The sitter still

I realise I haven’t updated this since my book came out, it’s all been a little bit chaotic. But driving into work this morning I caught a glimpse of a hare (always a moment of magic) and remembered this piece I wrote for the Suffolk Magazine.

The trees behind Brooke House where I work for Suffolk Wildlife Trust were cut back this winter and for the first time in years it’s now possible to see across the fields of Ashbocking. Neat, green rows of winter barley stretch away to a brown hedgerow in the distance. The land feels featureless. Drilled, cropped and lined. But today, there is a lump. A beautiful smudge. A clod of earth, but breathing. A hunkered hare.

It is Steve, whose desk is by the window, who spies her first and soon the whole office is lined up to catch a glimpse: bringing up binoculars in wobbling arcs over the young crop to where she sits, crouched low and still in a dip in the ground. Hares, unlike rabbits, don’t use burrows, but live a more nomadic existence. They scrape a shallow depression in the earth, a form, to shelter from wind and rain. Their young, leverets, born fully-furred and with their eyes wide open, have forms of their own, places to wait up in safety while their mother leaves to feed. I focus the binoculars again, taking in the long ears now pressed flat against her back, the slight movement of wind-ruffled fur.

The hare was one of the first creatures I encountered on moving to Suffolk from Brighton. We rented a small cottage five miles away from Hadleigh, chosen because its gardens ran onto open fields. The owner said hares could often be seen “boxing” in March and April, the female standing on hind legs to fend off the male’s amorous advances with a flurry of rabbit punches.

After living in the middle of a city, the space of the Suffolk countryside was a tonic. In a strange way, it felt as if once again I could sense the world turning; could appreciate the land, the sky and the cycle of the seasons. The hare was definitely part of that.

Shortly after I dug out a small vegetable patch the hares started to come off the field, making the most of the new shoots that pushed through the earth. First they kept their distance, lolloping off on stiff-looking legs if they spied a movement from the kitchen window. But soon they grew more confident. One, a teenager, a knock-kneed hobbledehoy, would gamble right up to the back door, grazing on young grass and allowing us a good view of ears whose tips were as dark as burnt biscuits, and of eyes rimmed with a wild fire.

Later in the day I drift back to the office window, expecting the field to be empty again. But the hare hasn’t moved. Not for buzzard, dog walkers or the rude boom of the gas gun. Her stillness equates to invisibility. Only when a predator gets really close will hares unleash the speed contained within its long legs and powerful haunches, accelerating to a blistering 40mph and zig-zagging over the ground. A transformation from statue to Britain’s fastest land mammal.

Standing there I can’t help but think of The Names of the Hare, a poem written in the late 13th century in Middle English and translated by Seamus Heaney. It contains 77 different names for the hare: the stubble-stag, the hedge-springer, the race-the-wind, the dew hopper, the wild one, the skipper, the rascal the racer, the skidaddler, frisky legs, the quick-scut.

Another one seems more appropriate today. The hugger of the ground. Or, perhaps, a new name altogether: the sitter still.

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