‘Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–
Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?
No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.
Death, more so than love it seems is all around us, no matter what Richard Curtis, Hugh Grant et alia may tell us in floppy haired sacharine rom-coms.
On the weekend I was outside with Joe looking at the stars, the moon bright and enormous amounts of detail on its surface visible through the binoculars. High cloud scudding across the inky blackness obscures the constellations for breath-pausing moments and the owls were vocally chatting to each other in the woodland stands across the fields. The hawthorn tree by the gate, black as the uncleaned log burner glass, sounds alive with the scratch-scratch-scratch of small claws and a hamster-like nibbling noise.
With a metallic rattling ‘thwanggg’ a deer runs into the inside of the wire fence by the front gate, startled by finding us standing in the dark, now trapped in the garden with the threat. Hoofbeats follow its wild charge around the back of the house and through the gap between greenhouse and log store, knocking the watering can over. Then with a soundless pause followed by a hoof catching the fence, it is out of the garden and gone. Just one more noise fading into the night.
In the cold morning light I find a rat outside the back door. No noticeable injuries, but definitely dead and I don’t use any poison so something has done for it in the night. Just a little reminder that while we were standing watching the stars, hearing the night-life around us, that a darker struggle was taking place unseen in the shadows.
Death is the yin to life’s yang, the deep shadow on the sunny day, so it stands to reason that death is perhaps most noticeable when you are surrounded by life.
On Tuesday I help out the estate with beating on one of their shoots as they are short handed. I have a funny relationship with pheasant shooting as, quite frankly, I’ve never really seen the point or the skill. There’s none of the mystery or hunting skill of deer stalking, nor the one-on-one hunter instinct of chasing a rising trout in a clear chalk-stream with a dry fly. Men in too much tweed stand in a line while someone hands them a loaded twelve bore, doffing their caps and tugging their forelocks. Teams of beaters then herd the pheasants towards the guns and quentin, timothy and piers then let bally-hell loose into the sky hoping that something feathered will fall for the labradors to collect. But, I live in the middle of these shoots and I don’t feel that I can just dismiss something without better understanding it. The reality is much better organised than I gave it credit for, is much more enjoyable from the beaters perspective (although probably less so from the pheasants) and as I found out, all of the dead birds are taken away from this particular shoot to be processed and sold in the butchers/supermarkets.
If I remove the tweed and class-war, there is nothing different in the shooting of pheasants than rearing chickens for slaughter, in fact one could argue that the pheasants in many circumstances have a much better life. I left feeling that it would be hypocritical of me to eat meat, but poo-poo the shooting of these birds that have been bred for food/sport. I still don’t see any skill from the shooters point of view that they couldn’t get from clay pigeon shooting, or a nintendo wii for that matter, but I’m less uneasy about the whole shebang than I was, and if piers and his ilk want to spend a fortune putting birds into a butchers window then who am I to argue.
Yesterday I worked from home. Sitting in front of the now cleaned fire and dialled in to conference calls, trying to be attentive but all the while completely distracted by the world outside my window. A red kite appears in the garden, it’s presence heralded by a massive wingspan blocking out the light as it flies past. It proceeds to slowly rip apart a small mammal in front of me and I’m transfixed, red in tooth and claw. Two crows hop close, hoping to get some small free meal once the kite is done, but the kite isn’t having any of it. Wings spread in defiance he rears up on his legs, talons clutching the grey and red tattered remains, and lets the cheeky corvids in no uncertain terms who’s boss.
A couple of hours later I’m again distracted by a shadow passing across the window I sit next to, this time a much more sleek shape shooting past. On the electricity wires sits an unusual shape, I’m used to kestrels and buzzards/kites but this is something altogether more interesting. Sadly, before I can get a good look it’s gone, and heads back to the woodland in a flash. Hopefully I’ll see it again some day.
Today I’m sat here again working from home, using up my lunch hour to type my thoughts up. The windows of the house are knocking as the military rattle their sabres up on the plain somewhere the other side of the hill. With every low booming retort and window rattle I get an echo of squawking alarmed pheasants from the valley sides.
Humans aren’t as outside of the life and death struggle as we like to pretend, and however civilised we think we are the reality is currently rattling my cottage.
OH, and as a footnote to the title (loud):