hare

Greenways

I am the wanderer on the greenways
and the ghost ways. My bare feet hear
the beat of others’ journeys, feel the heat
of those who’ve passed this way before.
Old songs echo in the hollow ways.
The anvil strikes and, in my head, the thud
of clay upon the potters’ wheel.
I tread the hare-path on the open downs.
Sometimes I kneel or lie awhile
my ear pressed to the ground. I hear
the throb of axes, crackle of bones,
the cries of those who lie deep down
buried in time’s hard layers. In snickets,
leys and field paths I know the corners,
hollow stumps, causeways and bends
where ancient stones have left their mark.
I smell honey and herbs, the crush of sap,
woodsmoke as dusk thickens the air.
On the ridgeway I shapeshift,
sometimes a deer, sometimes a hare,
drifting along the long white edge
between sea and clear chalk streams.
Dewponds and springs refresh my feet
as I pace endlessly without rest
keeping the spirit-ways open
for those who follow on.

Roman Road

Hot tarmac dwindling away.
Air thick as a swarm of bees.
I breathed hay and salt
husks and seeds as I drove.
Then the sky broke and
shards of rain fell on the road.
Steam-wraiths rose up
writhing beneath the tyres.
The hills either side
fell away to blankness,
whiteness.
I went slowly on through
chalk-light up a stony track.
A hare leapt from nowhere
jinked ahead –
a bone-raddled
automaton
leading me on.
I drove transfixed by
vein-marbled ears
moulded skull,
by limbs
loosely sleeved
in grey-brown
rain-soaked fur.
As it ran before me
the hare glanced back.
I saw its ancient
beckoning eye –
and would have followed
anywhere.

Chesil Hare

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After a week of flu, curtains drawn against grey drizzle, I woke to sunshine and set off on my quest for the elusive March hare.  This time I headed for Chesil where hares are sometimes seen near the Fleet – a tidal lagoon eight miles long, formed in the last ice age, which lies behind the Chesil Bank.

Following months of winter gloom, the sun seemed very bright, reflecting off the shiny Chesil pebbles, as I squinted into the distance. The shingle stretched as far as I could see to the west, scant patches of sparse vegetation the only interruption to this vast stony landscape. The height of the bank blocked the view south to the sea. There was a carving of a hare on the wooden bridge which crossed to the shingle, but I wasn’t hopeful of finding one in this inhospitable environment.

Walking on pebbles is hard work and you find yourself bending forward, trudging along with your eyes on the ground looking for shells, pebbles with holes in, feathers, etc. Small flowers were starting to open on the mats of vegetation, contrasting with cigarette packets washed up from a container ship that lost its cargo in the Bay of Biscay. There was the usual muddle of driftwood, fishing wire, rope, plastic and tin cans, enlivened by the occasional shell or brittle white coral.

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Glancing up towards the ramshackle fishing sheds nearby, I saw a flash of gold shimmer over the pebbles. A hare! Lit by the low sun its fur was the colour of gingerbread which blended perfectly with the shingle. As I watched, it leapt over the pebbles towards the sea, moving fluently, but stopping occasionally to watch and listen. Flying up the steep slope of pebbles with the sun gilding its fur, it stopped on the top of the bank, sitting up on its hind legs, ears jutting skywards – an iconic silhouette. Then it plunged over towards the sea.

I walked back over the shingle replaying these brief seconds in my mind, not noticing the difficult terrain or the distance, just seeing that hare leaping through time and space – a shape-shifter of myth and legend.

Hare at Chesil beachhare running

In search of a March hare

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Leaving the dog-walkers behind I followed the footpath over stiles and along hedges to Charminster Down, scanning the fields for the shape of a running hare. Low sun skimmed across the furrows. The wind had a sharp edge, smelling of snow. Walking through the wet clay soil was heavy-going. It was littered with flints which skittered away from my boots and almost tripped me up several times. Some were huge like misshapen bones or skulls, others had been split by the plough, revealing cut surfaces reminiscent of blue and white china or birds’ eggs. Sometimes fossilised sea urchins can be found in these fields from ancient times when this area was an ocean.

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The sound of traffic became fainter and I imagined Wilderness, wondering if I would ever experience it. Four roe deer grazed far away in a sunny valley. I could just see the flash of their white tails. A fat partridge flew up in front of me from the sparse hedge. I remember once having a hedge properly laid by two Dorset craftsmen –  a chap of about sixty and his father who must have been at least eighty. They climbed, cut, bent and wove the hedge to a tight stock-proof lattice, creating the perfect A shape which lasted seven years without any further attention. Now hedges are brutally flailed to thin spindly palisades, not strong enough to support nests, provide cover for wildlife or dense enough to create habitats for a diversity of species.

In a coppice two magpies were arguing and rooks were clattering around above the trees with their beaks full of twigs. The tops of the hedges were snowy with wild cherry blossom and I noticed a chaffinch motionless amongst it, looking like a Japanese painting. But no sign of a hare. I have seen one in these hills before, but nothing today. I once found the skeleton of a hare in a derelict barn, crouched in a dark corner, the folded white bones tense and poised – as charismatic in death as in life.

Now the sun was dipping down and deep shadows lay in the furrows. The hares were hidden from view and I shall have to return another day …

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