26
Sun, Feb
32 New Articles

Hare today, name tomorrow

Outdoor Living

FEEL THE BEAT The hare’s distinctive footfall has a rhythm of its own.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

I first met Loppety decades ago, when both he and I were younger men scratching a living in another country. I assumed his nickname, by which he was universally known, was reward for his tendency to drag his right leg as he walked.
When we met more recently I had to ask. And this is the tale…
Billy Smithwick paused at the gateway to the stubble field and rested one hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “Wait now, look at this.” He pointed closely to the light stain on the underside of the bottom rail and at the flattened grass beneath. “Remember what I told you about the hare?”
The young lad looked down studiously, then up at his grandfather’s brown, weather-lined face and into the kindly brown eyes. “He always travels the same road. Every day, about the same time.”
“That’s right, well done. And see here? That’s where the hare goes, and it’s my guess,” he paused as his gaze swept wide across the cornfield, “it’s my guess he’s out there in the stubble, lying low with his ears on his back, just listening and waiting for us to leave.”
“Why’s he afraid, grandpa?”
“All animals are afraid, boy, since the day they came out of the ark. But if you’d like to see him, you lie here and wait quiet, if you can. Cup your ear to the ground like I showed you, and listen.”
The boy did as bidden and lay on his front, made a funnel from his hand and placed his ear to it.
“Tell me now,” the old man scraped the ground with his foot, “do you hear that?”
The boy nodded.
“What did it sound like?”
“Like the wind.”
“That’s good. Now, you stay here and listen until I get back, and you tell me what you hear.”
The boy nodded again, and closed his eyes expectantly.
“Don’t you move now. Ten minutes, alright?” With that the old man was gone and Will was alone in the autumn sunshine. In the long, slow silence that followed he heard his own breathing, then the rhythm of his heart beating and the gentle rush of blood through his veins. A beetle crawled onto his neck, then off again. Something rustled nearby and he opened his eyes to see a small brown bird take flight. He closed them once more and waited, listening to the world as it came to life around him. Eager to learn what was in store, he fought against dozing off.
Then there it was – a distinct tap-thump, starting and stopping and definitely coming closer. Resisting the urge to look about, Will listened as the sound grew louder. A noise directly in front of him caused him to raise his head and suddenly there was the hare, that most elusive of animals, within touching distance.
His heart skipped a beat as the animal gave a small, sharp, squeal of terror as it leaped sideways in fright. He saw it’s legs almost tangle as it stretched away, forty yards in a moment, and then sat up to watch as the hare stopped to see if it was being pursued, before carrying on its way at a more leisurely pace.
Half a minute later Billy was back at the gate. “Did you see it?”
“I did. It was this long!’ Will widened his arms, his voice trembled slightly, full of wonder. “With brown eyes. It squeaked!’
“Did you hear it running?”
“I did.”
“How did it sound? What did you hear?”
Will’s face contorted as he thought for a moment. “Loppety,” he said. “Loppety top, Loppety top.”
His grandfather laughed. “That’s it exactly. Loppety top. You’ll remember that forever.”
“How long is forever, grandpa?”
“It’s as long as you want it to be, son. As long as you want it to be.”
“Nothing lasts forever grandpa.”
“I know.” The old man helped his grandson to his feet and the two of them limped homeward, one sore from age, the other because his leg hurt, as it had all his life.
“Come on, Loppety. That’s what we’ll call you from now on. Loppety.”
The boy laughed and skipped ahead as well as he was able.
As our years have swept by, Loppety developed a poacher’s eye and came to understand the ways of the hare, as well as those of every other of our wild animals, better than most. I told him about the red deer in north Mayo. We are to go, next week.

Digital Edition