Friday 18th June


There’s crying at the lèan-bend below the house, and a wet style of bickering to say first: “that’s a curlew”, and then “but what’s wrong?” Nothing is said without meaning; in this mad and wrecking yap there’s a message which drives me to stand from my desk and run to the gun cabinet.

A vixen works in the reedings. Birds twinkle above her; oystercatchers plunge and buck as small things like pipits hang and squeak in the backlit grass and then the curlews both in a steep and lurching stoop, saying “out you bitch and leave us be”. The vixen is only half aware. She is hunting. The birds usher and chivvy, but I can go one better. The rifle bumps on my shoulder as I run half-crouching to the stones above the meadow where I can find some rest for the heavy barrel.

I’m conscious of contention here. A famous conservationist recently wrote that she could not bear to kill a fox herself, even though she knew it often had to be done. But I don’t think she needs to worry; I don’t think we need to experience the pound of a bullet-strike at first hand to make peace with the ethical implications of killing. Is it not enough to know it’s done by others (and well) without a symbolic gesture of complicity?

And here’s a cut-and-dry scenario with a vixen now actively hunting for curlew chicks in the ditches and the rising meadowsweet. The last pair in the glen hatched on their third attempt, and would you really say “that’s life” or “nature’s way” and leave them to it? She’s clean and limber with a segment missing from her brush and the crosshairs rise to the point of her shoulder.

Did you know that foxes live on such a high wire of adrenaline that they’re already done with today? Kill them hard and they hardly die. I saw a fox shot once in such a way that everything that had been inside his chest came out of it. But still he ran for three hundred yards and died as if he’d only paused to catch his breath. Some beast that, although I suppose it’s fair to match that madman against the many that slump and go easy as lambs or coneys.

A bullet in the chamber and birds pealing like bells in the wind; I picture the bullet-drop and the casting arc of ballistic trajectories. I’ve practiced this. I could do it in my sleep. I’ll tell her she’s dead in the morning, and the safety catch comes off and I wait for her to stand, knowing that when she comes out from that spray of myrtle, she’s done.

But she never comes.

And the birds quieten.

And I lie for an hour and wonder how she vanished; me with my course hard set and every justification behind me. The curlew chicks emerge to bimble in the short grass, and I have not seen order restored but disaster deferred.