Monday, 5 October 2015
Of all the easy cliches of graphic art, hares are up there with suns, moons and stars, and all the other symbolically-overloaded repertoire you are likely to find in combination on artisanal greetings cards, along with various decoratively stylized plant seed-heads. The hare is a creature of mystery with strong pagan associations and, in its leaping form, seems to awaken some latent, atavistic response in the soul of the kind of person who is attracted to the folksy, home-spun appeal of faux-naive paintings and woodcuts*. That would be me, then.
Hares -- real hares, that is -- do seem to be more common, these days. Or perhaps it's just that I am spending more time in the kinds of places hares favour. One can generally be seen each evening going up the grassy track that runs past our Easter hangout in mid-Wales, loping slowly along like a cat with its hind legs loosely tied together. The long, black-tipped ears, baleful eyes, and gangly legs easily distinguish the hare from its ubiquitous cousin, the rabbit. I believe they are more tasty, too, though I have never yet tested that.
This particular specimen is stuffed, of course, extracted and placed before a segment of an enormous oil painting of a harvest scene, itself placed in front of the side of a telephone booth. Beneath, a particularly fine ichthyosaur fossil, also from Bristol Museum, dreams Jurassic dreams. Why? Because it works for me and, besides, if you can show me that combination on a greetings card I'll be very surprised.
My closest encounter of the leporine kind happened in Norfolk. One summer, we were staying in a cottage near Swaffham, right next to a typical East Anglian agricultural field. Early one evening, a hare wriggled under the fence, and sat on the edge of the lawn. As we watched, it keeled over, and lay there, panting. It didn't get up again.
Having convinced the kids it was only having a nap -- hares are famous for that! -- I resolved to sneak out later before it got too dark, fetch a spade from the shed, and bury the poor creature behind the hedge somewhere. As I approached, I was impressed by the size of the thing: it was like a small dog. It was also, I realised, still breathing. Shit. Should I despatch it myself, or let nature take its course? As I dithered, one yellow eye snapped open, and the hare saw me standing over it, holding a spade like an executioner's axe. It stood up, gave itself a shake, and ran off like, well, like a hare. As I said, famous for it.
* Hare lore is extensively documented by George Ewart Evans in his book The Leaping Hare, published in 1972 and which is still in print. There has also been a lot of interest in the curious phenomenon of the "three hares", see Chris Chapman's Three Hares Project, for example.