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16 October 2014
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Spring Mourning

I love this time of the year. Spring I mean. The lengthening days, blue skies, warming temperatures.


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Spring Mourning

I love this time of the year. Spring I mean. The lengthening days, blue skies, warming temperatures. Winter's shackles thrown off so obviously, as the snowdrops wilt, and primroses, and later bluebells emerge, and gradually the new season's fresh leaves bedeck the trees and hedgerows in all their hues of green.

Surround-sound birdsong envelopes, as nest building and egg laying get under way. Rabbits pop from their cosy burrows to loll in the sun, and lambs gambol joyously about the fields.

At least, that's how it had always seemed, viewed as a "townie" on day trips to the country. Till now, when through the rain and gales of an unseasonal early May day, I witnessed the harsher side of nature from my "edge of the countryside" home. The "red in tooth and claw", side.

The lamb

fallen lamb

A fluffy white lamb just three weeks old, which 48 hours earlier had been high-stepping with its peers, and cuddling against or suckling from its mother, lay dead and cold beside a tussock of weeds. Now shunned by the ewe, and its sibling, this little harbinger of Spring was abandoned, to become a lonely white dot, lost in a sea of emerald turf.

But during the day, as I watched in fascinated disgust, Nature did her spring-cleaning, and pristine innocence turned to an angry red. The tiny body was constantly attended by a queue of mini "vultures", as those with other hungry young mouths to feed pecked and tore at the corpse. Apparently first in the line of "funeral attendants" were the raucous local grey and black "hoodies", always quick to exploit carrion. Then an abundance of side-stepping magpies, waiting close by, to hop in for their turn at the feast.

The ravens

pair of ravens
In due course - amazingly, for this is two miles inland, and rolling countryside, a pair of huge black ravens came swooping down to enjoy a protracted meal. Since arriving on the North Antrim coast to live fourteen years ago, I have scanned the skies around the Causeway and its rugged environs watching, binoculars poised, hoping for a sighting of these big be-whiskered aerial acrobats - but with no success. Now from my own kitchen windows, I was presented with a grandstand viewing.

But this was emphatically not how I'd wanted to see them - heads thrust deep inside the now gaping ribcage, massive beaks tearing, shredding, gorging their fill, before soaring away on the wind, no doubt to feed a nest of fledgelings. One diving visit turned into an aerobatic display, as the resident pale-coloured buzzard, obviously angered at this intrusion into his feeding patch, harried the ravens in hot pursuit. It was fascinating to compare their size, shape, and flying techniques at such close quarters, and then to see the buzzard get his turn at the dwindling feast. With great talons on the yellow feet planted firmly to hold the carcass, he picked his chosen morsels, white "bib" becoming besmirched with the effort.

The fox

cunning fox

Then, after a lull in Nature's banquet, shortly before dusk, the "piece de resistance". A large fox appeared on the sodden pasture, its thick coat dulled to a deep mahogany colour by the rain. I wondered how far it had travelled in search of a meal, and if luck, instinct, or a sense of smell had brought it to this spot. Demonstrably it was hungry, and had cubs to tend, for this fox stayed eating for at least twenty minutes, clearly visible out in the open, rarely glancing up to check for danger. Then tugging and turning what was left of the remains, until it severed the spine, Reynard loped off, bushy tail outstretched, head held high to accommodate his awkward "doggie bag" takeaway - two little black and white legs of the lamb clearly visible dangling from either side of his mouth.

Now, four days after death all that was left of a sentient being, were a few tufts of dirtied wool, and maybe enough fragments of flesh and bone to keep the ever busy Burying Beetles happy. Nature's spring-cleaning was completed; the cycle of life-death-life had run its inevitable course, and I who love the countryside and its myriad creatures, was left perplexed and confused with conflicting emotions. Logic told me not to mourn the death of one wee lamb. After all, it had been spared from the long-term scourge of lameness, suffered silently by so many of its kind. Not for it the cramped suffocating journey to the terrifying horrors of an abattoir. But somehow, with its sudden death, and speedy dispatch, the joy of Spring had dimmed and I had a deeper understanding of my own mortality.

Spring will never seem quite the same again.


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