Monday, 17 September 2012

Living lightly

She arrives when I am on the terrace eating lunch outdoors: a flicker of movement among the plant pots, a sally then a quick dash for cover with a rustle of leaves.

She is fearless and fearful in equal measure: sudden in her activities, opportunistic in her adventures, reticent in her habits.

Her coat is a rich chestnut brown; her eyes are little beads of vigilance.

The terrace must seem as wide as a playing field for her: an open heath carpeted with moss and shaded by groups of tall, thin trees, the vervain plants growing there. Looking up, she will see the last of their mauve flowers burning out like high fuses overhead, the final glow of summer.

I know nothing of her home. I imagine a chamber full of dry grass and leaves, perhaps down the hole of the storm-water drain, a tunnel floored with dark alluvium, but surely prone to regular flooding. Perhaps she lives more securely up in the eaves, only a short, two-metre climb away. I hear sounds up there some evenings.

I throw hazel nuts towards her. These are hard balls of future food to be stored, not eaten. She stocks some of them in a red earthenware tower, a length of old field drain standing end-up beside the house wall; she disappears down it then reappears a moment later, empty handed. I have no idea how many she has stocked in there; I hesitate before disturbing her projects.

Sometimes she sits watching me, the terrible giant in her world, but when I get up and move around or shift her landmarks - pots, ornaments and plants - she's gone.

I can see the power that I - a human - might have over her. It is quite disturbing. I have the power to share food with, rearrange the living space - or even end the life of - a bank vole.

Surely ethics has its origin in an awareness of the power we might have in the life-world of an Other.