregrines in the flat fens of eastern England – with the main focus being on a particular pair he knows well. He watches the birds stoop and kill, observes their flight, their sleep, being pestered by other birds and their blatant fear of man from autumn until spring. His recordings of each day are in depth – he mentions the activities of other creatures around him, paints enchanting images of the landscape around him and draws us in with his undeniably captivating use of language. We’re left hanging off every word to the point where it’s almost like being spoon-fed rich honey with yoghurt; we’re charmed; we long for more and his blatant skill with words lets us very much see the world through both his eyes and those of the peregrines. His writing is a refreshing – even the most mundane of things becomes beautiful when he describes it. I admired this man from the instant I read the first page for his pure respect and love for such an iconic bird and a avid love of all things in nature that shines like the sun through his text. I also admired his persistence and solidarity – unless the weather was particularly bad, he would brave it in order to just catch a glimpse of this iconic bird or even just fresh kills it had made. His use of metaphors and similies is superb and his passion is infectious, when I wasn’t reading the book I had peregrines hurtling like bullets through my skull, words and images dancing on my tongue begging to be put into script. As the months pass and each account builds up, we can see and feel Baker becoming less human, his humanity almost seems to dissolve a little as he catches himself acting and almost thinking as a hawk. This I admired and although I am a firm believer in always maintaining a distance between man and wild beast out of sheer respect, his keenness to get close to such a beautiful bird was something I could see reflected in my own heart. Few know the thrill of coming nose to nose with wilderness; to look a deer in the eye, to catch a flash of red of a foxes tail and to get out-stared by the cold yellow eyes of a peregrine… all things I could experience again and again and they would only feed the fiery passion and need in my belly to find more, to experience more and encounter such creatures again. Seeing such a passion in Baker was … a thrill. This man knows and few do.

This book was brimming over with fantastic quotes – so many I began marking them with tiny crosses in pencil and I hate marking books. unfortunately, I am writing this review some time after actually reading it and the book itself is 400miles away so I cannot quote from it as much as I would like. Here, however, are a few little stunners I came across thanks to the wonder that is the internet:

“Approach him across open ground with a steady unfaltering movement. Let your shape grow in size but do not alter its outline. Never hide yourself unless concealment is complete. Be alone. Shun the furtive oddity of man, cringe from the hostile eyes of farms. Learn to fear. To share fear is the greatest bond of all. The hunter must become the thing he hunts.”

“Wherever he goes, this winter, I will follow him. I will share the fear, and the exaltation, and the boredom, of the hunting life. I will follow him till my predatory human shape no longer darkens in terror the shaken kaleidoscope of colour that stains the deep fovea of his brilliant eye. My pagan head shall sink into the winter land, and there be purified.”

“We are the killers, we stink of death. It sticks to us like frost.”

“Like all human beings, I seem to walk within a hoop of red-hot iron, a hundred yards across, that sears away all life.”

“No pain, no death, is more terrible to a wild creature than its fear of man.”

One quote – which unfortunately I can’t quote to you here, I can only poorly recount it – had me almost in tears. It mentioned that even a mixi riddled rabbit or the poisoned crow will attempt to flee at the sound of our footsteps or from the touch of a caring hand… this, although true, saddened me. there were many quotes such as the last three recounted here that caused me to get that little stab of pain in my chest… that we, as humans, have treat nature so poorly that we are naught but killers that even the weak and the lame and the dying will flee from. This is not a realisation, but to see it written so poignantly in text… well for an environmentalist, it’s a hard thing to grasp and accept.

Its rare for me to come across a book which moves me and hits so many chords with my personality but this book did it with ease. This book is a must for anyone with a love of birds of prey or even nature as a whole. It will captivate and move you and fuel you with an unknown passion you may not have known was hidden within yourself. J.A. Baker, sadly was unappreciated, unknown in his own time and only produced two books and he is still an unknown name, an unknown figure on the landscape but I can say with pride that this man is being added to the few people that inspire me not only for his amazing ability for writing prose but also for his unbridled and enchanting love of nature. This book could very well be the book for 2013.


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