A few weeks ago, a package came in the mail. Inside, beautifully wrapped in beautiful paper was a beautiful book. Beautiful. I keep using that word. It's the only word that will do. The book was from author and artist Jackie Morris, who lives on the coast of Wales, and it tells the tale of an injured peregrine falcon rescued by her friend and neighbor Ffion Rees.
Jackie explained the genesis of the book in an article for The Guardian: "Ffion is head skipper for a boat company. She had fished the bird out from the sea having witnessed her fall...Over the next few months my wonderful friend brought this sick bird back to health and then to flying fitness. With patience, care and love she worked, building trust until this wild thing would fly to her fist at a whistle. And all the time I watched and I drew and I painted her progress, from the sick bird in the kitchen to the free flying falcon, learning the shape and the color of the hawk."
I'm ending the week with Jackie's book because it brings together so many of the different things we've been talking about lately on Myth & Moor: the importance of wild country and wild creatures in our lives; the places we turn to for kith and kin; and the ways that those of us working in the arts can express our connection to the natural world, thereby helping young people (and old people too) to find their own connections, their own personal pathways into the wild.
"I came to Pembrokeshire for the love of a man," writes Jackie. "Then I fell in love with the land." She'd found her kith, and there she's been rooted ever since, with her paints and books and children and animals in a house by the sea.
"Peregrines are simply mesmerizing," writes Nicola Davies in the book's introduction. "It's easy to be obsessed with such a creature.Reading J.A. Baker's book The Peregrine as a girl, I understood Baker's passion for the birds, his compulsion to follow and watch them. But I understood their meaning for him too: they were his conduit to the whole natural world, the living metaphor of the landscape and the seasons.
"We humans need to feel that connection. We need to feel the tug of the umbilical cord which ties us to the Earth. Through feeling it we connect better with each other just as babies learn to love through their first bond with their mother."
"I have loved birds ever since I began, as a child, to notice these little people of the air around me," writes Jackie. "I would walk with my dad and he would tell me their names and show me how to find their secret, hidden nests. He took me to see Kes at the cinema when I was older, and then I found A Kestral for a Knave by Barry Hines, the book on which the film was based. Though I was slow to catch the knack of reading I loved stories and I made my way through this slim volume. The Once and Future King and The Goshawk by T.H. White held my imagination. If I ever thought of myself as an adult it was as one who lived alone in a cottage in a wood with a hawk and a hound and a horse for company.
"The curious geography of my mind is filled with tales of birds; trickster ravens, thieving magpies, women with fine slate feather cloaks who turn into falcons when they wrap their cloaks around them, and swan women. Birds have threaded their flight through the backgrounds of my books, from redwings in The Snow Whale to lapwings in The Cat and the Fiddle, as I painted in winter while outside my studio the stark, cold fields filled with lapwings."
Queen of the Sky is a wonderful book (I confess it made me cry), weaving text, paintings, and photographs with wind and waves, feather and fur. It's a story about friendship -- between women, between species; and a story about the land, and love, and loss.
Books, it seems to me, are very magical things. Smooth white paper, printed and bound, has lifted the wings of a Welsh peregrine and carried her here to the moorlands of Devon...and beyond, to places and people that will never otherwise witness the prayer of her flight. This, to me, is what art is for. It makes the world larger, and brighter, and wilder; and it tells our stories, human and nonhuman alike.