All the evidence tells of change. But then we live in a world that doesn’t ever stand still. Spring’s inexorable march is as inevitable as night following day albeit that when the moon briefly blocked out the sun a week ago, for a few moments, night seemed to be following night as the landscape was plunged into a curious half light. Someone once said that in the event of an eclipse, the birds would suddenly cease to sing and that was exactly what happened on that singular morning.
Because we live in an age in which we are constantly fed with information through the vast array of media we now have at our finger-tips, we have much easier access to what is happening in the world compared with any previous generation. Much of that information is of course delivered visually. The all-seeing eyes of television and the internet, through mobile phones and tablets, gives us instant access to a cornucopia of facts, mostly in pictorial form. Yet ironically, as a generation, we are nevertheless, much more shielded from the raw realities of life, living as we do in a concrete covered world and in our cosseting, centrally heated, triple glazed homes. Even when we are travelling, we are largely insulated from the real world in our air-conditioned vehicles. So we find ourselves somehow strangely remote and all too often, utterly removed from those realities.
So, when we step out of that closed environment, we should in theory, be so much more aware of the responses of nature to the changes that are happening all around us. But how many of you I wonder, are aware of the events now happening on a daily basis that further confirm the arrival of spring. Perhaps there remains sufficient civic pride around us to ensure that we are all able to enjoy and admire ‘hosts of golden daffodils’ and the sight of those graceful nodding flowers surely tells a certain story of advancing spring, a story which can hardly be missed.
The passage of a bevy of curlew the other day and the music of their lovely lilting voices, provided me with another of those markers, denoting the progress of the seasons, as did the mewing of soaring, spiralling buzzards, pronouncing majestically their welcome to the new season of re-birth. Yet much of the re-awakening that is happening, occurs so covertly that even the most observant of us are not witnesses to many of the events that chart spring’s progress.
I have of late for instance, observed the fast flight of a couple of male sparrowhawks, flying typically low alongside a hedgerow before flipping over it in the hope of flushing out a bird or two. However, I rarely see a kill made. But two piles of feathers in my own garden, told the story of success on the part of at least one of those marauders, an event unseen by me. That is of course, the nature of sparrowhawk living; wham, bam and the job is over and done with in a flash, often out of sight. They are covert raptors but very effective.
Evidence of creatures emerging from their winter’s sleep also came although it was I’m afraid, a grisly reminder! My first sighting of a hedgehog, no doubt newly emerged from its slumbers, after waking from its period of hibernation, was of an animal unwittingly but inevitably destined to become the victim of a very different kind of road hog! But of course, there is a world out there, which is utterly out of sight if not necessarily out of mind. Even down in the depths, away from prying eyes, advancing spring still generates new moods and ambitions. The tell-tale piles of earth appearing in fields and gardens, tell a story but a story of which we are for the most part, totally ignorant. I’m sure many people will go through life without ever seeing a live mole – a relative of the aforementioned hedgehog - despite the fact that they will almost certainly see plenty of evidence of their presence and indeed of their inordinate energy.
Moles are extremely energetic animals and especially so during this month when much conflict occurs as the males compete for females with which to mate. Indeed this may be the time of year when we are most likely to see them as the losing contestants are put to flight by the stronger and now more dominant males. I have for instance seen one such defeated animal frantically scrabbling about on the gravel outside my house in its almost manic efforts to escape its tormentors. And I once watched in amazement as a similar animal, also put to flight to such an extent that having failed to dig its way back underground by virtue of the toughness of the tarmac it was trying to excavate, fled across what was a busy main road. Miraculously it evaded the wheels of passing vehicles and somehow reached the other side unscathed, where it literally disappeared before my very eyes by instantly tunnelling into the soft verge.
Moles are of course, renowned for their digging prowess, equipped as they are, with JCB like front legs, their powerful front feet resembling great buckets. The evidence of increasing activity in recent days is there for all to see. The sudden appearance of masses of molehills making some fields look like some kind of moonscape, charting the constant expansion of the subterranean world of these natural miners, tells the story of the ceaseless energy of these strange little creatures. Famously of course, mole fur, unlike that of other mammals, does not lie in just one direction. It grows straight out and so can literally lie in any direction. Thus moles travel through their tunnels, too narrow for them to turn around, either backwards or forwards, without the discomfort of travelling against the grain of their fur.
This fact marked mole fur as being usefully different and so mole-skins became popular for instance, among hat makers. However, lead and mercury were substances used in the curing of mole-skins for this purpose and in the course of time, those engaged in the hat making industry, inevitably but unconsciously absorbed some of those heavy metals, very much to their detriment. Such elements enter the bloodstream through the skin but eventually find their way into brain cells. Hence, the well used phrase, "As mad as a hatter!" Thus if the moles, travelling as readily backwards or forwards along their networks of tunnels, don’t quite know where they are going, those who made hats from their skins in days long gone, were probably even more confused!
Moles generally live their anonymous life styles at a frantic pace. Thus they have a fantastically high metabolic rate and need a constant supply of worms to keep them going. Whilst many farmers and gardeners therefore regard the mole as an enemy and employ mole-catchers to control them, it may be the fact that overall, their impact on farming and gardening may be neutral, when their destruction of other underground dwelling pests like wire-worms is taken into account.
Spring fever therefore reaches those parts of our world that are hidden from us. The effect however, is exactly the same. The sap is rising!