Helen Macdonald’s “Twilight Flights”: Insights into the Wilderness



Twilight Flights

by Helen Macdonald

Translated from English by Sarah Gurcel

Gallimard, 352 p., € 23

As a child, Helen Macdonald wanted to become a naturalist. His family had moved to Surrey, a county in the south-east of England, on a 20 hectare walled estate owned by the Theosophical Society. The little girl spent her time running around the woods and meadows, digging through the undergrowth, bringing back from each excursion a harvest of treasures: seeds, feathers, half-wings of butterflies, skulls of whitewashed birds or abandoned nests …, a whole collection of specimens that adorned her shelves like so many explorer’s trophies.

If she did not fully fulfill her childhood dream by embracing the profession of historian of science and novelist, Helen Macdonald has kept an insatiable curiosity for the wild world that surrounds her, a joy in the face of the complexity of living things. which nourishes his writings. As in the cabinet of wonders in her child’s room, furnished with fragments of nature, in this collection she has brought together small, finely chiseled, often funny texts, the fruit of her observations over the seasons.

Fauna, “reflection of humanity”

Whether she shares the emotion felt during an encounter with a wild boar or facing an eclipse in the middle of the Atacama desert, whether she scrutinizes the passages of migrating birds above the skyscrapers of New York or s’ intoxicated with the song of a colony of orioles in the “Vegetal cathedral of a grove of poplars , his experiences testify to the acuity of his gaze and his capacity for wonder at “Splendours of non-human life . With a non-ostentatious erudition, she punctuates her descriptions of anecdotes and information on animal behavior.

A privileged witness to the evolution of biodiversity in the face of global warming, Helen Macdonald also questions our relationship with nature over the ages. Here, she maliciously recalls the incongruous anthropomorphism of the naturalist guides of the early twentiethe century, which described the “Model temperament” of a bird or the “Complacent laziness” of another. There, she analyzes how the English fauna is inextricably linked to national identity and its myths, such as the famous Thames swans belonging to the queen, which are the subject of an annual count and ringing in great pomp.

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She even dares to make a relevant comparison between migrant populations and refavian ugi , certain species of birds whose climatic changes are disrupting the settlement areas. As she rightly says, “It is impossible to observe fauna without seeing humanity reflected in it a little”.

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