Quick as a flash, the hare senses the machinery approaching. His ears twitch towards the deep, industrial growl; his nose dances around the particles drifting through the air; his eyes swivel instantly towards the cloud of dust and chaff cast skywards by the beast that thunders towards him.He reacts like a triggered mousetrap, his legs launching him along his familiar route. He knows this particular field, of course, though it’s just like many others: once a patchwork of smaller fields; now a single, larger swathe of uniform crops. The hedgerows that once wove sheltered paths through its centre are gone, the ancestral network of the hares before him levelled by the economies of modern farming.
He knows the field and he knows the mechanical predator that inhabits it. Now he must sprint to the other side with his heart pounding and his legs burning. He races across the open, scarred land, his ears scanning and eyes flashing as they monitor the danger, his lungs searing as they gulp the dusty, exhaust-filled air.
Here he is in the open, dicing with the harvester, out of his depth, but he has his speed. Enough for a burst across the field. Enough to reach the remaining hedgerow on the far side. Enough this time.
He dashes frantically into the branches of the hedge with a valedictory gasp. The sprint is over for now. Back now to the protection of the vegetation. Back to the places the machinery will not follow him. Back to threading his way through the network of cover that remains: the quiet, safe routes of his ancestors that are yet to be torn up and modernised.
He can relax. He can continue on his way. For now.
A few miles away, a mouse moves.
This mouse – plastic-bodied and with a single, bright, red eye – moves slowly at the bidding of the human whose hand envelopes it.
A line on a screen moves. With each click-shuffle-shuffle-click it meanders ever more. Its creator sits alertly: eyes flashing, mind churning, fingers dancing over the inanimate rodent beneath them as he regards the road under the line.
I can drive a hundred miles with little more than a glance at the signposts on the way; a day on a bicycle demands the shrewd navigation of a hunted animal.
He knows this particular road, of course, though it’s just like many others: once a sliver of tarmac; now a wider, busier swathe of highway. The lanes that once wove sheltered paths across the county are gone, the ancestral network of the riders before him dredged by the relentless unilateralism of modern transport policy.
He knows the map and the mechanical predator that inhabits it. He knows where there is shelter; he knows the quiet roads, his hedgerows. And he knows where he must sprint. He knows where he must sprint to the next quiet lane with his heart pounding and his legs burning. He knows he will race across the open, scarred land, his ears scanning and eyes flashing as they monitor the danger, his lungs searing as they gulp the dusty, exhaust-filled air.
Click-shuffle-shuffle-click. The line meanders a little more, and snaps itself around a junction.
Back now to the protection of the back roads. Back to the places the machinery will not follow him. Back to threading his route through the network of cover that remains: the quiet, safe routes of his ancestors that are yet to be torn up and modernised.
He can relax. He can continue planning a safe route. For now.
And when the man hears, “you don’t use what’s provided for you”, usually followed by, “which we’ve paid for!” he thinks, well, you stole what I had. You can’t blame the European brown hare for becoming endangered. It’s not its fault it has to choose where it runs for its own safety.
And when the man hears “share the road”, usually followed by, “we’re all equal!” he thinks, no, because we’re not. The hare has to flee the harvester. He has no choice. He has no chance. He has no might. He has only his legs and his lungs and his wide-eyed fear and self-preservation.
Tell me that there’s any form of equality on the roads, and then sit with me as I meticulously craft a hundred-mile route on a map, teasing a line around ever more circuitous diversions, checking Streetview in ever more detail, just to grasp at what remains of a bearable route between the now inevitable self-preserving sprints through the danger. I can drive a hundred miles with little more than a glance at the signposts on the way; a day on a bicycle demands the shrewd navigation of a hunted animal.
The hare, calmer now, arrives at the next field, the next great divide in his network of relative safety. He peers out from his shelter, pauses for a moment, looks around in resignation, and takes a deep breath.