We were standing outside the barber shop .Mark was opening the shutters and two of his cutters were chatting outside on the footpath .I had arrived as the school- run rush thinned the early traffic out.School was back after the summer and this was the perfect time for that monthly trim .All the little darlings had been mown short in readiness for the new school term’s aborning. The field was empty now .Mark joked that he could now catch his breath and get back to the steady trickle of regulars like myself.It’s no easy job being a barber : standing on your feet all day , your fingers flying from morn to night. Talk about repetitive strain…. All that hair flying about; being blown about by the driers , electric razors and flashing scissors. Mark reckons that one of these days he’ll cough up a fur-ball. I cracked that the doctor will have him out chewing grass like a cat so that he’d be able to cough it up.
Anyway , we were standing there in the crisp September morning light when something flashed past us . I thought it was a ball initially until I saw the little squirrel caroming off the side of a passing car. Awww! was the collective cry , but the little fellow bounced up and skittered at some speed across the street and headed up the nearby hill, zigzagging like a soccer player to avoid the cars..We were all shouting and willing him to make it to the safety of the trees. They were some distance away. He was a long way from his comfort zone, fighting his way through a different kind of forest. I’m used to seeing squirrels daily as I walk along the riverbank but that’s in a natural conservation area . This was in the middle of the town . There wasn’t a tree anywhere within hundreds of yards. The squirrels are busy at this time of year, getting stores ready for winter. A branch crashed overhead the other day ,as I walked , and splashed into the river and another of the little fellows scampered further up the tree. I dare say that if they hadn’t that cute little face and the cuddly bushy tail , they’d be treated like rats but I chuckled and was only glad the little beggar hadn’t dropped the branch on my head.
Wildlife in the middle of the town. I was thinking that I haven’t seen a frog in years. Think about that . I can’t remember the last time i actually saw one. I live at the edge of town , right at the edge of the countryside , with fields full of cattle , but I haven’t seen a frog. I can’t remember the last time, it’s so long ago.When we were children we’d bring home newts and frogs from ponds and puddles on the old railway lines. They all died lonely trapped deaths , jam-jarred and fresh-water chlorinated on windowsills; victims of our childish curiosity and unknowing cruelty.Death Row for those little orange-bellied beasts. Now ,even though I walk that river route most days for forty minutes, I never come across any of our amphibian friends. I saw a fox only once within the past ten years , while coming home from work very late at night. That really was an experience to see that almost feline wildness close -up . He stood stark and still in the middle of the road, right in my headlights, as if trying to make himself invisible . There wasn’t much chance of that given his fiery red plumage.His colour even looked wild.An unworldly blazing hue. It made me wonder how nature had ever designed such a creature to imagine it could hide in the greenery of a field. Not much chance of that, with his pelt , I ruminated .That fiery red sitting against the green grass in high contrast.How could you not see him in a field? My daughter , who presently resides in London, said that she and her friends sometimes count the foxes at night as they walk home .They got up to twelve on one occasion. These urban scavengers have apparently already gradually evolved some adjustments to their colour scheme to blend more easily into the grey urban landscape . Maybe not so red in tooth and claw, after all. Much like the pigeons blending into the concrete greyness of cities.
There’s obviously much more food for them to scavenge in this new urban environment, what with all the takeaway wrappers scattering through the streets and easily accessed bins full of waste.I was reading about the similar encroachment of our brother the wolf. We rubbed along together for countless eons , keeping a wary eye on each other and usually a safe distance. The wolf, a pack hunter , much like ourselves in organisational ability had reached the very top of the food chain with its innate ability to dispatch life. We were equal partners in that respect , for a while.Both top predators. Then…we simply got better and superceded them and began slowly pushing back .That was until humans took to farming sheep instead of hunting for each haunch of meat.. Keeping such easy wooly pickings safe from a natural scavenging predator as a wolf was going to be a competition of wiles. Well the wolf lost that battle throughout Europe and was gradually pushed back to the fringes of slim pickings for over a hundred years. That’s only a drop in the vast ocean of time , though.Now it seems the wolf is making a comeback .There is rapid growth in Spain and apparently in France they are less than one hundred miles from Paris and getting closer. That’s like saying that there are wolves loping around the outskirts of Dublin and are gradually working their way northwards. It’s something to think about. That howl at the moon could be so commonplace within a few years. Could the urban foxes find themselves hunted by the grey wolf within another generation? Is this the direction our “civilised” world is now heading? What will they hunt besides foxes, cats and dogs? I would say we ‘d be fair enough game ourselves. The little Red Riding hood stories are coming back from the dark forests of folklore to haunt us again. Wolves howling in the parks?