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Country diary: The sounds of polecats near the coast in high summer

Nobody can predict when the next windstorm will happen. It’s too unpredictable to expect anything stable from this weather.



Despite the heat, nothing appears to be sleeping. When the TV in our neighbor’s bedroom is on a continuous loop of classic movies, the air is filled with snappy, direct speech. Between us, sparrows flutter uneasily in the eaves. In this case, not even the distant hum of a combine harvester in another field serves as a lullaby. Broken flints litter our fields like shards of crockery, and they have been used to start fires with the help of the combine. Every one of us is feeling a little on edge right now.

I perk up as I hear a group of people yiking hysterically in the distance. There has been a revival of polecats! My first stop is at the glass panel, where I turn off the main light before heading outdoors with the large lamp in tow. During the height of summer, jill polecats and their kits often keep the arable awake for several nights with their playful, hunting, and fighting.

There’s a dry, restless sea of barley up to the garden gate, and it crackles and moves as you walk through it. I’m just going to stand here and observe for now. More close, piercing, and homicidal wails, yips, and squabbling can be heard. Those dervishes must be within a few feet. I tuck my nightgown under my legs and unconsciously curl my toes.

The volume increases, building to a peak. Just when I thought it was cats or fox cubs, I turned on the light and saw a face. A quick glance reveals a furry, ferocious looking face with the ears and nose of a teddy bear and the bright eyes of a bandit from The Lone Ranger. It disappears in front of a wave of barley, leaving behind a trail of black and cream sable that flows luxuriously from its snatched-back stole. To my own ears, I detect a gasp of surprise.

The former gamekeeper would occasionally refer to them by their former names, such as “fitch” or “foulmart.” From a feral population in Wales, they have returned to southern England on their own terms, asserting their independence and right to roam. The combine approaches a break in the hedge, raises its wide header on the turn with a roar and a flash of headlights, and lights up a plume of chalk dust like smoke.

When I picture sable fur, I picture a coat of raging fire, ash, and glowing embers. An exciting and potentially dangerous beast. I turn around and hear the canned laughter of my upstairs neighbor.

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