Hare of the dog
… our single New England hare species … the snowshoe, or varying, hare … for most of the year [is] quiet and shy … But come March, hares go haywire. …
… Hares get into brawls with other hares, engage in boxing and kicking matches and high-speed chases. …
… The strangest scene takes place when male and female meet. Both sniff. Then one leaps over the other … and the one in mid-air urinates on the one below. Then they switch.
The final evidence of mental instability is that, for the hares involved, this is apparently a huge turn-on. Mating then follows – several times over the course of the next few hours.
For many animals, actually, urine is the flowers-and-candy of courtship. … Urine contains important chemical information about potential mates, including levels of sex hormones. So the snowshoe’s courtship performance might not be so hare-brained after all.
from The Wild Out Your Window – Exploring Nature Near at Hand by the American writer Sy Montgomery
“You can count on it being mad as a March hare,” I said. June had spotted the hare the other day, sitting up on its haunches in Little Owl Gully, “Big as a small dog,” she said. Down Under it’d have to be ‘mad as a September hare’ which offends the ear and distorts the meaning of the idiomatic phrase, almost as much as the offense to eye and meaning of ‘hare of the dog’.
Not that ‘hair of the dog’ makes any sense either, whether you look at its origins or its subsequent meaning. Who in their right mind would think they could be cured by stuffing hair from the rabid dog that bit you into the wound? Or, as the saying morphed, that the cure for waking up with a hangover was to drink more booze!
“Mad as a March hare.” Now that makes sense. So much so that in attendance at the crazy Hatter’s madcap tea party, one of the scenes in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, was the just as crazy March Hare.
When we had our felting business, our wool and wool/alpaca blend hat brims were finished so that they stayed put and stayed firm by the vigorous pressure we manually applied when we methodically moved round the brims, rubbing the wet, soapy felt as hard as we possibly could with a small, deeply ribbed plastic disc.
We may well have been mad to have stuck at such, at times, gruelling labour for so many years, but at least it wasn’t the hat making process itself driving us nuts, which couldn’t be said for many of the hatmakers of old! To say someone was “Mad as a Hatter” made sense in the 18th and 19th centuries when they used mercury nitrate to harden hats. Here’s Taylor James on the origins of “Mad as a Hatter”:
While it was unknown then, mercury nitrate is very toxic to humans. Too much exposure to the chemical can cause different physical and mental symptoms that can imitate insanity.
Some symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
Mental health issues
Memory problems in severe cases
(Mad as a Hatter – Where the Term Comes From)
I mentioned that we used wool/alpaca blends for hats – we also used alpaca in innersoles, scarves, shawls, slippers, ugg boots and baby shoes. Asked by the editor of the magazine, ‘New Zealand Alpaca’, to write about our use of alpaca fibre, I made the case for supplying felters with the same high quality fibre that they sold to spinners and knitters.
People with a few alpacas and a shed full of sub-standard fleeces no one wanted were ever hopeful that felters would buy some. But then some of the Alpaca studs we worked with weren’t much different. Sniffing a potential buyer of the stuff, they could be quite resistant to the notion that exquisitely crafted and luxurious felt apparel needed, in the first instance, high quality fibre. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them thought that because it’s just fibres matted together (and even a sheep can do that while it’s still wearing its fleece), all the ‘unsuitable’ features (not just hairs!) would either get washed out or unobtrusively embedded in the resultant fabric.
In the article, I stress to felters, “Beware the hair of the dog: hairy alpaca could drive you to drink!” Imagine wearing an alpaca scarf, supposedly a very soft, non-irritant alternative to merino (for those allergic to wool) and itching away as hair that resists all attempts to felt it in, wriggles out of the felt looking like long dog hairs! Called guard hairs, New Zealand breeders still had some way to go when I wrote the piece in 2002, before they could say their herd was free of “the hair of the dog”.
I’m so glad our business worries about “hair of the dog” are a thing of the past. And I’m pretty sure my days of suffering from a hangover are behind me! I’m also pretty sure I don’t have any of the symptoms Taylor James says could qualify me for the label: “Mad as a Hatter”. You’ll have your own opinion on that no doubt!
But being called “Mad as a March Hare”? I’m not so sure about that. If it acted like a spring charm and gave me the sexual vigour of youth for the season, who knows, perhaps an old codger like me wouldn’t mind so much. As the eminent American essayist, Edward Hoagland, concluded when at a similar age to me; having ‘the last word’ after writing a lengthy book full of autobiographical essays – he simply wrote:
Dirty old men.
from the essay ‘Sex and the River Styx’ in the book of the same name.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.