Jonathan Self tackles a minor infestation, only to miss the hole in his life left by the furry visitors.
What I presume to be the last seal pup of the year has just been born. I spotted it — brilliant white against the black rocks on a tiny island in the bay — and rowed out in driving rain to see it, for fear that it would have relocated by the time the weather improved.
The mother was lying there looking exhausted, as well she might, for grey seals endure a 50-week pregnancy and the fathers are only interested in one thing (two, if you count fish). It seems, as Oliver remarked, a seally time of year to have babies, just before the cold sets in in earnest, but, doubtless, Nature knows best.
Nature has certainly been making its preparations for winter. Over the past few weeks, I have been conscious of a change in the tempo of the countryside. The four baby foxes we watched all summer left home a couple of months ago and, since then, their parents have got fatter and fatter. So fat, in fact, that they have lost all interest in the equally obese pheasant with whom they share our nearest wood. They have also failed to keep the mouse population in check.
We were first aware of the latter when Charlotte surprised a field mouse asleep under her pillow. After an intense chase across rough ground (wet towels, discarded clothes, old pizza boxes — there may be a clue here as to why the mouse chose her room), she and I caught it, fed it and released it some distance from the house.
No good deed goes unpunished. That mouse clearly spread the word about our largesse, for what followed can only be described as an invasion. We blocked every hole, engaged a feckless cat (probably a member of the anti-hunt league) and tried humane traps baited with the best Camembert, but still they came.
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Had they not made their presence so obvious — swaggering about as if they owned the place — they might have been tolerated. As it was, we eventually signed up for some-thing called a Three-Week Riddance Plan (if only there were similar plans to deal with, say, annoying politicians) and, through a combination of keeping our windows permanently closed (mice are the Hillarys and Norgays of the rodent world) and other means too distressing to describe, we have become pest free.
Now they are gone, I find I miss them in the same way that I miss all the other creatures that have disappeared for the winter. Many of these have, of course, simply taken themselves off for a long snooze. Our resident hedgehog, for example, is, to my certain knowledge, hibernating under a pile of logs in the orchard. Every time I pass, I think of it in its cosy nest dreaming away the winter, its little heart beating only once a minute, instead of the usual 200.
Next to that particular pile of logs is a muddy little pond that is a favourite with male frogs, who bury themselves at the bottom during the colder months. Female frogs, with becoming decency, spend the time between now and the spring mating season asleep in hedges and ditches. It is a similar bedtime story with badgers and pine martens, butter-flies and ladybirds.
Given the general state of the world, the idea of dropping off for a few months and waking up when things are, hopefully, back to normal is an attractive one. Sleep, as the Bard tells us, ‘knits up the ravell’d sleave of care’.
If ever there was a time when one wanted one’s ravell’d sleave of care knitted up, surely this is it.
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