The polar bear on the ice-floe is the iconic image of climate change and the warming of our seas. Here on the Solway Firth nearly 140 years ago, the climate had changed in the other direction – towards a bitter winter. If ‘social media’ had existed, this hare would have been the iconic image for that time.
The hare, although presented on a plate, is not still.
Legs scrabbling, eyes bulging,
she tests her sea-legs.
The ice-floe zig-zags across the watery border
between the lands,
buffeted by waves, spinning,
so that the hare no longer knows
which is Scotland or England
(if she ever did).
She is immersed in noise, the sound
of wind and rushing water;
ice groans and rasps
and iron squeals against iron.
Men’s arms point like guns,
and she flattens, black ear-tips
pressed into her soft back fur.
The floe thuds against dark pillars,
tilts, swings free.
The hare, shivering, splays her legs, and
pounds her feet against the unforgiving ice.
Then, body too cold to melt a hollow,
she squats, past fear.
But when the fast-ebbing tide wedges
the floe against a sandbank,
the hare opens her eyes.
Her back legs unfold and gently catapult her ashore
onto a cold, moist island lacking green.
Leaving the ghosts of foot-prints,
she scoops out a shallow form.
Until the tide turns.
The trapped ice-raft is sprung
by the flowing tide.
But the hare’s stiff body becomes
just another piece of flotsam.
A gull screeches in low, head tilting,
hoping for a meal in the huddle of fur.
The hare opens her eyes and watches its flight.
“Bugger this for a shit start to the year,”
“I’ll go where he’s going, thanks.”
Scrabbling aboard the beached floe,
she kicks off.
Her back legs unfold and catapult her afloat
as the slack tide turns
and pushes the ice-raft back upstream.
Gliding ashore on the Scottish side,
she slides off onto glistening mud,
leaving deep indented footprints.
“Och aye the noo,” she tries,
in her Cumberland accent,
and she staggers stickily upwards
towards the green edgeland.
The explanation of why there were ice-floes on the Solway Firth and why the hare heard the noise of iron squealing against iron, is in Chapter 10 of Crossing the Moss – the intriguing Victorian and present-day story of the raised mire or ‘Moss’ of Bowness Common and the Solway Junction railway.
This was a project in which photographer James Smith and I collaborated, with support from the Solway Wetlands Landscape Partnership (to whom, needless to say, we are very grateful!).
The mental image of the hare on the ice-floe was too good to waste (and why she found herself there, in deep winter, raises many questions with regard to extreme cold, hibernation, food and foraging).
If, like me, you have had enough of sad and disturbing news, choose the alternative ending …