Late one Spring evening, with the sun’s rays slanting low in the sky, the Professor took a walk around his garden. He paused for a moment to admire the view to the hills beyond. Then something in the grass caught his eye.
Lying next to a stone that had been warmed in the sunshine was a small brown, furry creature. It was keeping very still. At first he thought it was a rabbit. Perhaps a sick rabbit, as it showed no sign of movement.
The Professor decided it was better to leave the little creature in peace for a while. Maybe it would feel better after a good sleep. He’d come back to check later.
Then, as he slowly set off with his walking stick, there was a sudden movement to his left. Gathering all its strength, that small animal was now dashing off and heading for some oak trees across the garden.
As he watched, the Professor realized this was no poorly rabbit. Quite the opposite. In fact it was a very healthy young hare! Its long legs, tipped with white, were covering the ground at great speed and its beautiful red-brown soft ears were standing up straight and catching every sound.
The Professor was delighted. Such a lovely animal to have in the garden he thought, even if it might nibble at some of my vegetables!
Next day the Professor was heading for the garden pond. At this time of year, he knew the water would be full of life. He had a list in his mind of things to look for. Tadpoles, dragon flies, water snails, newts, frogs and toads.
The pond was shaped like a large teardrop. To the left tall silver birch trees swayed in the breeze. To the right was the summer house, catching the best of the sunshine.
Nearby was a little wooden jetty with a very small rowing boat tied to it. The boat’s name was Tarka, after the otter in a story the Professor had always loved when he was a boy.
He stood and gazed on the watery wonderland, feeling content.
Then came a slow movement at the edge of the pond. Long neck pulled back into its chest, a grey-blue bird with the spindliest of legs, began to rise into the air. Its wings were doing a sort of back-flap to help with lift off. It gave a single squawk from a very long beak and then turned and flew away, looking slightly annoyed.
It was a sight he’d seen many times and it always thrilled him. The Professor was watching the Heron. He’d interrupted the bird’s search for lunch and now it was heading off to a quieter feeding spot.
A few days later the Heron and the Hare met for the first time. They shared their enthusiasm for life in the Dumfriesshire garden. Heron had been there for a few years now. Hare was a newcomer, but a welcome one. Each had the feeling they were going to get along just fine.
Quite soon they fell to talking about the Professor.
He’s a very distinguished academic, said Heron, but he’s also quite down to earth. He’d far rather spend his time here in the garden than on some University committee or other. He seems to like looking very closely at things around him.
Heron explained that during the lockdown, she’d seen the Professor very early in the morning standing at a window. He was watching as she tucked into a rather delicious eel, newly speared out of the pond.
Hare had his own story. A couple of evenings past, the Professor had peeped around the beech hedge by the vegetable patch, just as the little chap crouched there, getting a delicious bite of new lettuce leaves.
On both these occasions, it seemed that the Professor had in his hands a small red notebook, which he pointed towards them. What could it be for, they both wondered?
Next day as he was doing some weeding among the flower beds, the Professor saw the Heron and then the Hare
Both times he reached for the small red notebook they’d talked about. It took him precious seconds to retrieve it from his coat pocket, then he held it towards them, looking quite serious.
But somehow the moment seemed to be lost. No sooner seen, but the Hare had gone. The blurred white blob of his tale merging into a patch of long grass. The Heron, always a shy bird, was just a smear of grey-blue lifting herself from the side of the pond, like some mysterious creature from the prehistoric past, but impossible to identify.
In each case their departure was watched by the Professor, standing disappointed as the Hare and then the Heron disappeared from view. He muttered something about just wanting to get a good snap of them, and with a sigh, put the red notebook back into his pocket.
When they next met, Heron and Hare got into a discussion about the Professor and the curious red notebook. Why, they asked each other, did he hold it up with both hands and point it towards them?
If it happens again, it was agreed, they must rush off even more quickly. For their own safety!
Then, one beautiful day that Spring the Professor was out in the garden, exploring and enjoying all the new plants that were emerging.
Heron rushed off to find Hare. The two crouched behind some tall irises and peeped through the stems to see what he was doing. The Professor had his red notebook with him and was pointing it at different flowers and shrubs.
From time to time he even jabbed the notebook with his first finger, tapping away, gazing into the distance and then tapping again. It’s important to capture these things when you see them, he said to himself.
Quietly, Heron and Hare stepped back, disappearing into the surrounding landscape. They were still very puzzled by it all.
Next time they saw the Professor, he was snoozing. Not surprising, it was a gorgeous warm afternoon.
