The March Hare is my favorite Lewis Carroll character, first introduced to the reader at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in “Through the Looking-Glass”. Carroll drew on a rich vein of folklore surrounding this creature which is so iconic with the English countryside. To me, the March Hare seems more philosophical than mad, questioning conventional sense like the mathematician in Carroll. This exchange with Alice, for example:
The March hare explains, “and they drew all manner of things – everything that begins with an M—”
“With an M”, said Alice.
“Why not?” said the March Hare.
Commonly found in the English countryside on long grass, heather, or windy fields, wild hares aren’t a native animal, but brought some say by the Romans, others by peoples much earlier during the Iron or Bronze Age. They are now as native to Britain as the pheasant, another foreigner. Brown hares are herbivores and the fastest British land mammal, very elusive with an ability to abruptly turn, a necessary skill to escape formidable predators like owls, hawks, and foxes. Their biggest threat is commercial agriculture with its pesticides and destruction of wild areas.
Hares have a reputation of going bonkers in the month of March, as they engage in madcap chases and furious boxing matches. Lewis Carroll immortalized that notion. Actually, it’s not madness but mating. The boxing protagonists aren’t two males, but rather a disinterested female fighting off a male’s advances. The female hare breaks stride and confronts her overly aggressive suitor, up on her hind legs with forepaws flailing. Watching them in March on a rural walk, I found them intriguing.
Few animals in Britain have so much folklore attached to them, including the notion that they can disappear into thin air, because of their ability to scrunch down low in the grass and seemingly vanish. In many tales, they are portrayed as romantic, cunning, or benign. They have become the egg deliverers at Easter.
Actually, it’s writers, not hares, who are a little bonkers. Who could dream up “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” but someone with a wacky, but brilliant imagination like Carroll’s? Writers are indeed the ones who believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
(Painting- Judith Yates)