JA Baker’s The Peregrine is 50 years old, but it feels as if it were written yesterday. In the half century since its publication, this fierce little book has only tightened its talon grip on us. It reads now as uncannily prophetic: of the Anthropocene (our geological age, in which human activity is now the dominant influence on the environment), of extinction events, of dark ecology – even of virtual reality. In ancient Rome a haruspex was a person trained in a form of divination based on inspecting the entrails of sacrificed animals. Baker’s book – strewn as it is with eviscerated birds, obsessed as it is with prediction – is a text of killing and foretelling: of seeing the future in blood and guts. It has haruspicated our present, and I suspect its prescience is not yet all used up. The story of The Peregrine’s writing is remarkable, and has a mystery at its heart. For around a decade – from 1954 to 1964 – a myopic office worker from Essex tracked the peregrine falcons that hunted over the landscape of his county. He pursued them on bicycle and on foot, watching through binoculars as they bathed, flew, stooped… Read full this story
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