A hare knows more than I do. She lies on the open ground and wisdom grows upon her. She learns how the wind moves through the grass, and she keeps the fields when I’m indoors and the night lies dead against my window. She is the real master of this place; there is not a slot in the dyke or a bramble stem that she has not grasped and loved for later use.
It’s a level of expertise that I cannot fathom. And it’s easy to make her cunning look small, because I know that she’d be lost a mile away. Take her off to somewhere new; place her down in a field which seems the same to you or I – it would be the same as killing her. She’ll still be fast, but without her home around her, she is limbless.
My friend used to come over and play when I was a kid. He’d cycle down through the hazel woods, and he sometimes brought a rugby ball. We’d take it in turns to play at being Gavin Hastings, and we scored countless tries in the field below the house. One day he brought a friend to play rugby with us. This was some boy I didn’t know; a big, bullish boy with a shaved head and the start of a moustache. He was stronger than me in every way, and he wanted to score all the tries. That was fine, but it began to rankle at me as the afternoon wore on. It happened that in some mocked-up scrum, he pushed me down and I was hurt. I flew at him and pulled him over, and I never paused to think of what an uneven match we made. I ignored my smallness and the slender tweak of my arms, feeling sure that I could flatten him with sheer willpower – because this was my place; the place I knew and loved and loved me in return – surely that would level the field?
It ended badly. He pinned me to the ground and twisted my arm behind my back. And that pain was nothing to the stun of desperate failure; that I was powerless, even here in my home where every rock and tussock was known to me. And when he stood and walked away, I was left with nothing at all. I could not even hold my own.
And I imagine that hare with a fast dog behind her; playing tricks and turning the ground to her advantage. What cards she has to play; such a deep pool of resources. I’d back her odds on any given day, but how will it feel to play the game and come up short? The dog closes upon her, and she finds that all her love is for nothing.