I am standing, or sitting, on a balcony. It is very early on a midsummer morning. Beneath me is a garden and beyond the garden is nothing. The garden, golden in the early light, has tidy rows of fertile vegetable beds and there are flowers and neat, low box hedges. It’s not my garden. My garden is scruffy and overgrown.
A magical, wonderful wild creature appears – a hare. It is there, below us on our balcony. Joy wells up. There is some special magic about hares, and now there is another one. Where is my camera? I long to capture these mysterious beasts. They move closer, a slow lolloping gait which quickly covers the ground, and now there are more – three, no five hares all so close, just below me and the friends who are with me.
We are so excited. Oh, if only I had my camera with me, but I don’t keep the camera in the bedroom, and I can’t tell from the light around the blind if it is a bright clear morning or yet another one of grey drizzle. I’m half inclined to lie here in the afterglow of the dream, but I get up and draw the blind. It’s grey and I wish I had stayed in bed. Too late now; I wrap myself in a dressing gown, go downstairs, brew some tea, wash and get dressed. It’s now five thirty. The ground is wet with recent rain but it’s warm and there is sunlight and I decide to look for hares.
Hares have a much higher place in our esteem than their cousins the rabbits. Rabbits don’t jump over the moon, or change into witches or run at 45 miles per hour, or go mad in March or have boxing matches. When I was young, living in rural Wiltshire and much influenced by the books of Phil Drabble – he of “One Man and his Dog” fame – I used to hunt hares with a lurcher dog. Lurchers are the poacher’s dog, bred from one of the “long dogs” seen in medieval hunting pictures – greyhound, deerhound, wolfhound, borzoi, saluki, – and a supposedly more intelligent species such as collie. The idea was to breed a dog which could match the hare’s uncanny ability to turn at right angles at top speed and “lurch” sideways with the hare. In my brief experience the hare almost always escaped. Hares were plentiful on the Downs then and I saw no harm in killing a few for the pot. However, when we proudly served jugged hare to one of our friends she refused to eat it on the grounds that it was a sacred animal!
The name “Harrier” is the hare version of “Rabbiter” and is applied to those wonderful birds which hunt over open ground and to a forerunner of the Beagle, dogs bred for their scenting ability and stamina which could hunt a hare to exhaustion. Until last autumn I had not seen a hare round here for 10 years or more, and was delighted then to spot one on the “fridd”, the marginal land between farm and mountain. Recently I have seen two. This is almost certainly because, under lockdown, I am spending a lot more time in my locality. Twice in the last 2 weeks I have seen and caught the image of a hare in an area of ordinary grass fields intersected by a narrow lane, just ten minutes walk from the house. The first, with an ear missing, was close but close to the wrong lens and the blown-up image was poor. The second saw me coming before I could take the picture and was soon too far away for a good image.
This time I walk briskly through the deserted village until I approach a field gate in the hedge. Then I go into stalking mode – slow deliberate movements and long pauses. I carefully scan the first two fields – nothing. I walk on and repeat the operation – still nothing. Then I have reached the rough track where I saw the first hare, the one with one ear. There are no hares today, but walking back I spot these sparrows (Mum and two teenagers) jostling for a place on a post. I didn’t really expect to find the perfect shot and I’m quite happy with the sparrows.