Saturday, 16 April 2016

On Critters and a Sense of Place.

We’re having a bit of a cold snap here in Blighty today, and even had a few flakes of snow drifting around this morning. I gather Scotland had a lot more, but the Scots aren’t noted for recognising cold. It’s my theory that they were all Canada Geese in previous lives. (‘Polar Bears, actually’ I hear them declaim en masse. As you wish.)

Anyway, it resulted in me musing on just which part of England I live in, and I realised that the Shire is on the geographical boundary between the two areas generally recognised as the English Midlands and Northern England respectively. (The political boundary is a little further north, but geography is more real than politics so we’ll stick with that one.) To celebrate this new-found awareness, I decided to acquaint myself with a previously untrodden (by me, that is) public footpath, and made a few friends along the way.

First there was a beautiful piebald mare grazing in a field. In spite of my best entreaties she declined even to recognise my presence until the prettiest little Shetland pony came trotting across to investigate. Once the Shetland received a little fuss, the mare decided to butt in and demand my undivided attention. (I’ve noticed that about horses: they seem to have something of a superiority complex when it comes to Shetland ponies.) Needless to say, I permitted my attention to be equally divided.

Then there was the finest specimen of an old oak tree you’re ever likely to encounter. Squat of aspect, broad of crown, gnarled as a piece of old leather, solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, and probably about 300 years old in my estimation. I congratulated him on escaping participation in the Napoleonic Wars and wished him a good new season.

Stan’s Boys (Stan being the local beef farmer.) They permitted a quick nose scratch each, but no more. Beef cattle are more suspicious of strange humans than horses are, which isn’t surprising in the circumstances, and a hell of a lot dirtier.

On the way back I looked in on the fresh batch of new lambs in the field up the lane. The nearest lamb said something which I’ll need to translate using nothing but well honed instinct: ‘Mum, there’s one of those big creatures with two legs only a lamb’s bound away. What do I do?’ The mother’s deep alto answered without hesitation: ‘Don’t be a dummy. Come here immediately or you might not get the chance to cuddle up to me when it turns frosty tonight.’ And so he did. Don’t they always? Meanwhile, the chicken regarding me inquisitively through the wire mesh fencing was unable to make friends because chickens aren’t designed to squeeze through 1½” wire mesh.

The big news on the critter front this week, though, is the sighting of a Goldcrest in the garden. In ten years of living in the Shire I’ve only ever seen one Goldcrest, and that was around the corner in one of the lanes. This one was carrying nesting material, so it appears my garden is to host a Goldcrest’s nest this year. That’s a thrill.

What isn’t a thrill is that a mother rat has given birth to six babies which are now engaged in trying to eat the food I put out for the birds. They won’t be babies very long, of course, and so humane measures are in hand to attempt relocation.

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