Country Sights and Sounds
A young hare, barely more than a handful, ran onto the road in a panic, all big round eyes under out-sized, loppedy ears, over crooked, stilty legs. I braked hard and stopped and the little creature turned one way and the other in confusion, darting onto the verge and back into my path, its mouth wide open in evident terror, its tiny pink tongue protruding pathetically. Only when I opened the car door and waved my arm did it flee under the fence and into the adjacent field to safety.
I went to see where it might be but it must have hunkered down low in the short grass. I walked the fence line, determined to get another glimpse; then there it was, the gingery-brown fur on its back blending perfectly with the greens, browns and yellows that are pasture.
I called softly, ‘Hey, little fellow, I won’t hurt you’. Its form became even flatter in a response so typical of the hare; lie still, lie still, lie still … run like the wind! I could imagine the leveret’s heart all aflutter within its slight breast, the nostrils flared and eyes bulging as adrenaline built up in its bloodstream, preparing for a sprint that might save its life.
I had it in mind to surmount the fence and stroll across the sward, to see how close I might get. Yet hadn’t the poor thing had enough already? This might have been its first encounter with a car, and perhaps with a human too; hopefully it will have learned enough to keep out of the way in future.
I left it in peace, and just as I was turning away it sat up and looked at me, almost apologetically, before taking a few hops off and stopping to nibble at some kind of herb with surprising nonchalance.
I had to laugh at its very appearance. All feet and ears, these parts were too long for its body which was, in turn, too small for its head. Given time and left in peace it will grow smooth and sleek, with rippling muscles and a turn of speed equal to that of a greyhound.
One of these dogs was previously known to me. It was black through and through apart from a white blaze on its chest, with a malevolent, cruel and blood-hungry character, and had slain hare after hare in its district. The dog knew I disliked it intensely and was never shy in letting me know its reciprocal feeling, doing so with the merest upcurling of a thin lip to reveal a neat row of needle-pointed teeth, this accompanied by a faint but deliberate and menacing rumbling growl.
It was always on a thin leather leash that hung in a loose arc from its neck to the hand of the man who owned this blackest and darkest of dogs. The leash was attached to the neck by means of a large slip knot, one that could be loosened in an instant.
Man and dog would walk the bog, working together as one, the man’s higher vantage point complementing the dog’s keener senses. They knew the bog well, this rangy pair. They knew where the ground was dry enough for a hare to lie, where the rough, tussocky grass and clumps of rushes gave cover, and the dog especially knew shortcuts and better drained corners where some advantage might be gained.
More, they knew the character of their quarry, how the hare preferred to lie low and let danger pass him by rather than show his fleeting form to the world, so that mere vital seconds separated the animals as the chase began. The man’s eye could describe to him the wide arc the hare would take from the moment it was flushed from its form and how, as the greedy hound closed in from behind, how the desperate creature would double back as if snapped on elastic. Once, twice, three times a strong hare might sprint away using this technique, but if the safety of the blackthorn hedge and the high ground beyond were not attained by then he was certainly doomed.
Was there ever such a mismatch? The one fed on grasses and herbs, the other on flesh. One armed with instinct and speed, the other with intelligence and teeth. One with a love of life, the other with a passion for death. I would not say they took every hare that entered that piece of ground, but there is no doubt they kept the numbers found there down.
I wish my little leveret friend a long and peaceful life, one free from man.