... [Macdonald's] work is an antidote to so much romantic, reductive writing about the natural world as pristine, secret, uninhabited—as a convenient blank canvas for the hero’s journey of self-discovery ... Macdonald’s writing teems with other voices and perspectives, with her own challenges to herself. It muddies any facile ideas about nature and the human, and prods at how we pleat our prejudices, politics and desires into our notions of the animal world. There’s nothing of the tourist or bystander in her approach ... Hers is a gritty, companionable intimacy with the wild ... The essays are short, varied and highly edible, some only a page or two long. Macdonald experiments with tempo and style, as if testing out different altitudes and finding she can fly at just about any speed, in any direction, with any aim she likes, so supple is her style...I was reminded of the goshawk, so thickly plumed, so powerful that it can bring down a deer, and yet it weighs only a few pounds. These are the very paradoxes of Macdonald’s prose—its lightness and force ... That step back, that act of revision, of re-seeing, provides the book with its chief animating drama: Macdonald getting things wrong. She cheerfully charts her errors in judgment, her bungles, her myopia. Vesper Flights is a document of learning to see, of growing past useful defenses of diversion and escape ... For its wry self-deprecation, Vesper Flights is a book thick with sorrow, an elegy in the midst of the sixth great extinction underway ... It is awe, but no need to wait for an eclipse—Macdonald presents it everywhere for the taking, in the underground networks of fungi, in fog, in deer that 'drift in and out of the trees like breathing.' It exists in birdsong and the 'cobra-strike' of a heron stabbing at a fish. It’s in the pages of this book, in the consciousness of a writer admiring the world, so grateful for its otherness.
No longer confined to a single grief or creature, Macdonald’s fascination with the natural world ranges from the habits of cuckoos and glowworms to the biodiversity of trees. A lament for the loss of natural habitats ('the world’s sixth great extinction') is inevitable here, but overall Vesper Flights is both more celebratory and more subtly conflicted than her earlier book ... Throughout Vesper Flights, Macdonald pursues her own complicated relationship with nature in language and imagery so opulent that these essays may best be read at intervals ... Many of these essays, when not surveying birds, deal with everyday phenomena: mushrooms, nestboxes, berries. But others describe extreme conditions that are well suited to Macdonald’s graphic and impassioned writing ... For the adult woman, the child’s need for consolation in animals, and the recognition that there is no true reciprocity between her and these creatures, generates a creative friction that sets Macdonald apart among nature writers.
...dazzling ... Embarking on her own vesper flights but with her eyes trained on animals, Ms. Macdonald reminds us how marvelously unfamiliar much of the nonhuman world remains to us, even as we continue to diminish it ... She is in awe of the 'invisible fungal networks that weave each forest into a symbiotic community, a place full of life hidden from our own' ... The essays in Vesper Flights give us the literary equivalent of such a resilient network, which is why I would recommend reading them in sequence: Connected by invisible threads, they gradually enmesh the reader in a universe of limitless potentiality, where a livable future suddenly becomes imaginable again. Acknowledging that nature exists everywhere, not only in places where humans don’t live, means that there are things, big and small, we can and must do: design houses so that they offer space where swifts may nest; switch off the lights in our big cities at night to keep migrating birds from getting confused; demand that a beautiful meadow, home to multiple forms of life, be made part of that new housing development instead of being flattened by asphalt.