“The two of them played a wonderful game, chasing back and forth and running in circles, the calf chasing the hind and then the hind chasing the calf”
I walked the moor under a clinging mist, with damp crawling under my collar and seeping through my clothes, and paused at the crest of a small hill. Beneath the overhanging lip of a peat hag a newly-excavated tunnel, a foot wide and nearly as high, showed where a fox had taken up residence. The enterprising animal had worked hard for the last two nights, for there had been no tunnel in place the last time I had been here. Now a yard-wide scatter of soil gave evidence of its toil.
I would imagine the foxes’ choice of abode to be an unwise one, for he is nobody’s friend at the best of times, and those that farm over these rugged hills will take a dim view of his presence. People somehow cannot enumerate the large number of rats and mice a fox will kill during its lifetime, preferring instead to dwell upon the occasional foray into the chicken run, or to concentrate on the fanciful tales wherein flocks of newborn lambs are slain as the incredible, insatiable bloodlust of Reynard drives him to ever greater depths of debauchery.
Footprints in the soft, newly-thrown soil showed this to be a small individual, quite probably a June cub recently abandoned by its mother. She will have her own needs to tend through the colder months, and will not tolerate rivalry in the camp. Her youngsters must learn to fend for themselves.
I wouldn’t give much for this one’s chances of a long and prosperous life. Soon enough a loop of wire will lie in wait for the unwary youngster. Going out or going in, his foreleg will catch against the wire and the noose will draw up against his throat. His struggles will earn him no respite. Rather, that cruelly-crafted copper braid will tighten unmercifully until, eyes bulging and tongue lolling, the unfortunate creature expires.
A hundred yards away the gorse shuddered, as if in response to my own dark thoughts. A red deer hind stepped into view, her head held high and ears pricked, looking for any signs of danger. Danger, to these largest of our wild animals, comes from only one source: man. I stayed still, knowing that the slightest of movements would send her right back into cover.
She moved into the open, looked back as if to beckon, and a four or five month old calf trotted out to catch up. The hind ran 20 yards with the calf at her heel, and then stopped.
The two of them played a wonderful game, chasing back and forth and running in circles, the calf chasing the hind and then the hind chasing the calf. It was only delightful to watch. I have seen these deer on many occasions, but never before have I witnessed such a sense of fun in them.
The hind could easily have outrun her youngster, but she was content to stay just out of reach. The game would change in an instant. A sprint in one direction would be immediately followed by a dash along a different path. The two would tear into the gorse, only to emerge with a series of leaps, bounding over low bushes and weaving in and out of heather coated clumps of peat. For 20 minutes I watched them, totally captivated and cursing the failing light.
A wide puddle stretched over a lower piece of flat ground, and the two of them went there, at first, I thought, to drink. The hind went in first, splashing the water violently with her forefeet, so that even though it was only three or four inches deep she sent droplets higher than her own self. Having enough of splashing, she lay down and rolled onto her back before getting up to shake the water from her coat.
The calf followed suit, uttering a quite endearing series of little bleats. It splashed the water just as its mother had done, and rolled over in the same fashion.
A third animal, another hind, appeared on the scene and the calf leapt to its feet. The three of them put their heads together for just a moment. Without warning they broke into a gallop and disappeared out of view, as if a warning had been given. They didn’t come back that evening, though I waited another half hour so that I might see them again.
I stood up, now mud-soaked and midge-bitten, and walked back to the car in the gloaming, listening to the roaring challenge of a stag in the spruce wood. What a wonderful world.