Wild garlic brings thoughts of supper

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It smells like a bistro where I am standing, and that would be something to do with the generous patches of wild garlic flowering white about my feet.

It is a plentiful year for this herb, the scent of which you either love or hate: I am fortunate in that I like it. Real justice would be if the tang kept insects away, but I seem to be the bistro for flying things of all sizes, from tiny midges and larger gnats to the various sizes of black fly-like things.

These latter don’t seem to want to drink my blood like the small fry, but they bounce off my face and get in the way of breathing. The largest are the ones called ‘hawthorn flies’. They come out when the may blooms and are a confounded nuisance, flying around at eye level with dangling legs and to no real purpose, though I suppose I should be grateful they don’t bite.

Maybe I would have to lie down in the wild garlic to keep them away, but then I could not see what I am watching now.

A brace of fox cubs, the size of kittens, is playing in the hollow, using a fallen tree as king-of-the-castle. The flattened herbage all around shows that this is a favourite playing area, but why only two cubs, and why are they out so young? They are small for the time of year, but maybe the cold spring held them back, or possibly the dearth of rabbits meant they did not get enough milk in the beginning.

Rabbits are beginning to pick up in number again, and I have also seen some with myxomatosis, which is a pity from my point of view, but good for agriculture. Myxomatosed rabbits are easy prey for a variety of creatures that are now feeding young, but once they have gone it will be slim pickings all round, just as youngsters are learning to hunt for themselves.

What will these cubs hunt when the time comes, only a few weeks away, for they mature much faster than puppies or kittens? For their sake I hope it is a good year for mice.

But for now, it is an enchanting sight as they roll and tumble, pounce and bite. Sometimes a bite seems too hard, and then the other cub turns away and refuses to play for a moment, until the other comes up yikkering with open mouth, and off they go again. I did not have time to put my hat on when I first saw them, because my first thought was concealment, so the mosquitoes are drilling holes in my scalp except for those that are peering back at me through the lenses of my spectacles. I wonder how that looks with compound eyes? I try to ignore the extreme discomfort in order to prolong my cub-watching, for the slightest movement would give me away.

I hoped I would not need to cough, for you can suppress a sneeze easily enough by sucking the roof of your mouth as if you were sucking a sweet, but coughs are much harder to stop.

Here comes the vixen high-legging through the long grass. The cubs run to her to see what she has brought them, but it is nothing. She is lean and scruffy, her coat rumpled and staring, her brush tattered; motherhood has come hard to her.

There is nothing wrong with her senses, though, for she stares hard into the trees where I am, decides there is something not quite right, and dives at her little ones to chivvy them away. The long stalks of vegetation close behind her and it is as if the three of them had never been, except for the trampled grass.

I wipe my hands over my face with some relief, for it is a long time to stand itching, and then turn to go back the way I came, the luscious scent of the wild garlic following me and making me think about supper.

Foxglove