This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
Eastward, the sky was covered with pale cobalt; and in the midst of the far-spreading blue hung a white and crimson cloud, like a puff of bright-stained vapour blown up above the rim of the world. Westward, the sky was coloured with brilliant primrose; and on the edge of the distant moorlands lay a great bank of mist, rainbow - tinted with deep violet, and rose, and orange. For a space immediately on each side of the mist the primrose deepened into daffodil—a chaste yet intense splendour that seemed to stretch into infinite distances and overlap the sharply defined ridges of the dark horizon. The green of the upland pasture and the brown of the ploughland beyond were veiled by a shimmering twilight haze, in which the varied tints of the sky harmoniously blended, till the umber and indigo shadows of night loomed over the hills, and the daffodil flame flickered and vanished over the last red ember of the afterglow. Thus the first calm day of early spring drew to its close.
Kweek, the little field-vole, asleep in his hidden nest beneath the moss, was roused by the promise that Olwen, the White-footed, who had come to her own beautiful valley among our western hills, whispered as she passed along the slope above the mill-dam in the glen. He uncurled himself on the litter of withered grass-bents that formed his winter couch, crept towards the nearest bolt-hole of his burrow, and peeped at the fleecy clouds as they wandered idly overhead. He inhaled long, deep breaths of the fresh, warm air; then, conscious of new, increasing strength, he continued his way underground to the granary in which, some months ago, his mother had stored the columbine seeds. But the earth had been scratched away from the storehouse door, and nothing remained of the winter supplies. Hungry and thirsty, yet not daring to roam abroad while the sun was high, the vole moved from chamber to chamber of his burrow, washed himself thoroughly from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, then, feeling lonely, awakened his parents from their heavy sleep, and spent the afternoon thinking and dreaming, till the sun sank low in the glory of the aureolin sky, and the robin's vesper trilled wistfully from the hawthorns on the fringe of the shadowed wood. Becoming venturesome with the near approach of night, but still remembering the danger that had threatened him before the last period of his winter sleep, he lifted himself warily above the ground, and for a little while stayed near the mound of earth beside the door of his burrow. Cramped from long disuse, every muscle in his body seemed in need of vigorous exertion, while with each succeeding breath of the cool twilight air his hunger and thirst increased.
Determined to find food and water, Kweek started towards the copse. No beaten pathway guided his footsteps; wind and rain, frost and thaw, and the new, slow growth of the grass, had obliterated every trail. But by following the scent of the parent voles that had already stolen into the wood, he reached in safety the banks of the rill. Having quenched his thirst, he scratched the soft soil from beneath a stone and satisfied his hunger with some succulent sprouts of herbage there exposed to sight. Soon, tired from his unwonted exertion, and feeling great pain through having torn the pads of his feet—which, like those of all hibernating animals, had become extremely tender from want of exercise—he crept home to his burrow, and rested till the soreness had gone from his limbs, and he felt active and hungry again.
For the vole, guided as he was by his appetite, the most wholesome vegetable food was a ripe, well-flavoured seed. It contained all that the plant could give; leaf and stalk were tasteless compared with it, and were accepted only as a change of diet, or as a medicine, or as a last resource. Next to a seed, he loved a tender root, or a stem that had not yet thrust itself through the soil, and was therefore crisp and dainty to the taste. But the vole did not subsist entirely on vegetable food. Occasionally, when the nights were warm, he surprised some little insect hiding in the moss, and pounced on his prey almost as greedily as the trout in the stream below the hill rose to a passing fly. And just as the cattle in the distant farm throve on grain and oil-cake, and the pheasant in the copse near by on wood-ants' "eggs," and the trout in the Cerdyn brook on ephemerals hatched at the margin of the pool, so Kweek, the field-vole, abroad in the nights of summer, grew sleek and well conditioned on good supplies of seeds and grubs. But now, worn out by long privation, he was tired and weak.
Gradually, from the bed of winter death, from the rotting leaf-mould and the cold, damp earth, the fresh, bright forms of spring arose. The purple and crimson trails of the periwinkle lengthened over the stones; then the spear-shaped buds, prompted by the flow of pulsing sap, lifted themselves above the glossy leaves and burst into flowers. The dandelion and the celandine peeped from the grass; the primrose garlanded each sunny mound on the margin of the wood; and the willow catkins, clothed with silver and pearly grey, waved in the moist, warm breeze as it wandered by the brook. The queen-ant, aroused by the increasing warmth, carried her offspring from the deep recess where, in her tunnelled nest, she had brooded over them while the north-east wind blew through the leafless boughs, and laid them side by side in a roomy chamber immediately beneath the stone that screened the spot to which, in the autumn dusk, the father vole resorted that he might watch and wait before the darkness deepened on the fields and woods. The bees from the hives in the farm garden, and innumerable flies from their winter retreats in the hedgerows, came eagerly to the golden blossoms of the furze near the bank-voles' colony. The bees alighted with care on the lower petals of the flowers, and thence climbed quickly to the hidden sweets; but the flies, heedless adventurers, dropped haphazard among the sprays, and were content to filch the specks of pollen dust and the tiny drops of nectar scattered by the honeybees. A spirit of restlessness, of strife, of strange, unsatisfied desire, possessed all Nature's children; it raised the primrose from amid the deep-veined leaves close-pressed on the carpet of the grass, it tuned the carols of the robin and the thrush, it caused the wild jack-hare to roam by daylight along paths which hitherto he had not followed save by night. Kweek felt the subtle influence; long before dark he would venture from his home, steal through the " creeps," which had now become evident because of frequent "traffic," and visit the distant colonies of his kindred beyond the wood.
Of the flourishing community living in the burrow before the weasels' raid none survived but Kweek and his parents. One night, however, the father vole, while foraging near the hedgerow, was snapped up and eaten by the big brown owl from the beech-wood across the valley. In the woodlands the greatest expert on the ways of voles was the brown owl. His noiseless wings never gave the slightest alarm, and never interfered with his sense of hearing— so acute that the faint rustle of a leaf or a grass-blade brought him, like a bolt, from the sky, to hover close to the earth, eager, inquisitive, merciless, till a movement on the part of his quarry sealed its doom.
The mother vole, feeling lonely and more than ever afraid, wandered far away, and found another mate in a sleek, bright-eyed little creature inhabiting a roomy chamber excavated in the loose soil around a heap of stones on the crest of the hill. Kweek, nevertheless, remained faithful to the place of his birth. Though most of his time was spent near the colony beyond the wood, he invariably returned to sleep on the shapeless litter which was all that now remained of the neat, round nest in which he had been nursed.