Death and poo

So, this is the post you have all been waiting for. The badger latrine post. Over the last few months I have been catching up on a lifetime of having missed out on ‘nature’. Some people recognise birdsong, birds, animal tracks and animal poo without really noticing it. I don’t. I was brought up in a semi-rural environment in 1960s and 70s Yorkshire. Pesticides were sloshed about willy-nilly, and every other ‘lad’ had a lurcher or a whippet or a ferret or two to massacre the wildlife, so although there was lots of countryside, not all that much lived in it. In any case, when you’re growing up, badger poo and owl pellets are much less likely to capture your interest than some gorgeous boy who looks like David Essex.

Now that I am older and wiser, being able to recognise the residents of our place has become much more important. Most of them (except the daft ones like pheasants and partridges) stay out of sight and out of mind as much as possible. But they leave tracks. Finding fox paw prints in the soft mud outside the barn door, I know the fox was sniffing around the house. That dog and cats choose to ignore him/her/them makes me feel even better, because it means they are getting used to the presence of creatures they used to be very wary of.

Unlike our nearest neighbour, who is also from the city and has developed an interest in the wildlife she now cohabits with, I don’t drive children to school at crack of dawn and see the night critters scurrying home. She has seen badgers and foxes, but I only get to see the tracks they leave behind. I have learnt, for example, that rabbits often borrow the homes dug out by bigger creatures. Which is why the big den in the bank across the road is inhabited by rabbits and hares as well as (probably) a badger. Badgers don’t mind. They build such huge rambling homes that there’s plenty of room for colonies of rabbits and the odd hare family.

I also learnt that badgers do their business in latrines that they dig at the limit of their territory, as far away as possible from their living quarters. Just along the road from us is a small family cemetery belonging to the people who live in the next property over the Caillou from us. Judging from the mementos placed on the graves, the men were great hunters.

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They’ve been putting them in the ground here for centuries. This is the oldest part. I didn’t like to photograph the newer part which is on the right and covered in floral tributes.

It seems only poetic justice that the badger has made his/her latrine in the cemetery. If you’re curious, badgers do a huge quantity of poo. There are two latrines, full, and a new one they’ve dug, I suppose for exactly that reason. They trundle across the field, slalom down the bank and cross the road to to their business. This is the slide.

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(Sorry about the tiny photo—it does that sometimes) There are lots of these slides in the banks around the fields. The land is hilly and the fields always end in ditches to take the rainwater runoff. So, the badger slides down from the field, crosses the little road, and digs its latrines on the other side.

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The photos don’t show the scale very well, but that’s a lot of poo. Husband’s photos were better because it was sunny when we went out first. His phone won’t cough them up though, so I took these later just before the rain. Anyway, I thought it was fascinating, and I am discovering that finding clues to the presence of wild animals is as intriguing as actually seeing them.

For anyone wondering about the creature that lives in the culvert, judging from the prints it leaves, I think it’s a badger. It eats dog biscuit and Trixie’s dead voles, but the potato is still at the back there, and it has only nibbled at carrots and apples. I prefer to leave it to its own devices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hare in the grass

Today is haibun Monday at dVerse. The theme is the best meal you ever had, if you want to join in. I had already written a haibun on Saturday which doesn’t fit the theme at all so I’ll probably sit this one out, but it’s what I was thinking over this weekend so I’ll post it here anyway.

And since I’m not following the prompt, I may as well not follow the rules of a haibun either. I wrote two haiku to follow the prose. Choose whichever you prefer.

Photo©John Fielding

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I want so much to belong to this place, to absorb every petal of every flower, the opening buds, the birds that fill the trees. I listen and I watch, where water rills and winged shapes flit among the tracery of the branches. But listening and watching, the wheels turn, the gears shift and emotion becomes knowledge. It gives names and habits, category and genus, dry as dust not green and sappy or hot as blood.

Do egrets know they are egrets, that their pure white beauty stops the heart? Does my wonder break into their indifference? And what pleasure do I retain from the sight of a leveret, speckled and fragile, in the long grass, when my clumsy tread wrung a heart-rending cry of pain and terror from such a baby?

We trample the long grasses and nodding flowers, break branches, muddy waters, and go our way like a hurricane, leaving devastation in our wake, nests disturbed, young dispersed, a whole generation lost. We live on the edge of wilderness, never a part of it, merely onlookers, treading flat-footed and careless on all that we cannot understand, even the miracle of beauty that is a wild hare.

 

A cry in the grass

speckled struggling then stillness—

may night sooth the pain.

 

Grass, a frail nest, hides

speckled hare in dappled sun—

night has fox’s teeth.

Celebration

Apart from having a nasty flu bug, and mail still not connected which is a right royal pain, I have two reasons to celebrate. First, today I was offered a contract for the sequel to Abomination. I’ve been writing blurbs and tag lines, a real chore. Does anybody actually enjoy writing blurbs? It means there won’t be an unreasonable hiatus between volumes one and two, nor with volume three if I send the manuscript in soon.

