Helen MacDonald’s VESPER FLIGHTS is a treasure trove of insights, a collection of essays that never fails to delight. One example: “In Her Orbit,” focusing on MacDonald’s high-altitude trek with NATHALIE CABROL and Cabrol’s bio-geological team in the Andes Mountains.
Cabrol studies extremophile life forms on earth with an eye to understanding how and under what conditions they can survive. Specifically, she and her team want to calculate how much longer we have on planet earth before our planet, like the planet Mars before us, loses its atmosphere and water.
Cabrol’s TED TALK, which I viewed after being alerted by MacDonald’s essay, is sobering. Mars, after all, is a dead planet while our Planet Earth is alive and sustaining life. But for how long? That’s Cabrol’s question, and her answer (page 96 of Vesper Flights) is dire.
P. S. MacDonald’s breakthrough best seller was H IS FOR HAWK. Although the book focuses on MacDonald’s use of falconry as a way to deal with grief, this book for me reawakened a fascination with T. H. White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING—especially the first section, “The Sword in the Stone.”