Over the pond, two damsel flies were conducting a courtship dance. They hovered, darted, swerved and moved off. Only to be back moments later.
The Professor was oblivious. Eyes closed, he was sitting outside the summer house in his favourite wicker chair, dreaming of the world’s great gardens. Hare and Heron were watching from the reeds.
Then suddenly the red notebook on his knee made a noise
The two friends both agreed it must be music. They listened intently. Then suddenly the music stopped and in came the loud voice of the Professor. He was looking at some lights shining on the front of the notebook and he seemed to be speaking to someone.
Yes absolutely, I need your technical advice, the Professor boomed. I have these two very striking creatures living in the garden – a Hare and a Heron. I just want to get one good shot of each of them. But try as I might I can’t. I’ve almost decided to stuff the whole idea. Can you help?
Heron and Hare turned and looked each other in the eye. Alarm was written all over them. He’s trying to kill us, they screamed in unison! And with that they cleared off as fast as they could, on foot and by wing, putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the now scary Professor.
Surely, mused Hare next day, when they had calmed down a bit, the Professor can’t be someone who would harm wild creatures like us? I can’t imagine he would want to stuff us to decorate the summer house. He seems to love his garden and all the things that live in it. Maybe we should ask him to explain what he’s doing? Give him a chance to explain himself?
The two friends decided to leave a message for the Professor. One that he would find on his morning walk. They fastened it to the summer house door.
Can you come to a picnic here at noon today? We will organize the food. Please bring your magic red notebook.
Heron and Hare.
At the appointed hour, all three gathered in the summer house.
Professor, said Heron, before we enjoy our picnic, we need to talk to you about something quite serious.
Please do go ahead said the Professor, obviously intrigued by all this attention.
It’s not easy to say this, but we’ve been afraid that you are planning to harm us in some way. We’ve seen you with your little red notebook, talking about snapping and capturing things.
Worst of all we think you are planning to shoot and stuff us, said Hare.
But why ever would I want to do that, came the astonished reply.
Because we heard you tell the red notebook these things, said the alarmed Heron.
Oh no, said the Professor, horrified. He pondered for a moment. I think there has been a terrible mistake.
Please explain, chorused Hare and Heron.
Well you see, for days now I have been trying to take a photograph of each of you. I can’t get a good snap as we used to call such things when I was a boy, it’s just been impossible to capture a clear image. For every time I get the chance, you clear off, quick as a flash, leaving only a blur on my screen.
Your screen? Questioned Heron. Yes that’s right. On my smart phone.
Not the red notebook? Asked Hare.
Well I suppose you could call it a notebook. It does so many things. But for this purpose it’s a camera.
But you said you wanted to get a shot at us, protested Heron. What else could that possibly mean?
I’m afraid there is a word here that has popped into the wrong place. What I said to my friend on the screen was that I want to get a shot of you. It’s a sort of fancy way of saying take a photograph.
You see, he continued, words are terribly important. If we misunderstand or half hear something, we can get into a terrible fix. I think this is what has happened here. Perhaps more than once. You’ve been unnecessarily alarmed by words like snap, capture, shot and stuff. For example, when I said that word, I meant stuff the idea, forget about it. Not stuff you!
So you weren’t trying to shoot us at all?
Only with a camera! I wanted to get a precious photograph of each of you to share with my grandchildren. They’ve been hearing lots from me about Heron and Hare in the garden, but they live a long way away and have been desperate to see you!
Heron looked at Hare in amazement. Hare looked back, about to giggle.
They broke into smiles and hugged each other, delighted at the story.
So now, said the Professor, may I have the honour of taking your photographs, using the er … red notebook?
Of course they replied. Whereupon each of them struck a dignified pose, which was duly snapped by the Professor in two charming shots.
All three tucked into the food. The Professor enjoyed some beautiful scones, freshly baked. Hare munched on a rocket salad. Heron had a delicious eel sandwich. There was elderflower cordial to drink.
Afterwards, all three sat back, pleasantly full.
Then suddenly Hare said – but what about a picture of you Professor. Could you do that for us?
I can do better than that replied the Professor. Then he moved beside the Heron and the Hare, stretched out his arm and pressed a button on the notebook.
The result was immediately there for everyone to see. On the screen looking happy and content were the smiling faces of all three of them: Hare, Heron and Professor.
I believe it’s called a selfie, said the Professor. So now, after that terrible misunderstanding about words, you can see we are all friends. Captured in the little red notebook!
With thanks to Miriam, Teo, Maisie, Mike and Sue, for their comments and advice.