A Hundred Gourds 3:2 March 2014

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Claire Everett - UK


Even a well-worn path can yield a surprise or two. This track, lately discovered, the entrance to a clearing; no small wonder that we had passed it by a dozen or more times, especially now that blossom and bramble have all but concealed it, not unlike a fair-haired child, burying her head in the bosom of summer. That first time, we made our way, quite literally, for it seemed that none had gone before us, at least not for two seasons, or more. High-stepping to avoid the trip-wires of nettle, fern and briar, we waded further into warbler song. Before long, a gentle incline became a spoil heap and then we found the tell-tale hole, wider than it was tall, and a few feet away, another. Others, smaller, appeared like satellites of the first, one or two half-stopped with leaves by one who likes to air his bedding. I bent down, peering into the darkness and caught a whiff of fox, for its not uncommon for them to share such chambers.

kneeling to press
wet palm to soft earth
between the lines
of head and heart
one white-tipped hair

Were the occupants asleep, oblivious to this intrusion, or were they acutely aware of it, listening for us as we were for them?

Tonight we have returned, mindful that the coming months could see us watching and waiting for beings of darker purpose. We pick our way through the fading light, check the direction of the breeze and choose a suitable place for our temporary camp.

all day
rambling up hill
and down dale . . .
on blue-black wings
the wood settles

The crows go on bickering until at last there is a silence, of sorts, because even the slightest sound etches itself deeply on dusk's clean slate. A rabbit approaches on giant's feet. At the circling cry of a tawny owl, the woods bristle, every leaf on end. With the day at its quick, when land and sky are of the same ink, a vixen, already on the scent of a vole, leaps out from behind the spoil heap and takes my breath with her until the darkness swallows her whole. Time passes. An hour, perhaps more. We're on the brink of calling it a night, but an elbow's nudge later, there he is, barely more than a flash of white, as he rears up, sniffing the air, pausing, sniffing again. Perhaps we are a strange new scent on the breeze, or this is all part of his evening ritual. He waits, as if uncertain whether to return to the sett or venture into the woods. I doubt my eyes, yet there he is, seemingly returning my binoculared gaze.

of this turning earth
what does he know
but the earth he turns?
what does he know of kin?
cheek to jowl, the dark days

What does he know of cars, until daylight savings sends two tonnes of steel careering into his dawn stroll? What does he know of the dog, until it drags him from his slumber? What does he know of the trap, or the gun, until --?

ancient as he is
what will the badger know
of Orion
high in the east, and a comet
that diced with the sun

On this night when the May trees are in flower beneath the stars on their indigo boughs, there is, for him, no other concern than the juicy worm that awaits him, no other shire than this.

Author’s Note: On 29th November, hours after the comet Ison spectacularly grazed the sun, the pilot badger cull ended three weeks early in Gloucestershire, as it had failed to reach targets. A month earlier, the cull in Somerset also ended early for the same reason. The cull has been vehemently opposed by scientists and the British public alike. There are still plans for it to be reintroduced in 2014.

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