hares are magical creatures

Wide white edges to the road look as if we have had snow, but closer inspection shows that it was hail.

In the space of twenty-odd miles, we have driven through heavy rain, sleet, bright sunshine (a flash in the pan but none the less welcome) drizzle, and dry but overcast, with that brooding look to the clouds ahead that promises change in short order.

Wet road, dry road, every few miles a difference, but the hailstorm had passed by ahead of us, leaving opaque crystals in its wake.

The ford is full of brown water, but I’ve known it higher, and we cross with quiet determination. The blackthorn is out on either side, and I wonder if we will have a blackthorn winter after all.

Driving this route a few years ago, the verges would have been punctuated by rabbits, but now all I see are rooks and gulls in the fields beyond.

As a passenger in the vehicle, I can afford to look about me, and the fields are running wet, as wet as they were before that short spell of dry that raised all our hopes.

Water glints long in tyre tracks. It’s been tough on arable farmers, tough on livestock farmers too.

Those with horses to care for have had a long grim winter as well, and it has even been a challenge trying to find places to take the dogs. A buzzard passes low over us, dips and then rises to clear the hedge. I doubt if it has been an easy winter for buzzards either.

We pass down a dip in the road, and I look up at the crown of a hill, tawny with stubble and tonsured with the ragged remains of a cover crop that covers little now.

As the sun strikes the shadow, outlined against the sky I see a dark animal with long ears, and even as my mouth says ‘rabbit’ my mind knows that I am wrong, for the ears are long, much too long. It is hard to get a sense of scale driving by in flickering light against dark sky, but the image printed on my eyes is absolute: it was a hare!

I wasn’t expecting to see a hare, though they are about around there, I know. A hare for Easter, or maybe for the goddess Oestre, or both.

Hares are magical creatures wherever and whenever you see them; you always feel as if it was an honour.

I settle back in my seat and carry on looking at the scenery as we pass, mentally farming, hunting, coursing or shooting, depending on the land.

You could stand your Guns there and the pheasants would come winnowing over the top of the ridge, or you could dig a lake there, make it user-friendly with a judicious planting of this and that, leave an island, and in would come the wildfowl.

Here is a covert that could do with some ‘bottom’, some warm close undergrowth to shelter wildlife, and then a little wood over there would provide another place that, in a year or two, would hold something that would travel from one to the other.

Countryside to hold hares, though, needs to be arranged so that they have food all year round: much modern agriculture is too clean for them.

Fortunately there are many generous farmers who allow banks and coverts and shelter for wildlife, enriching the surrounding areas, and allowing us to take our just bounty in due course, leaving enough for another time. Our way is harvest, not extermination.

The sky changes all in a moment, and the wind gets up, heralding what turns out to be a hailstorm that we don’t miss.

It is short and sharp, leaving its whiteness on the road to catch the evening light.

But in my mind is still with that silhouette against the sky, and those long ears.