THERE is more than a whiff of Ecclesiastes about How to Catch a Mole: the vanity of worldly hopes, the vacuity of possessions, the ever-changing, ephemeral realities of our lives and of life itself. At 16, his mother dead and father clearly wanting him gone, Marc Hamer walked out one morning, carrying nothing but a rucksack full of necessities, discarded as they outlived their usefulness. Sleeping under hedgerows, he embraced a journey reminiscent of John Clare’s peregrinations, attending to the ways of creation, growing to love solitude. Although later marrying, and becoming a gardener, it was solitariness that most nourished his spirit.
Mole-catching was a natural extension to professional gardening: it solved a problem and provided an income. Uneasiness at the death of fellow-creatures led him to research the most efficient and least painful methods of execution, tuning into the mole’s lifestyle and sharpening his already profound affinity with nature’s patterns and rhythms. After a lifetime of trapping, he found an injured mole writhing in the jaws; dispatching it by hand and not machine exposed the undercurrent of hypocrisy which he had long felt about his actions. In a moment as decisive as the morning he left home, he understood that the time for killing was over.
It was then that this distinctive, quietly revelatory, book was conceived, a somewhat unlikely interplay of Hamer’s easeful poetry and observations with accounts of both the specialist life of moles and his own biography. Skilfully woven with eloquent simplicity, it offers a rich and sustained meditation on the task of apprehending the complex and delicate interconnectedness of life and land. Its pages have much to teach us concerning the art of “being earthed” in the physical and spiritual ecology of our locality if we are to be truthfully present in the perpetual cycles of life, decay, death, and regeneration.
The Revd Richard Greatrex is Associate Priest of Barrow Gurney, in North Somerset.
How to Catch a Mole: And find yourself in nature
Harvill Secker £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70