Regular readers of my blog will know that I love hares. The rabbit’s bigger. scrawnier cousin, hares are easily recognised by their large, black-tipped ears. I think the reason I like them so much is that hares are tough. Rabbits dig burrows to shelter in: hares scrape a shallow depression in the ground (called a “form”) and then just sit there and take it. Blizzards, torrential downpours, heatwaves – the hare is exposed to it all.
Now hares are fast. Blisteringly fast. I’ve seen one cross a quarter mile in a matter of a couple of minutes, so the usual view of a hare is of something rapidly disappearing into the distance. But if you are prepared to be patient, hares can surprise you. I was watching a field today when I noticed those two long ears unfurling, moving above the sea of grass like two black-sailed yachts. They rose up slowly, and revealed a hare, which spent several minutes slowly hopping lazily to and fro. This was an old hare, a grizzled veteran of the field wars, scarred and tattered. I’m not used to hares hopping like rabbits. They are normally animals with a purpose, either here, or heading very quickly to there. This one appeared to be sampling food: nibbling a dandelion clock here, a small clump of grass there. Then it stiffened and stopped. It had spotted what I had missed: a second hare. This one was much younger, smaller with clean fur and ears that were still growing
In the blink of an eye the older hare was off after the younger. It was like two fighter jets dogfighting through the grass, as the young hare jinked left, then right, then right, then left, hairpin turn after hairpin turn with the older hare a fraction of a second behind it. Sadly, the chase took the hares far away from me, about a quarter-mile out into the field and I lost sight of them in the long grass. Whether it was an older male chasing off a younger rival, or an older female eluding a young male’s unwelcome advances, I don’t know.
And there this story might have ended had not the first hare slowly returned. I was taking photos so it knew I was there – hares have exceptional hearing – but it clearly didn’t see me as a threat, because it kept coming and coming. From 200 yards away to one hundred, to fifty , to twenty. In the end, the hare passed slowly by me, no more than twelve feet away. It stopped to check me out, and then continued on its way. Relaxed. Unworried. That decided it for me. This was the old guy who had seen off the young pretender. If a hare could look smug, this one did it. If a hare could strut, this one was.
I’ve been privileged to have many wonderful close encounters with hares, the mystical, magical creatures once thought to be the living embodiment of the goddess of the moon. I’ve had hares come towards me, never knowing that I was there. I’ve had hares bolt out almost from under my feet when I had no idea that they were there. But I’ve never had a hare come so close in the full knowledge that I was standing right there. There is a profound joy to being trusted by a wild animal, especially a hare given how badly we treat so many of them. But I’m an old guy myself, and perhaps this hare saw something in me that it understood. Something shared. Respect, from a member of the grassy plains crew. Yo! (Or something like that).