The topsy-turvy weather of late is reflected all around me. In some places the blackthorn is still flowering, in others drift of soft pink petals look like the late snowfalls that keep happening. Yesterday I took my coat off, put my coat on, took my coat off in a regular cycle as we veered from warm and sunny, to frigid winds and sleety showers. At one point hail lay sparkling on roads turned to sugar.
Today feels like more of the same. In the small copse above the lake a gadwall seeks shelter, his crumpled water-silk plumage clashing with the moving, rippled reflections of the reeds in a vomit-inducing combination that would be perfect for an ibuprofen advert.
But then, on the path, a small furred body. Stiff as a board, but undeniably fresh, the elongated snout tells me that it is a shrew. Whether the stiffness is from freezing or rigor I can’t tell. There seems to be not a mark on it, but when I roll it with my boot, the signs of murder become clear. A single round hole through the abdomen. I glance around. There are no other clues, no suicide note or blood trail, no convenient forensics. The location, in the middle of a busy footpath helps narrow the suspects. Was it an early morning snack for one of the buzzards that nest in the copse? Perhaps. The hole could be a talon mark.
But a slight rippling of the fur on the other side suggests a second hole. Two opposing holes. A jaw. Canines. The shrew was taken by a fox, which probably dropped it on the path when a dogwalker appeared and it had to sprint to shelter. That’s the joy of natural whodunnits: nobody gets to tell you that you are wrong, and you can convince yourself that you are a master sleuth.
Twenty minutes later, returning back through the woodland, after bluebells; after a woodpecker, and coal tits, and the bright buttercup yellow of marsh marigolds, I see a fuzz of orange in a small patch of sunlight. A murderer without conscience, finding warmth where it can. It’s a fox, probably a vixen who about now may have cubs to feed. Not a murderer, then, but a mother. Not a wasteful crime, but a necessity to feed a growing family. After five minutes of watching her, the clouds close over again. It feels like snow is coming. When I look up from putting my coat back on, the fox has gone.