Saturday 24 March 2018

Hare's last leap leaves no tracks

Alert: Hares are careful to disguise their trails back to their cosy nests
Alert: Hares are careful to disguise their trails back to their cosy nests

Joe Kennedy

My American daughter gave me a hare for Christmas.

It is more a leveret, really, an "adorable baby hare", as a headline writer in the on-line version of newspapers would be apt to describe it these days. All animals are "adorable" there... You will find "baby sheep", "baby pigs", "baby cows" (crying for their mothers). And humans are "adorable" as well, especially those with "baby curls".

I kid you not. And why not? There is nothing wrong about getting emotional about animals now and then.

My leveret ("baby hare") is looking straight at me. It is not flesh and blood, of course, just a fibre head with floppy ears mounted on a piece of wood, a mini wall plaque. There is a small brass hook on which to hang threads and a metal triangle from which it can be suspended. It is now hanging on the end of a pencil in a jar jammed with scribbling aids, on my desk.

About actual living hares, the rare, seasonally-white animal recently mentioned here had been spotted in a field near Collon, Co Louth, and, interestingly, a similar animal was seen in this area by the same observant reader four years back.

Some Irish hares in winter can have the magical look of a piebald but few turn completely white. Most show no white at all in their coats. Spotting a piebald usually means good fortune in countryside lore. I have never seen one, though at this time of year I have noticed occasional small groups of normal animals circling about and sitting up before returning to cropping grass.

Last year I recorded some hares nibbling sea lettuce on the foreshore in north Mayo, when they were not busy plundering vegetable gardens, and I have come upon hare 'forms' (resting places) in fields and startled the occasional animal in its refuge.

The 'forms' looked cosy. They were smooth and rounded like a football and narrow at one end, an entrance, perhaps. I have never come upon leverets awaiting a mother to feed them in the evenings. Poor creatures, they can be a windfall for a prowling fox...

I have confessed here of having partaken of leverets in a stew served up in a village cafe in Alentejo in Portugal (no menu; one ate what was placed before one!). Having inquired about the ingredients I felt somewhat uneasy about the hare but decided I was not competent enough in the language to make a fuss. The meat melted in the mouth, as they say, but included a mass of tiny hair-like bones (no pun intended!), rather like a fish. Also on the table was much bread and olive oil, water cress from the garden, a great bowl of steamed clams and no end of local red wine, of course. Take me back!

In all of my 80-plus years I have only recently learned that an alert hare does not leave a completed trail to its 'form'. Such tracks would be clearly noticeable at this time of year with frost and snow.

David Thomson, author of People of the Sea, about the seal legends of the Irish coastline, with George Ewart Evans has provided an answer in The Leaping Hare, published in the 1970s. Seven to 10ft away from its 'form' the hare will leap the distance to land in its nest and confuse would-be pursuers.

What a sight to witness!

Sunday Independent

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