I Couldn't Do It...
I couldn’t do it…
By Peter Hunter
It looked is if the water was steaming but I knew it was only that the spring water temperature of the brook was above that of the sub-zero air. It often did that in winter.
The snow responded with a satisfying crunch under my carefully placed steps. The brook remained clear and still sparkled despite the winter sparcity of water life that was the season’s penalty. My priority was quietness - there was no sense in disturbing the natural tranquillity and certainly no reason to give undue advanced warning of my approach as I crept downstream towards the little carp lake at the end of my property.
Disturbing three spawning trout hovering over the gravel beds just below the very shallow rippled section I put up a cock pheasant who announced his irritated departure with a raucous fanfare of betrayal.
Just another January morning in South Wiltshire…
In summer this stretch of the brook would have oozed life, damsels, dragonflies, lingering may flies perhaps - and often a glimpse of water vole. But winter had closed down this drama; we were in its holding pattern awaiting the flourish of a new spring.
Now an inch or two of water next to the bank - where friction slowed the current, contained a narrow ridge of fragile ice. It sparked with a diamond like intensity - almost alive in the winter sunlight.
Although beauty did exist, this clear January day, my appreciation was obscured by my mission, my intended villainy…
My mission of murder…
Although for at least a week the water of the small lake had been closed with ice - there remained just one corner where the water was free - a circle of about twenty feet next to the bank. Sometimes the normally clear water below the hole in the ice was cloudy denoting something stirring up the water - fish perhaps but normally in the middle of winter the resident carp were torpid and id not stir up much mud. More tellingly were the small heaps of carp scales that regularly appeared on the bank - and recently paw prints in the snow leading to and from the water.
Just over an inch across - with webs between the toes.
I had not yet seen the culprit, but the suspicion was obvious and as the carp attrition was very expensive I felt something had to be done. Today I was determined to wait until the animal appeared although I realised I would probably have to wait until dusk.
Because of the cold I was warmly dressed, thermals, long johns, two cashmere sweaters and camouflaged trousers and jacket. Resigned to the long wait I settled on an inflatable cushion behind the camouflage netting I had installed several days previously about twenty yards from the ice-free patch of water. I reasoned that should be long enough for the animal to become familiar with the hide.
As waited, concentrating at resisting the seeping cold, I remembered tines long ago, and experiences when I had enjoyed watching such a beautiful and elusive creature. There had been one winter very much like this one, 1956 I seem to remember. Again snow had fallen, but optimistically I had cycled to the Avon valley, just upstream of Pewsey, fishing for grayling. While I was resting behind a tree, partaking in some hot tomato soup from a vacuum flask a mother otter appeared with two well grown obviously previous year’s cubs.
Fascinated I watched as time and time again they tobogganed down a muddy side they had worn through the snow into the river. Always keeping sequence, oblivious of the cold and obviously enjoying the experience the continued for about five minutes or so until something, may be me or some other sound or creature alarmed them and they disappeared, faded into the landscape despite their brown contrasting with the snow.
In those far off fifties - sighting s of otters were not unusual during my solitary fishing trips. I knew many of their occasions - holts under fallen trees or in the deserted unused tunnels beneath water mills.
But the worst experience of all was the otter hunt that ever so often roamed the Avon valley. Overweight men and women in tweeds, knee length woollen stockings and hob-nailed boots. With their steel-tipped wading staffs and their large shaggy hounds they plunged in and out of the river shouting fierce cries and orders to the dogs. My unsophisticated early teenage brain could not cope with what they were doing. I loved they otters and almost regarded them as friends. I could not bear to see them frightened and indeed killed. My protests to the huntsmen were shrugged off or met with patronising indifference. Many were the occasions I was reduced to tears of frustration and sorrow.
It was not good…
As I lay on my inflatable cushion in the cold - my point two two rifle in my hand I remembered and prepared to kill one of their kind for the dastardly crime of being hungry in an ice-bound winter.
For killing a few of my carp…
Two geese noisily flew low over me, aiming for the larger lake downstream, whilst high above a flock mallards circled, surveying the area for signs of danger.
He appeared silent as a ghost, nose twitching as he slid into the ice-free circle. I flick the safety to on in preparation for the shot. After about two minutes the otter reappeared and climbed onto the snowy bank with a carp or some three or four pounds in his mouth. The fish still twitched, not quite dead.
Despite the lowering light the contrast of the dark fur against the snow gave me an excellent target. As I framed his head in my telescopic sight, his whiskers clear and his eyes bright I suddenly clearly saw my own mortality.
Seventy years of age and about to destroy this beautiful animal.
I could not do it…
© Peter Hunter