I cycle to work. It’s about 11 miles each way and the route generally carves its way through the beautiful Hampshire countryside. One stretch of it includes a three mile country lane, with a crumbling railway bridge and wide, fertile fields on either side.
After the railway bridge, a ditch begins that runs for about a quarter of a mile alongside the left-hand side of the road, and it’s home to all manner of wildlife. This ditch became the subject of national news after the murdered body of a friend of mine was left in it almost 10 years ago. I had generally avoided this road for years; first, because it’s a dangerous road and second, because since the murder it’s been a little ominous to me. Sort of tainted. Dark.
But I recently I started riding down it again, because it’s the quickest and most fun way to ride to work. Every day for the last two weeks or so, something amazing has happened on this stretch of road. A bird of prey made that ditch its home, and though I can’t tell exactly what kind of bird it is I can tell you that it’s massive. Really, really huge with big, yellow talons that seem too big to fit on anything that flies.
The first time I saw the bird, it burst out of the ditch right next to me as I was cycling past and surprised and terrified me so much that I veered into the opposite lane, which in turn surprised the driver of the MX-5, who was overtaking me at the time, so much that she nearly stuck her car in the bushes on the other side of the road. The bird flew alongside me for a couple of moments before steering off to the left, over a gate and into the field, before circling back around to return to its ditch.
The same thing happened the next day, but this time I wasn’t as surprised (but still pretty scared). I got a better look at it; it was gorgeous. Dark brown with black specks over its soft feathers, and so powerful. Its eyes were ferocious, and I imagined that they would inspire such paralysing terror into anything that they happened to glance at. Those eyes were the last things that several field mice would have ever seen. It must be an awesome thing to see just before you die.
Over a period of a few days, the bird would burst out of the ditch as I rode passed, and each day it would stay alongside me a little longer, until yesterday when it flew alongside me so close that I could have high-fived it, if I’d had the nerve. It glided right next to me for long seconds, swaying left and then coming closer again. When it fluttered its wings to stay aloft, I felt the breeze on my cheek, and motorists coming the other way stopped their cars to watch, astounded. Then it swopped around and returned to the ditch which had been the final resting place of my friend.
This morning, as I approached the same spot, I noticed that the bushes above the ditch had been trimmed back by one of those tractor-hedge-trimmer machines. I rode slowly past the hole from which the bird usually appears, but it didn’t. And then I saw why. Lying by the side of the ditch was a tangled, torn, shredded pile of flesh and feathers. The bird had been decimated by the hedge cutter.