The spring continues to spring at the woods. We went up there on Easter Day. There was patchy sun to begin with, some warmth on our skin as we boiled the kettle over the fire. We ate our packed lunch with little Easter nest cakes that Amos had made on his non-school day this week. Then I snuck off to hide a bowl of small eggs, telling everyone to give me 20 minutes (with Joe, I know I will have 20 minutes – no more, no less). As usual, however, I was side tracked. This time it was a clearing in the leaf litter that I had found. It was quite a large patch of ground (75cm by 50cm) scraped clear. As I crouched down to see more closely, there were a collection of coarse white hairs spread around the scrape, quite a number of which were snapped. This is a sign of Roe deer in our wood. The clearing is where a deer has lain down to sleep, scraping down to the bare earth before settling. Deer hair is brittle and snaps easily – here it had probably broken as the deer’s coat rubbed up against the ground.
Of course, after stopping to examine and photograph the deer scrape, I now didn’t have much time to put out the eggs. I dashed off, and hastily distributed 15 little ones each for Amos, Melody and Joe, and card ones for Peta who doesn’t really eat chocolate (she still has chocolate elves in her sweet tin from two Christmas ago). Joe finds Easter the hardest of all holidays, and has done so from the first year in Primary School. He doesn’t really like Easter Egg hunts, but I don’t like to leave him out either. I had thought about it and tried to cover all bases. First, I could ask him to help Amos or Melody – that gives him an excuse to join in on his terms – and second, I’d also put out twelve little golden eggs for Mark, so Joe wouldn’t be the oldest doing the hunt. I would go and do a job, and everyone else would be too busy with their own eggs to watch Joe, so he wouldn’t feel any pressure. Hopefully this Easter Egg hunt would be less stressful for him than others in the past. However, as I came to the end of my frantic egg distribution, I realised that I hadn’t thought this one through as well as I had initially supposed. In my determination to accomodate Joe and also ensure my children were not swamped by chocolate, I had overlooked a few practicalities. Firstly, though little eggs are the perfect size for an after meal chocolate helping, they are not necessarily very visable in a woodland setting – especially Marks little eggs wrapped in pale gold foil (mmm, sorry about that Mark). Secondly, and this was exacerbated by the reduced time I had left myself, I struggled to memorise where I had hidden all the eggs (in my defence there were 72 items in total, though I know Joe would have managed it).
The poor children! It took them two whole hours searching to find those eggs, and I wasn’t much help. They did so well and they were so persistent, especially Melody. Even Joe joined in to help when it became clear I hadn’t a clue where I had hidden them so I had no greater knowledge than he did. By the time we gave up, there was only one egg left. I haven’t any idea where it ended up, but if it is on the ground, I suspect the badgers will cover it effectively. We were tired and exhausted, and things had not gone entirely to plan, but everyone had joined in and enjoyed a fun afternoon which was more than I had hoped for. After cups of tea on the gas stove, we set off on our trek back out of the woods.
Of course, we didn’t make it out straight away. We found something else on the way back; we don’t ever seem to be able to walk in a straight line, there is always something new and interesting to stop and look at… A week ago, I had found a skull outside a newly worked badger sett. The sett was a satellite sett and had obviously been in use for a long time judging by the size of the spoil heap outside. Whether or not it had fallen out of use and was newly being reclaimed, I don’t know, but it was certainly being spring cleaned with vigour. I hadn’t been sure at the time whether or not the skull had anything to do with the set, or it was just there by coincidence, but today there was no doubt. There was half a jaw bone and a leg bone half buried in the spoil heap, and the significant thing about these bones and the skull found earlier was that these were badger bones. I had heard of this happening before, badger bones being found dug out of setts in a spring clean. There has been speculation for centuries over whether or not badgers bury their dead – there had been anecdotal evidence, but little hard fact. More recently with new filming techniques, badgers had been recorded sealing badgers that have died into a chamber in the sett, though whether as a burial rite or a way to minimise putrification and odor in the sett, it cannot be determined. Maybe this hadn’t happened here at all, maybe a badger had just died in the sett and the sett was simply being reoccupied. But either way, it was the first time I had seen evidence of badger bones being cleared out of a set and and now the children had seen it too. It is probably the first time they had handled a badger skull and Melody identified it herself.
All in all, an exciting and successful day, but for non of the reasons planned. It’s hard when you have an autistic child, whose feeling of safety is reliant on plans and timing and routine, to be relaxed enough to feel okay when plans don’t go to plan. But sometimes, even for Joe, it is the unplanned things that work the best, provide the most interest or help give that special finish to the day. Another little reminder to myself- that while planning is really important to Joe’s feeling of calm and consequently the happy day out for the whole family, the world won’t end if I don’t manage to pull off the plan down to the last detail every time.