I first noticed the dead hare when I stepped over the stile and disturbed three kites, two ravens and a buzzard. The poor carcass is fresh enough to be intact. I retreat and the birds organise themselves into a counsel of waiting.

Below the big hill, a Venn diagram of circles is scored into the stubble field; the doughnuts of a poacher’s vehicle chasing a dog, chasing a hare.

I walk up every other day and mark the decomposition of the hare; its return to earth in the four short weeks it takes to lose my dad after an unexpected diagnosis. There is no obvious mark on the animal. But when I check on her again, she has been harried even now into a running position.

A sexton beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides)

A sexton beetle
(Nicrophorus vespilloides) Photograph: FLPA/Alamy

I kneel on the sheep’s lanolin-greased grass and breathe through my mouth. A small part of the hare’s body behind her heart is seething with fly larvae. A devil’s coach horse beetle runs over her haunches and a startling red-chequered sexton beetle investigates. She remains as elegant as a thoroughbred. The breeze ruffles her fur the wrong way.

I walk up again and again. An early attempt at a cure for grief. Below the big hill, there is a smoke haze of bonfires where last month there were plumes of chalk and chaff dust from combine harvesters. I can taste the metallic tang of ash in the air as the first fieldfares come in.

Four weeks after I found her, the hare’s skeletal form is revealed and she is left alone, her skullcap of black leathery ears pricked forward; her well-sprung rib exposed like a whale’s and fanned out like egret feathers; her spine serpentine; her hind legs like train pistons – the long thigh, shin and foot bones at right angles, powering the dragster cogs of a body built for speed.

My last visit is at night. The empty dew-pond socket of her eye gazes blankly at faint stars. The moon gleams on white-chalk bones, long white claws and the tuft of pale fur snagged at her fetlocks, like the winged feet of Hermes. An appropriate god, perhaps, returning her to the earth that she will always squat in. Her last form.

Walbury Hill, Combe, Berkshire

‘Below the big hill, there is a smoke haze of bonfires.’ Walbury Hill in Berkshire. Photograph: Nicola Chester


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