What a delight to read Hare’s Fur (Scribe 2019) by author Trevor Shearston. This slim book – almost a novella – is a joy from start to finish. With literary language that sings from the pages, and a story that is poignant and moving, Hare’s Fur is a beautiful combination of the making of art, the raw ache of loss and the unexpected connections of strangers. It is a book about kindness and grief, about isolation and abandonment.
Seventy-five-year-old Russell Bass is a recently widowed potter living on the outskirts of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Every day he grieves not only for his wife but for their son, lost many years before. Every day he devotes to his art and his work: collecting rock from the local creek to use as glaze for his pottery; making the clay; spinning the wheel; throwing the pots. His work is sought-after and sells well at exhibitions. But he lives a lonely and isolated life, his few local close friends often the only human company he sees for weeks on end.
One day, while hunting for useful rock, he comes across a simple thing – a chocolate wrapper – discarded in the bush, which immediately shatters his sense of quietude because of what it symbolises – that someone is nearby, that somebody has found his hidden paradise. The laughter and low voices of children nearby confirm it. Tentatively, he approaches them and finds a group of children, two very young, accompanied by a teenage girl, who are camping out in the cold, hiding from the police and social services.
And so begins a slow burn of developing trust, hampered along the way by suspicions of motivations from both sides, fear of alerting authorities or even the neighbours, concerns by Russell about the children’s wellbeing and whether he is doing the right thing, and anxiety by the children about his offer of shelter. But despite the difference in ages and circumstances, a bond begins to develop between these fragile and neglected children, who have a traumatic history, and the older man, who himself has his own burdens to bear.
I learnt more from this book about clay and glazes and throwing pots than I will ever need to know in a lifetime, and the book also offers a wonderfully evocative depiction of the native Australian bush – the fauna, the flora, the turn of the seasons; this is nature-writing at its most beautiful.