On Saturday we wake up back in Somerset after Christmas in Liverpool. It is still mercifully dry overhead as I take the dog out for her walk. She seems as happy to be wandering the lanes as I am. Once into the fields the first thing she does to celebrate is to roll in the remains of a dead badger. Sometimes it is only way to celebrate life – digging your shoulder into the soggy remnants of a badger carcass, going back to back with what is left of the festering spine. With the great smell of Badger to get her going, Ella is enervated, as I yell “Off!”, she sprints away as if this is all some party game.
Apart from stinking canines, it is an unexceptional but peaceful walk. I pause by a stile and watch as long-tailed tits twitter their way along the hedge rows. Starlings swoosh across the sky, returning from their overnight roosts on the levels. Regular bands of them in their small foraging parties heading south east, in a hurry to get to their pre-ordained destinations. Fieldfares chuffle in the orchards as redwings – slimmer and slighter than their co-migrants – loop between the apple trees too.
I look at my feet in the soggy verge of the ploughed field and see deer slots. ‘Slots’: it’s a term given to me by my mother. I always think of her when I see these tracks. I take a look, like I am some sort of tracker and see another, tiny paw print that I cannot recognise. Too small and dexterous for a badger or even a rabbit or mole. I take a picture to enable identification at home. I hope I still have my ‘Collins Guide to Animal Tracks and Signs’. It is another remnant of my childhood and I am pleased when Mrs B – as my mother would have done – knows exactly where it is when I get home and I take a look to ID the paw print. It is not easy, but I think perhaps either a stoat or even a hedgehog. I’ll never know – unless a reader actually has a clue from the photographic evidence. Do tell.
Back on the walk I am eyed by the rooks in the trees. The air remains still, but is filled by the distant cawing of the crows, the background noise of trickling water and always the grey aural wallpaper of the A303 holiday traffic. Yesterday we were fighting our way through the metallic sludge that was the southbound M6 / M5. It was a relief to get home and next morning we once again reminded ourselves how lucky we are to live where we do. We have always counted ourselves fortunate to live here.
Except that we do not really trust to luck any more, do we?