Nature Notes

A Spring of Hares.

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April weather and the season is on. Celandines that had pinched petals in tight pursed pouts, open to shine, glossy and reflective, back at the sun. In a week, balled fist-buds in a landmark sycamore give up the fight against winter and relax, opening palms of crumpled, damp-handkerchief leaves that tremble in new winds. The tree becomes a lime-green beacon among fellows yet to release their grip. I drive home daily into a storm of blackthorn blossom between chequerboard hedgerows, the white flowers-before-leaves of blackthorn interspersed with the green, edible, leaves-before-flowers of hawthorn.

In the woods, chiff chaffs chime like anarchic metronomes and at the badger sett, bedding has been pulled out backwards to air. On the field-edge, a hare bolts from my feet. Its flattened ears come up as it slows to a rocking-horse lope. And then it does something I’ve heard of, but never seen. It stands right up on its hind legs, balancing on tiptoe, like a meerkat. It is completely still, perfectly poised and, forepaws held down by its side, looks like a strange child. It stands over 3ft tall.

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Later in the week, the same fields have been have been drilled with spring oats. From the top of the hill, they form a chain of creamy chalk squares, a tilth fine and pale as apple crumble; white fields that dazzle in the sun.

When I am on them again, I spot four pairs of long ears on the ridge: eight sundae spoons dipped in chocolate, rising, falling, swivelling in a language I’m not privy to. I creep closer. The four animals sit in a circle, facing in: a counsel, a trip of hares, a wisdom of ears.

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One stands up, dog-like, then arches its back like a cat; another leaps vertically, kicking like a bucking horse – and the race is on. They gallop along the ridge of crumbly white earth, the whole of the deep-shadowed down behind them. A fifth joins in, rising from the earth. They look magnificent, a sleek string of racing thoroughbreds; the engine house of their hindquarters powering them forward like a great cog, hindpaws overreaching front. The lead hare, the doe, rounds on them suddenly and the bucks jink away; the fourth leaping over the third. This jack tries his luck, sniffing round the jill. She half rears in warning. He backs off and another approaches. She leaps forward to cuff his whiskered face: he retaliates and the fur flies. They dance like boxers on their haunches, wildly paddling front paws, before making contact, claws like gloved knives, sending puffs of fur on the wind. Then they are down again, looking improbably tall, these ‘corn stags’ until, one by one, each lays their ears flat along their back and lies down, sinking into the earth as if nothing were ever there. I breathe out. A blackcap sings from the hedge.

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