My internal compass drew me back to the vastness of the grazing marshes along the Yare valley. Whenever I come here I am reminded of Edwin A. Abbott’s remarkable book, “Flatlands: A Romance of Many Dimensions”. Written in 1884, it deals with a two-dimensional world, with people being represented by lines, squares and various polygons.
Of course, the marshes are not truly two dimensional but in terms of elevation they are almost the lowest common denominator. That title rests on the shoulders of the river on a flat calm day. As I walked the familiar concrete road, a creamy anachronism in the sea of green and linear stripes of brown, dead vegetation lining the unseen liquid dark glass of the dykes, I was three dimensional and at a disadvantage. I was visible for miles in this flat landscape despite my best efforts to keep a low profile.
The sky was still grey but there was some hope in the south-west. The clouds had some definition and there was the hint of a sickly yellow blush behind some of them. For days the vivid colour of spring’s new growth had been sucked away and the sunlight which lights up the world like a struck match had proved elusive.
As I rounded a bend I saw a flash of dull brown disappear through a complex of gates and livestock holding pens. They stood, grey and black with a hint of green lichen, like some giant metal puzzle. Their bent railings bore witness to the fury and frustration of some long-forgotten bull flexing his muscle.
I moved forward slowly, slightly crouched, using the adjacent tall dead reeds to break up my outline. I was downwind of the Brown Hare I knew from that glimpse was nearby and, senses on high alert, I scanned the vegetation and the jumble of steel poles and wooden gates for signs of movement. I had another fleeting glimpse of long brown legs disappearing into the next field. I crept forward until I had a clear view of the edge of the field, collapsing into a reed fringe, that concealed the stripe of water.
Anticipation was high as the animal returned through the gate, more slowly this time and began to move through the bankside vegetation. To my astonishment the hare seemed to divide spontaneously and become three. The other hares lifted from their temporary forms along the edge of the dyke and began to chase each other through the long but relatively sparse vegetation, which allowed glimpses. They jumped over each other and moved quickly away from me, never revealing themselves fully.
Just when I thought that they had moved on, a hare moved clear of the vegetation, as if the three had conflated to one, and began lolloping slowly in my direction. The creature stopped and raised a rear foot, which it began to clean assiduously. Every so often it stopped to read the sensory cornucopia floating past that ever-twitching nose for danger.
I stayed still and a frisson of excitement and endorphins coursed through me as the animal started to move more swiftly in my direction. Hunched forward on shorter front legs in the way of hot rods with raised rear suspension, its long rear legs flicked up drops of water as he moved over the saturated field. I say “he” but I had no idea if it was a Jack or Jill.
The hare moved ever closer and suddenly stopped, as if he had reached a boundary that I could not see. I marvelled at the majesty and grace of this rangy creature. Rabbits are always tubby and cuddly but there was something totally other worldly about the hare before me. I understood in an instant why legends and superstitions about these enigmatic creatures arose.
I studied the angular lines of the upright hare. He looked upwards as a Mute Swan flew over. Moon gazer indeed! I could see the pose captured in countless prints and paintings, of hares gazing at their reflections in the mirror of the full moon.
His black tipped ears stood erect (“What big ears you have! All the better to hear you!”) and his long, tapered almost wedge shaped face was facing me, with his nose like a velvet full stop. That light brown head was dominated by lustrous tawny eyes, each with a monocle of white fur around it. Emphasised by small puffy cheeks beneath, those eyes had an ancient intelligence and wisdom about them. They were hypnotic, holding me in their gaze, transfixed, as if he were reading my intentions.
I drank in the other details of this animal. His chest fur was soft and gingery, a counter point to the coarser mottled fur on his back and flanks, a mix of black, light and dark brown and blond. His underside was carpeted with a short, delicate and whiter shade of pale pile.
Every so often the hare raised himself to rest on those long, folded hindlegs and appeared to be hitting an invisible speedball with front legs which moved so fast that they were rendered to a blur. Perfecting his moves for pugilism to come.
I have no idea how long I marvelled at the animal, in whose presence I stood. Time stood still. Then the spell he had cast over me was broken. As suddenly as he had arrived to watch me, he turned and cantered slowly across the grazing marsh, those long legs kicking up water droplets from the shallow hidden pools, disappearing into and reappearing from depressions in the grass.
He reached the edge of field and after slowly passing through a gap between dykes in to the next field he mutated into a creature of pure energy, crossing the ground at warp speed to disappear, lost in a singularity of perspective and distance.
A great feeling of satisfaction yet also of loss washed over me. Hares, like so much of our wildlife, are declining. They are pushed to the margins of the countryside by the rolling machine of industrialised agriculture and habitat loss. Where they were once a frequent sight they are not so often seen.
I will always be drawn to this place, watched over by the church of the running hare, to seek out these pastoral spirits of the countryside. I will never cease to marvel at their other worldliness.