Saturday, February 20, 2016

First Paragraph

Forty-five minutes north-east of Cambridge is a landscape I've come to love very much indeed. It's where wet fen gives way to parched sand. It's a land of twisted pine trees, burned-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases. There are ghosts here: houses crumble inside numbered blocks of pine forestry. There are spaces built for air-delivered nukes inside grassy tumuli behind twelve-foot fences, tattoo parlors and US Air Force golf courses. In spring it's a riot of noise: constant plane traffic, gas-guns over pea fields, wood-larks and jet engines. It's called the Brecklands - the broken lands - and it's where I ended up that morning, seven years ago, in early spring, on a trip I hadn't planned on at all. At five in the morning I'd been staring at a square of streetlight on the ceiling, listening to a couple of late party-leavers chatting on the pavement outside. I felt odd: overtired, overwrought, unpleasantly like my brain had been removed and my skull was stuffed with something like microwaved aluminum foil, dinted, charred and shorting with sparks. Nnngh. Must get out, I thought, throwing back the covers. Out! I pulled on jeans, boots and a jumper, scalded my mouth with burned coffee, and it was only when my frozen, ancient Volkswagen and I were halfway down the A1 that I worked out where I was going, and why. Out there, beyond the foggy windscreen and white lines, was the forest. The broken forest. That's where I was headed. To see goshawks. 

- From H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald


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