I remember being introduced to Aesop’s ‘Fables’ in the sleepy dusty afternoons of sun-motes and Standard One (Juniors) at Newton Primary School, Chester.
Hare’s a trickster, presented as rather cocksure and as cunning as a fox. In my nascent junior mind he was interchangeable with Br’er Rabbit, whom I encountered at Juniors too. And like Br’er, he had a pretend American accent.
Do you remember, Tortoise won the race by his patient, persistent plodding. Hare was beaten “because he was lazy and over-confident” – or that’s what the fable showed to me aged eight. I had been warned!
Now I am not so sure. Hanging out for a rest after exertion seems good policy. After all, we can’t win ’em all.
And ‘success is: doing things easefully’, as I often tell myself, dawdling along the beach musing and dreaming to myself, yet with half an ear open, half an eye vigilant for danger.
So here’s a recent and easefully-written poem, embedded into this essay for context.
Hare, after Aesop’s Tortoise
hunkered down by a hedge at the edge of the field in the head-land—th' instead-land beyond crop or yield with the steeples of plantains (the ribworts) concealed— lay the Hare, in moon-magic, in Freedom revealed, true to form, yet formless and gormless in gait, bounding boundless, near soundless around his estate; movement-greedy, speed-needy, yet lying in wait ... like a tortoise not napping—folk clapping—too late!
© Kathy Labrum McVittie 3 September 2021
Memoir as context:
In the late 1960s my mother was driving my second sister (11 years my elder) to a friend’s home in Royston, to travel with him up the Great North Road to Scotland where she was training. In the dusk, my father spotted a Hare running on the hills of north Hertfordshire. Although sitting next to him in the back of the car, I was not quick enough to follow his excited exclamation. But I consider that my life’s first, vicarious, ‘sighting’ of Brown Hare.
In the new Millennium (into which neither of our parents survived), from the London-Cambridge train I’ve seen Hares in that very area. Although threatened still by illegal coursing activities, they abound on those chalk hills.
Unlike their rabbit relatives, Hares don’t hide in burrows. Their home is a flattened patch of vegetation, traditionally known as a ‘form’. One sunny June in the last decade, the team of mowers (not machines: people including my husband Jim) of the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland (SABI) accidentally disturbed (and respectfully re-located) leverets (baby Hares) hidden in the flower-rich grassland just in front of the National Trust’s Wimpole Hall, a property that passed to this UK conservation charity from Rudyard Kipling’s second daughter Elsie Bambridge in 1976.
Did Kipling ever see Hares in Hertfordshire? Perhaps not, as he died before his daughter and son-in-law acquired Wimpole Hall. Yet we know from his book ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’ (1906) that he would have been familiar with these graceful and magical beings, although – abhorrently – in that book he has the child characters learning to set snares, to trap them.
A century later, for many—including myself—Hares betoken Freedom, and the Mystical Realms. And in Philip Pullman’s trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’ the opposite-gendered daemon of ‘äeronaut’ Lee Scoresby is the laconic and loyal-to-the-death Hare, Hester. They even have a book to themselves, Pullman’s ‘Once upon a time in the north’, published 2008. (Some reviewers refer to Hester as a jackrabbit, which is how Hares of the genus Lepus are described in the USA.)
In June 2015 (aged 62) I took the train from Cambridge—past Royston—down to London. To attend a dance workshop ‘The Opening’ with Alex Svoboda, where experienced shaman Pavel Timashkov led a dozen of us in a drum journey to the Otherworld, with the intention of meeting our Power Animals.
My imaginal journey was sweet and simple, and took me through a disused railway tunnel (remembered from the Peak District of holidays) out into the chalk grassland of an old rail cutting through Devil’s Dyke, where the teasing butterflies fluttered away from me. Then I encountered—a few inches away, nose to nose—what I immediately recognised as Brown Hare, and knew I’d found my true friend, soul-animal, daemon.
Since that time Hares have come to me in many ways: in story, nature, myth. On wrappping paper and the covers of books given by understanding friends. Illustrated on cards and advent calendars.
And in lived sensory experience.
One individual appeared outside the Shrine Room at Taraloka Buddhist Retreat Centre in Shropshire, when I was giving a touch-healing treatment to a Snowdonia conservationist called Sarah. That was in 2015, and women friends on retreat there have since seen Hares at exactly that place, although I’ve only so far made the one visit to Taraloka.
A year later, I found a nearly complete—but headless—skeleton on the moors above Gartyside, Sutherland, during my first solitary retreat in 2016. (I was travelling light that hot May day; as camera, my biologist’s memory had to suffice.) I deduced this was certainly the remains of a Hare; probably – by the narrowness of its pelvis – a young male. I gave him an Earth burial, placing upon him a tiny cube of peat, which is, after all, fossilised bog-moss, and an effective carbon-store for the planet.
Two years later my spouse and I bought a summer writing retreat/sanctuary for me, barely ten miles away from Gartyside. In 2020 it became my permanent home.
During the transitional years there were running Hares in north Norfolk and Suffolk, and hunkered ones in Perthshire, witnessed during holidays to each place. Since I moved up to northern Scotland, though, I’ve seen nary* a one.
Yet the magical Hare imagery has followed me. Often at a remove, tentatively – except when sometimes parrying with me, like a feisty female in March, setting out her boundaries with an over-amorous mate. S/he’s often one to strike out, to leap forward impetuously, or else to show a clean pair of heels while running to the headland of the field, true to form.
Brown Hare pops up yet again (he has had many outings already, including in the John Clare Society Newsletter) in my debut issue of the international arts journal Synkroniciti Magazine. My poem, ‘pandemonium’ – again Hare-whiskered – abides on one of the 110 exquisitely illustrated pages of Synkroniciti Magazine volume 3.4 (theme: ‘transcend’) with a dazzling cover featuring ‘Stars’ by Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier.
It is one of a triad of my poems (the other two are ‘resolution’ and ‘portal’). You can buy that single issue here for $6, or subscribe to this and future issues (published quarterly).
I am so excited (like a leaping Brown Hare) to have such an editorial champion: Katherine Grace McDaniel (Synkroniciti’s founding editor in Houston, Texas) – herself a huge-hearted woman of voice, vision, joy, and courage. And she’s introduced me thus; thank you, friend!
* nary is an old form of ‘ne’er (a)’, ‘not (one)’, ‘not at all’