“A little secret” by Kevin Harris
Hey, let me tell you a little secret I found out recently…
Now, I have principles about not divulging confidences, but having thought about this particular dilemma long and hard, I feel sure my confidents will not mind. Reasons for this will become clear as you read further!
It all started one sunny, balmy Sunday afternoon. It was one of those days where the sky was resplendant in azure blue. The definition of the Alps across the Lake was crisp. Examining the ridges and slopes, individual trees were clearly visible, standing to attention and occasionally swaying in the gentle breeze. It seemed like you could reach out an touch them. In short, one of those perfect afternoons.
So I found myself walking through the grounds of the hospital at the edge of the village. Meandering along the well-marked pathways, through the buildings with my gaze firmly on the distant horizon, admiring the splendour. Sometimes it is easy to forget how lucky we are to live with vistas which perpetually change and always excite.
I approached the main hospital building. You know the one; it sits at the top of a slope above the main road to Gland and with the lake and the Alps parallel behind it. Before reaching the building, I decided to take a left off the main path and into a small coppice, past a pile of wood dappled by the soft shards of light penetrating the emerald ceiling above and down towards another of the hospital buildings. Rounding the corner at the edge of the wood, I spied something I truly was not expecting to see.
Slightly to the right ahead of me was a tall wire fence. As I approached, it became clear this was one end of a large enclosed paddock. Beyond the fence the cropped grass ran towards a small wood. Further to the right was a wooden building and beyond that a fence and another enclosure came into view. What was this all about? To find out, I decided to venture along a path to the right hand side of the first enclosure. It was quiet. The only sound was that of a soft breeze tickling the outer-most leaves of the trees and my footsteps crunching over the foliage carpet.
I made my way towards a second enclosure. Here, the grass was longer, wispier. From beyond the fence, I could see the ground drifting down towards a small stream. Suddenly, in the corner of my vision, there was a movement. I focussed. A rapid movement and then it ceased. I looked harder. Scampering between the distant tree trucks, stopping occassionally and then setting off again, a red squirrel oblivious to the fact it was being watched was going about his business. I was mesmorised at the industry of this cute creature with its tail seemingly longer than its entire body. It stopped again and I was sure it looked straight at me before springing towards one of the tree trunks and scampering up and away into the shelter of the leaf cover.
I felt I was being watched. I thought I saw a movement. I looked harder. Then I saw them.
A pair of pointed ears just escaping the uppermost level of the grass. I started slightly. What was living here. I checked the fences; were they strong enough to keep wild animals at bay? I refocussed and stared again. Were they ears or were they just taller grass stems.
Was that a low growl? Beads of sweat broke out on my upper lip. There it was again. It came from above. I looked up and watched, as moved by the breeze, two tree branches rubbed gently together. Immediately I returned my gaze, back towards where I had thought I saw the ears. Then I saw the eyes.
Those eyes. Big, deep brown and focussed on me. Above them 2 triangles of black tipped beige fur exposed above the grass line. Between them a long snout, paling into white as it extended away from the head as far as its twitching nostrils.
A twitch to the right and then another to the left. Pairs and pairs of static doey eyes staring directly at me. I walked down the fence line towards a bench feeling the steely gaze pentrating the back of my head.
To the nearside of the bench was a brown wooden box. I noticed a lid which I grasped and lifted away from me, squeaking quietly on its slightly rusted hinges. To my surprise, inside were half used loaves of bread. I prodded one. It was hard. Stale.
A sound behind me and then another. I glanced over my shoulder. I glanced again and then turned around in wonderment. Quietly, steathily, I had been crept upon. Lined up against the fence, separated from me by the cold steely wire. Looking at me with expectation in their eyes. Pleading with me.
Now I understood.
The bread was there for them. Food for them to crunch.
I broke a loaf and fed it through the fence to the nuzzling, velvety, anticipative snouts.
A slight breeze, the gentle rustling of leaves, twigs and branches. The melodic twittering of birds above. The soft rumble of cars passing along the lake road. And the contented crunching as I broke and fed more bread to my new friends.
What a perfect day.