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I’m also pressing ahead with the follow on series to The Green Woman. 60k words on the clock of volume two so far. I’m hoping to give the whole thing a makeover. That might take us into 2017 though.

As if that isn’t enough to celebrate, our house-buying plans are going smoothly. The obligatory once-over has revealed nothing more terrifying than dodgy electricity (we knew that from the porcelain plugs and switches), and a bit of lead piping that ‘needs watching’. There are no drains worthy of the name, and heating seemed to come mainly from the adjoining cowshed. But it’s the south, the winters are mild, we’ll dig a drain and change some of the porcelain light switches. Our youngest is trying to convince us to get a herd of llamas for the grass/meadow since the stabling won’t be a problem, and I don’t think you have to milk llamas. Not like goats that don’t eat the right kind of grass either.

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As an aside, I have been asked why I don’t write about my ‘experiences’ living in France, and I suppose the answer has to be, would you write about your experiences living in a semi in Stoke? If that’s what you know, there’s nothing extraordinary in it. I’ve never bought a house anywhere but France, never dealt with workmen anywhere but France, never had children or sent them to school, anywhere but France. There’s a lucrative market in writing ‘humorous’ books about life with the baguette and beret brigade, which generally involves poking fun at the ‘French way’. Sod that. I live here—if they do it, chances are I do it too. Seems to me, the people who write these slapstick comedies don’t really live here. They’re voyeurs, ex-pats, people who feel their real lives are somewhere else.

So, I won’t be writing posts about how hilarious French plumbers can be, but I hope I’ll be writing pieces based on our new found country peace and quiet. I hope. Just so long as the neighbour doesn’t decide to swap his sheep for quad bikes…

Empty

She sat on the bench looking out across the river. At her back was a strip of grass planted with plane trees. Behind that was the wall of a big house. The stone shone deep orange in the light of the setting sun. The sun was still hot, the shade dark green and dusty. An old couple walked past, slowly. He leant on her arm, leaning on her more than he leant on his cane. She measured her stronger step to his. Walking with him right up to death’s door.
The old couple stopped at the next bench and the woman helped the man to sit, holding his arm, so the back and legs bent in the right places, lowering his frailty gently until he relaxed with a sigh and sank back against the backrest. His blank eyes filled with the bright light from the sky and the peripheral glitter from the river.
She looked across the river to the trees still in the full sun, and behind them gentle hills, peaceful, vine-covered on the south side. Beyond the hills was sky. Bright, implacable and blue. The bench was at the edge of the footpath, then the bank planted with a municipal assortment of plants, then the river. The river ran. It ran brown, and its ripples caught the light and sparkled. She stared across the river, but her gaze stopped always with the sky.
Footsteps crunched on the dry earth of the footpath. Stopped. A man hovered, hesitated. Then he sat down. She turned her head.
“Evening,” he said and smiled. It was a quick smile and she didn’t see if he had nice teeth. His eyes were creased against the light; his skin was tanned. He smelled slightly of the shower.
“Evening,” she replied, and turned back to the river and the hills, the vines, the sky beyond.
“Lovely view from here,” he said, misunderstanding, and smiled again, longer this time. He had normal teeth. “Live here, do you?”
She nodded.
“I like looking at the countryside,” he rattled on, “but I couldn’t stand to live in it.”
She frowned. “This isn’t the countryside.”
He waved a hand in the air, encompassing everything from the litterbin next to the bench to the clear sky above the hills. “When you come from the city, it’s all countryside.”
She turned, raised an eyebrow.
“All too empty. Too quiet,” he said, and grinned again.
“Too empty?” she murmured.
He crossed his legs and settled back. “You know, Nature and all that. It’s great in documentaries, but we all need supermarkets, don’t we?” He looked at her, as if expecting to find logos for big brands appearing, sprouting from her armpits, from plastic bags stuffed under the bench, from between her teeth. Expecting her to giggle and agree. Expecting her to fall for the superior man from the capital and follow him back to his hotel like a lost dog.
“Pretty,” he went on, “but give me the Champs-Elysées any day.”
As if he owned it.
She looked across the municipal flowers, across the river at the woods, the vines on the hill, heard the hum of traffic on the road, the murmur of voices from behind the wall of the big house. She smelt the smell of the shower, the smell of car exhaust, the barbecue behind the wall. She felt the inanity of the conversation as a physical hurt.
A road ran through the woods across the river, to a town in a fold of the hills. The vines had killed the soil on the hill slopes and there were no insects, no birds to speak of. This was the city man’s countryside, a pretty, sterile desert. She looked across the flowerbeds of gaudy scentless flowers, to the river than ran brown and glittering. She looked across the hills with their well-tended vines, listened to the distant drone of traffic. She shivered and her heart longed for the quiet of a wilderness with no road to follow, no bench and no normal teeth chattering to break the silence.