The Peregrine, the Hill of Summer & Diaries: The Complete Works of J.A. Baker

by J.A. Baker.

Beatifully observed, poetic nature writing.

The Peregrine, the Hill of Summer & Diaries

This volume is three books in one, but I have so far only read the first book, The Peregrine, which is seen as Baker's classic.

To be honest, at times, I found it hard-going. The Peregrine is written in the form of a diary, describing Baker's encounters with peregrine falcons in his local Essex over several years in the 1960s—although it is written as if all the events took place over a single winter. Each individual entry is beautifully written—more poetry than prose—with Baker making stunning, imaginative use of language. But it begins to jar after a while. It's best read is short doses, I reckon. Which is why I shall not be reading the other two books in the volume for the time-being.

Having said that, Baker was a remarkable writer, and a wonderful observer of his birds, especially his beloved 'hawks'. He makes you see the birds in a new light, getting inside their heads almost. And some of his observations are exquisite:

December 20th
Mist cleared in the afternoon and widening rings of sunlight rippled out. A heron flew to a tree beside the brook. His legs reached down with a slow pedalling movement, like a man descending through a trap-door of a loft and feeling for a ladder with his feet. He touched the topmost twig, fumbled his spidery toes around it, gradually deflated himself down on to the long stilts of his legs, hunched and crumpled like a broken parasol.

Now there is someone who has seen a heron land in a tree.

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