‘I hate ’em meself. They’re too bloody stringy!’ said the gamekeeper, holding up a pair of dead does. I leant out of the poacher’s Range Rover and stroked one of their bellies. The doe was still warm, her tummy full of young and her teats ripe for suckling.
‘Fiver each if you want one?’
‘I’ll give ’em to the lady vicar instead,’ he said, tugging my sleeve conspiratorially. ‘Big woman, likes her food. She has ’em jugged.’ He sniggered.
This was my first real contact with hares. I had travelled with a hundred Cornishmen to a large Wiltshire farm bordering Stonehenge. The farmer invited us to catch as many live hares as we could for relocation to the South-West, where they are in decline. We caught the hares in long, low nets; their shrill screams rang out over the frozen flint-strewn fields, and three or four died from shock. The Cornish wanted them for sport, eventually, but they had immense respect for the animals. My own emotions about the catch were mixed, and I retreated from the cold February air wanting to find out all I could about the lithe, elusive, beautiful creature I had just met.
The librarian passed me a disintegrating copy of The Leaping Hare, by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson.
‘Spring’s the time to find out about hares,’ she enthused. ‘That’s when you’ll see them most, gallivanting on the new corn.’
Reading the opening chapter, I was immediately sucked into a magical world. The hare’s behaviour confounds science: it may move in a great drove like deer; it sucks milk from cows at pasture; it swims the Suir estuary in Ireland; it is intoxicated by snow, and makes tunnels in it for fun, despite not being a burrowing animal like its cousin the rabbit. And as part of an elaborate, little-understood mating ritual, it will sit transfixed in groups of thirty or forty, watching dancing, boxing males and females spar for attention.
In writing the book, the aut
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