Nature read, in tooth and claw

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The Independent Online

Come along, children - it's time for another nature ramble in the company of Uncle Geoffrey, as he takes out his ever-willing niece and nephew, Susan and Robert, to see what Easter has brought to the countryside!

Come along, children - it's time for another nature ramble in the company of Uncle Geoffrey, as he takes out his ever-willing niece and nephew, Susan and Robert, to see what Easter has brought to the countryside!

"Oh, look at the lambs!" said Susan, pointing at the field above the canal. "They weren't here last week. They must all be fairly new-born!"

"Look at all the people on the canal," said Robert. "They weren't here last week, either. It must be Easter."

And sure enough, there were plenty of boats going up and down the canal and plenty of walkers and cyclists going to and fro on the tow-path.

"It's just like the M1 on a bank holiday," said Uncle Geoffrey. "Come on - let's take this path which goes up to the woods! There won't be anyone up there!"

So they crossed the canal on the old pack-horse bridge and headed up and away from the weekend trippers, till it was all quiet again.

"Look!" said Uncle Geoffrey. "There are lots of spring flowers on the banks! Masses of primroses this year! They always seem to come out first, don't they?"

"Not if you count the snowdrops," said Susan. "They've already been and gone by now. What is it the old rhyme says?"

"Which old rhyme?" said Robert.

"The one about spring flowers and the order they come in.

First the snowdrop, pale and bold,

Then the primrose, yellow and gold.

Next comes the violet, purple or white,

Then the celandine so bright.

Next, in the woods, the garlic see...!"

"Smelling like drains in old Paree!" finished off Robert.

"I hadn't even got to the bluebells yet," pouted Susan.

"Yes, it's odd that flowers come in a particular order, and the same order every year," said Uncle Geoffrey, trying to wrest the initiative back again.

"I don't see why," said Robert. "It would be odd if they didn't. Presumably they all have their own germination time hard-wired into their system, and every year they obey the programming. Click! Snowdrops come up. Click! Primroses come out. Nature is just one vast computer programme waiting to be activated."

"Oh, that's an awful thought," said Uncle Geoffrey. "Look at those two buzzards up there, circling round. So free and easy! Can you really say it's all pre-programmed?"

"Certainly," said Robert. "It's coded into a buzzard's DNA. Catch wind. Glide. Round and round. Look for small animals on ground. Make strange mewing sounds. Keep gliding ..."

"Everything is pre-programmed, uncle," said Susan. "You have no children of your own, but you are programmed to like them, so you feel you must take me and Robert on a nature ramble. We are programmed as well-brought up children to say Yes when you ask us if we want to go on a walk with you."

"At the same time, as modern children we are programmed to question things, which is why we query everything you say and seem to be disruptive elements in your life."

"And there is some atavistic streak in you which, when we are particularly tiresome, makes you want to throttle the living daylights out of us," said Susan.

"Though at the same time, it has been programmed into you that if you do, you will be locked up for the rest of your life; so you don't," said Robert.

Uncle Geoffrey said nothing. The children seemed to have covered everything. So instead, he did the slow breathing exercise which he had programmed himself to do whenever that red mist came in front of his eyes, and bit by bit he felt better.

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