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.
He was careful, like his small relative the field-vole, and like the squirrel in the woods above the river-bank, to harvest only ripe, undamaged seeds and nuts; and in making his choice he was helped by his exquisite sense of smell. He found some potatoes and carrots—so small that they had been dropped as worthless by a passing labourer on the river-path — and selected the best, leaving the others to rot among the autumn leaves. As the "pocket" was inadequate to contain his various stores, the vole used the chamber also as a granary, and slept in the warm, dry hollow by the willow-roots.
In the depth of winter, when the mist-wreaths on the stream were icy cold and brought death to the sleeping birds among the branches of the leafless alders, and when Lutra, ravenous with hunger, chased the great grey trout from his "hover," but lost him in a crevice near the stakes, Brighteye, saved from privation by his hoarded provender, seldom ventured from his home. But if the night was mild and the stars were not hidden by a cloud of mist, he would steal along his run-way to the main road of the riverside people, strip the bark from the willow-stoles, and feed contentedly on the juicy pith; while his friend, the shrew, busy in the shallows near the reed-bed, searched for salmon-spawn washed from the "redd" by the turbulent flood, or for newly hatched fry no longer guarded by the lonely parent fish long since departed on her way to the distant sea.
The spirit of winter brooded over the river valley. The faint summer music of the gold-crest in the fir-tops, the sweet, flute-like solo of the meditative thrush in the darkness of the hawthorn, and the weird, continuous rattle of the goatsucker perched moveless on an oak-bough near the river-bend, were no longer heard when at dusk Brighteye left his burrow and sat, watching and listening, on the little eminence above the river's brink. Even the drone of the drowsy beetle, swinging over the ripples of the shadowed stream or from tuft to tuft of grass beside the woodland path, had ceased. But at times the cheery dipper still sang from the boulder whence the vole had dived to escape the big brown owl; and, when other birds had gone to sleep, the robin on the alder-spray and the wren among the willow-stoles piped their glad vespers to assure a saddened world that presently the winter's gloom would vanish before the coming of another spring.
Like a vision of glory, which, in the first hour of some poor wanderer's sleep, serves but to mock awhile his awakened mind with recollections of a happy past, so had the Indian summer shone on Nature's tired heart, and mocked, and passed away. The last red rose-leaf had fluttered silently down; the last purple sloe had fallen from its sapless stem.
A sharp November frost was succeeded by a depressing month of mist and drizzling rain. Then the heavens opened, and for day after day, and night after night, their torrents poured down the stony watercourses of the hills. The river rose beyond the highest mark of summer freshets, till the low-lying meadow above the village was converted into a lake, and Brighteye's burrow disappeared beneath the surface of a raging flood.
Gifted with a mysterious knowledge of Nature's moods—which all wild animals in some degree possess—the vole had made ready for the sudden change. On the night preceding the storm, when in the mist even the faintest sounds seemed to gain in clearness and intensity, he had hollowed out for himself a temporary dwelling among the roots of a moss-grown tree on the steep slope of the wood behind the river-path, and had carried thither all his winter supplies from the granary where first they had been stored.
Brighteye was exposed to exceptional danger by his compulsory retirement from the old burrow in the river-bank. Stoats and weasels were ever on the prowl; no water-entrance afforded him immediate escape from their relentless hostilities, and he was almost as liable to panic, if pursued for any considerable distance on land, as were the rabbits living on the fringe of the gravel-pit within the heart of the silent wood. If a weasel or a stoat had entered the vole's new burrow during the period when the flood was at its highest, only the most fortunate circumstances could have saved its occupant. Even had he managed to flee to the river, his plight would still have been pitiful. Unable to find security in his former retreat, and effectually deterred by the lingering scent of his pursuers from returning to his woodland haunts, Brighteye, a homeless, hungry little vagabond, at first perplexed, then risking all in search of food and rest, would inevitably have met his fate.
But neither stoat nor weasel learned of his new abode. His burrow was high and dry in the gravelly soil under the tree-trunk; and before his doorway, as far as a hollow at the river's verge, stretched a natural path of rain-washed stones on which the line of his scent could never with certainty be followed. While many of his kindred perished, Bright-eye survived this period of flood; and when the waters, having cleansed each riverside dwelling, abated to their ordinary winter level, he returned to his burrow in the buttress by the stakes, and once more felt the joy of living in safety among familiar scenes.