What was it that sprung a deer from the ditch and forced it to run for its life towards certain death? A lunchtime episode that lasted for less than five minutes has left me reliving it over and over to make sense of what happened.
No more than quarter of an hour before, we had walked right past her. I imagine she was resting up then, a roe deer doe down in her sunken hollow, hidden from sight under a shiplap of docks and grasses. Five metres away at most, and though we talked quietly we would have been within earshot. The grass did not move.
There was nothing to detain us there: a scatter of pigeons on the stubble, a red kite on high, already slanting off south with a dip of its shoulder. Great grey rain-promising clouds quickened our step. We took the farm track that swept up towards the wood on the crest of the slope.
A squally shower slicing across the open fields had us doubling back downhill. Back on the level, the rain cloud passed, the wind ran out of breath, and a tawny owl hooted. A second hoot laced the air with uncertainty. When this cry of the night invades the day, it seems to have an unsettling effect on every living thing. I was turning and swivelling to locate the bird but could not.
After the third call, thrashing and trampling came from the ditch and there was the deer, four crooked pins kicking, scrabbling and slithering up the bank, a final twin push of its back limbs heaving its rump up on to the flat, neck lurching forward, ears pricked.
And then how it ran, terror sprinting before it, its legs making rhythmic kicks and thrusts, alternating stretches and pulls, as if it was rowing across the fields. Fear propelled it towards its finishing line, a distant stream of cars on the main road, a never-ending chain, an unbreakable ribbon. The animal ran on regardless, if anything, quickening its pace.
Just short of the field edge, the deer changed course, banking left towards a sanctuary of scrub. My side-on view caught the pulsing, bounding animal, driven by fright, confusion, or just plain relief.