Becoming-falcon

«A fusion of man and bird.»

– James Dickey, on the book’s jacket cover

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«The Peregrine is not a book about bird-watching, it is a book about becoming a bird.»

– Robert Macfarlane, introduction to the NYRB Classics edition.

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« – I can recommend a book that I have gotten into, “The Peregrine” by a British writer named J.A. Baker, about watching Peregrine falcons. But it is a phenomenal, phenomenal book of great poetry and intensity of observation. One of the finest books I’ve read in many, many, many years.»

– Werner Herzog, interview

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«Alguém me falou… de viver o seu “travessão”. (…) Eu não entendi. “Travessão”? Do que falavam? Ele está na nossa lápide. Há a nossa data de nascimento e o dia de nossa morte, e um pequeno travessão entre ambas. Ele representa a nossa vida. Tudo o que ocorreu entre o nosso nascimento e morte. Como viver o travessão? Estou a dedicar-me a isso agora. (…) Parar, observar os pássaros. Quando a gente desperta dessa forma para a vida, quando nos sentimos bem com a vida, começamos a observar o que os pássaros fazem, o que os patos fazem, assim como os beija-flores. Caramba! Há muitos pássaros.»

– Fred Allen, a retired “Death House” captain, in “Into the Abyss”, documentary by Werner Herzog.

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«For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible for us.  Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach.  They race to oblivion.  They are old before we have finished growing.»

«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.»

«I have always longed to be a part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things, to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence as the fox sloughs his smell into the cold unworldliness of water; to return to the town as a stranger.»

«East of my home, the long ridge lies across the skyline like the low hull of a submarine. Above it, the eastern sky is bright with reflections of distant water, and there is a feeling of sails beyond land. Hill trees mass together in a dark–spired forest, but when I move toward them they slowly fan apart, the sky descends between, and they are solitary oaks and elms, each with its own wide territory of winter shadow. The calmness, the solitude of horizons lures me toward them, through them, and on to others. They layer the memory like strata.»

«The peregrine lives in a pouring-away world of no attachment, a world of wakes and tilting, of sinking planes of land and water.  The peregrine sees and remembers patterns we do not know exist: the neat squares of orchard and woodland, the endlessly varying quadrilateral shapes of fields.  He finds his way across the land by a succession of remembered symmetries… He sees maps of black and white.»

«A falcon peregrine, sable on a white shield of sky, circled over from the sea.  She slowed, and drifted aimlessly, as though the air above the land was thick and heavy.  She dropped.  The beaches flared and roared with salvos of white wings.  The sky shredded up, was torn by whirling birds.  The falcon rose and fell, like a black billhook in splinters of white wood.  She slashed and ripped the air, but could not strike.»

«Starlings rose into the sky like black searchlight beams, and wavered aimlessly about, seeking the hawk.  Woodpigeons began to come back from the east like the survivors of  a battle. … From every wood and covert, as far as I could see, flock after flock went roaring up into the sky… The peregrine was clearing the entire hill of its pigeons, stooping at each wood in turn, sweeping along the rides, flicking between the trees, switchbacking from orchard to orchard, riding along the rim of the sky in a tremendous serration of rebounding dives and ascensions.  Suddenly it ended.  He mounted like a rocket, curved over in splendid parabola, dived down through the cumulus of pigeons.  One bird fell back, gashed dead, astonished, like a man falling out of a tree.  The ground came up and crushed it.»

«And for the watcher, sheltered for centuries from such hunger and such rage, such agony and such fear, there is the  memory of that sabring fall from the sky, and the vicarious joy of the guiltless hunter who kills only through his familiar, and wills him to be fed.»

«I found myself crouching over the kill, like a mantling hawk.  My eyes turned quickly about, alert for the walking heads of men.  Unconsciously I was imitating the movements of a hawk, as in some primitive ritual; the hunter becoming the thing he hunts.  I looked into the wood.  In a lair of shadow the peregrine was crouching, watching me, gripping the neck of a dead branch.  We live, in these days in the open, the same ecstatic fearful life.  We shun men.  We hate their suddenly uplifted arms, the insanity of their flailing gestures, their erratic scissoring gait, their aimless stumbling ways, the tombstone whiteness of their faces.»

«No pain, no death, is more terrible to a wild creature than its fear of man. … We are the killers.  We stink of death. We carry it with us.  It sticks to us like frost.  We cannot tear it away.»

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

«Swiftly now he is resigning his savagery to the night that rises round us like dark water. His great eyes look into mine… I know he will not fly now. I climb over the wall and stand before him. And he sleeps.»

– J. A. Baker, “The Peregrine”, about the peregrine falcon.

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