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NATURE More than leaves on the move

Outdoor Living


More than leaves on the move

Country sights and sounds
John Shelley

Oh, how I hate these dark evenings! And all the more so when wind and rain combine to keep me confined. We are spoiled, you see, for the greater part of the year, with enough daylight to allow us out for as long as it takes … and now the man who lives in the city lights has cut my evenings by an hour, because he likes a bright start, rather than a bright finish, to his day.
The hands on my clock remain as they were, in as much of a protest as I can muster. Meanwhile I brood by the fire, throwing a succession of hard-won logs into flames that leap and dance to the tune of the wind. Well-seasoned beech timber throws a broad, golden light around the room. Outside, tall beech trees mourn the passing of another season, rocking and keening, while the wind tears their clothing to tatters and flings them at the window, where they stick until rain carries them away.
We are inundated with leaves. Gutters and drains are blocked on a daily basis. A door left open for a moment admits them by the score. Dry leaves we can deal with. Wet ones cling and stick and refuse the broom and when they dry they crumble. With bristled feet we could sweep as we go; I feel an invention coming on.
If the trees were no longer there we would escape the annual deluge of leaves, and the firewood that felling them would provide would last many years, more than compensating the lack of shelter not having them would mean. I can nearly make sense of it all.
But no, getting rid of friends might mean more time for oneself, but would also diminish ones reason for living and bring futility. We shall keep them. Before we know it the buds will be showing hints of colour and swelling once more.
Besides, that fragment of riparian woodland is a highway for the wild things that come and go on a daily or nightly basis. I should like the time to get to know it better, to watch and to see the animals and birds that share my little corner.
We know some of them – at least we know of them, though they are, without exception, secretive by nature. Fox and badger are there, together with pine marten, Irish stoat and the occasional red squirrel. Two Fallow deer leave slot marks in wet ground; I had thought them gone. Hedgehog and hare, wood mouse, common frog and newt can be added to the list. Nor should we neglect to mention our friend the brown rat, nor the house mouse. And much that we loath to acknowledge his presence, that villainous, murdering American, the mink, is there too, at least from time to time.
There is one other animal that should be here but is not, and that is the red deer. Whatever hope the elusive fallow has against the hunting man with his heavy bore rifle and telescopic sight, the larger and more visible red deer has far less. Although they once roamed the length and breadth of Mayo they are now restricted to a few pockets here and there, most notably west from Bellacorrick, and even there only after a charitable release to the wild more than a decade ago. Charitable, I say, though there was little philanthropy about the exercise. Still, we shall take what we can get, and dream of the time they might return here too.
And then there is my friend the otter. I met two this week. One was in the river when we caught sight of him first, swimming toward us with the sun behind him so that all we could see was movement in the stream until he hopped up on the bank and ran toward us, tail in the air and whiskers aquiver. We laughed at his cumbersome gait, whereon he turned aside to a drain, went up through a stone culvert and was gone. But now we know where he lives.
The second was an old dog otter, large, heavy and broad across the back, with a grizzled muzzle. He stood on the road and watched us approach in the car, only turning and loping ahead once we had slowed almost to a stop. We followed at walking pace, just 20 yards behind, until he hopped off the tarmac to glare as we stopped to see him better.
There are many animals on the move now. As food supplies diminish hunting territories must expand. Smaller and weaker individuals will find themselves pushed out and, quite literally, on the road. Go steady for now.