A Different Day

By the lake, a well-worn walkway slips and slides underfoot as I search the still water’s edge for voles. They seem less prevalent now, the different types, than when I saw them every day along the quite rivers and streams of my youth. In the mornings, I often see foxes lope away from my approaching the workshop and I wonder what they look for around the lifeless, steel-clad buildings but then I know them as opportunists and many other species, wary through they are, present themselves to foxes like dinner on a plate for within the fences there is less of an escape. A fox will take just about anything and their diet includes every type of vole.

Bank voles, field voles and water voles, all different sizes but different to other rodents like mice and rats by their rounded snubbed snouts instead of pointed, twitching ones.

Weaving through the undergrowth the softer ground of unwalked trails reminds me yet once again of my youth when I searched for the arched grass pathways at my feet where the field voles created their tunnels to travel through. Well-hidden from the preying hawks that hunt by day — the lightweight kestrels, the barn owl’s clutching claws at twilight and early dawn; these enemies of rodent life snatched the unwary vole from within these crisscrossing passages that turned a dozen ways when a single twitching blade of grass betrays them.

I’ve seen field voles snatched a dozen times; as many as I’ve seen missed to see a bird of prey lift no more than a tussock of grass alone, snagged to a hooked tallon. The kestrel is lessened now too compared to those I knew in my youth when kestrels seen six times on a two-mile walk to school satisfied my hunger to glimpse and better still watch a bird of prey. How life has changed with the red kite restored to great numbers now and here in Oxfordshire where I live I see many a dozen circle in the surrounding skies wherever I am. When the farmers harvest their wheat, there they are the red kites dropping behind the harvester to snatch the exposed rodents in quick and swift twists of lowered flight just feet above the ground; in a moment’s breath from contorted awkward but controlled energy they grab their feast from the stubble and lift effortlessly to gorge themselves on their foe. How instant life and death beyond the streets and trampling feet of urban life. How does it meet the urban cry for nature to elevate the dweller to a place where such beauty can be admired without the invasion that destroys the habitats we so want to conserve, protect and maintain.

12 thoughts on “A Different Day”

  1. Yes.

    Flora and fauna give good gifts to those who pause to see. Look at the same flower or critter or landscape on several consecutive days and you will see something new each day. I learned that as a youth. I learned it again as each of 4 sons began to look with wonder and delight.

    I learned it again 10 years ago. I’ve been told that trauma can sharpen our vision. This happened when I learned my wife had cancer and that her road back to health would be long and hard. Things I had been passing by daily without seeing now caused me to stop and marvel. Unlike you, Paul, I hadn’t learned to draw, so I began to photograph in order to share what I was seeing with family and friends. This was truly a gift and did not let up after my wife was restored to health.

    As G.M. Hopkins put it: “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”

    1. it has been a long, 8 year slog since my own cancer. i am so happy for you, and your wife, especially; though there is nothing like a solid partnership and the years that make that in overcoming cancer, it’s frustrations, uncertainties, and terrors.
      i grew up in places where car travel, then bus or subway rides, were how i got about.
      but now i prefer whenever possible to travel through my tiny patch of the planet on foot. the world is a magical place — its flora, fauna, even the abandoned industrial buildings and disused commercial lots — when you are able to observe it closely, at the steady or halting pace of your own feet.

      1. Thank you and amen, Joel. I am so glad that you are still slogging and seeing the magic. All the best to you.

  2. Red Kites are eye-catching, spectacular birds of prey and numbers have grown enormously in the past decade; in some areas they have reached almost pest proportions.
    They are bold opportunists and have become brazen from exposure to human presence, particularly at the feeding stations which create very false ecological populations and impact on the prey species.
    It’s something of a conundrum.

  3. I have read that walking outdoors stimulates our creative juices and we often will come up with more good projects to do. You must walk a lot. I know it works for me versus walking on my treadmill. While not a creative thought but, one of my favorite such outdoor experiences was when walking near a foggy northern Wisconsin lake a mature bald eagle flew down through the fog to lift a good sized northern pike off the lake for breakfast.

  4. “When the farmers harvest their wheat, there they are the red kites dropping behind the harvester to snatch the exposed rodents in quick and swift twists of lowered flight just feet above the ground”

    I’ve seen this, near Wittenham Clumps. A breathtaking spectacle.

  5. I was going to raise Icelandic chickens. Built a coop from scraps of a kennel and bought some welded hardware cloth and put the shanty together. Hawk killed two and mature Bresse cock killed the last one

    Hawks are proficient killers. Those voles don’t stand a chance.

  6. Grew up in the fields and forests of the Midwest. I spent years of my youth tracking all sorts of animals, to see how close I could get, even managed to “count coup” on a deer once Took nearly an hour to approach her, she never heard or smelled me – best day ever! Witnessed many birds, voles, rabbits, field mice get nailed by sparrow hawks, redtails, kestrels, owls and more. It never failed to impress me. Don’t have the body to tramp the woods anymore, but I do sit at the edges of the real world and watch, and wait, and hope…

    Good on ya, Paul. Hope you keep that connection alive.

  7. I consider myself a fortunate man, being able to walk with my wife and collie each day, cancer survivor over 6 years, and woodworking hobbyist. Thankful for peaceful and honest men like Paul Sellers, sharing his brilliant skills and gently reminding us to take our time and celebrate life.

    1. Don’t you think that self-criticism always magnifies any wrongdoing on our part tenfold but when we refuse to face up to the mistake it seems smaller to us than to others? I’m par joking here!

  8. Vocabulary and writing skill are highly correlated with intelligence so don’t think you are too much camouflaged especially in your core demographic. But, I more highly respect your ability to teach and express your methods to the full spectrum of your learners. Compliments done.

    Since you’ve been around and around the internet as well would you take a moment to mention a few of your mentors and those of our generation who have influenced you? While you’re at it could you list any of the next generation (30-45;) I could pass on to my next generation?


    1. What an interesting question, Jim. I tried to think of anyone qualifying as a mentor in my recent decades but can’t really think of a single one in almost fifty years. The only real person I would say I looked up to as a mentor was the man I apprenticed with who schooled me so well I cannot think of anything of real value in my woodworking that came to me via another. I don’t read magazines of any type including woodworking as they frustrate me too much, neither do I watch other woodworkers via YouTube and elsewhere. If I totaled up ten years of watching any type of woodworking on YouTube it wouldn’t total even an hour so what would that be? Four minutes a year, maybe. That seems a lot. I doubt it. So, you see, no mentoring in 52 years and no influencers ever. Maybe I would be better at what I do if I had, we’ll never know now. But let me say this. I was a fortunate man in that my apprenticeship seemed to be a close of an era when a man apprenticed a boy. I too have apprenticed many young and emerging woodworkers as furniture makers and woodworkers, I currently have three young people. John is no longer an apprentice he is a highly-skilled craftsman now. Hannah was my first woman apprentice and she too is a skilled woodworker in her own right. Jack is currently apprenticing with me.

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