Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lost Sheep, Wild Boar and Dogs Passing Through

I woke up this morning with the cat not calling for breakfast.

Unusual because normally, unfortunately, he sits on the terrace outside my bedroom and miaows persistently from about 5.30am till I get up and feed him. He's a pretty Burmese-Siamese cross, not the straggly, pointy-faced look, but a more solid individual with lovely caramel-coloured fur and burnt-chocolate ears, face, legs and tail.

Coco arrived at the house three years ago, hungry and homeless, and took up permanent residence against my wishes. Now, of course, he's family.

Anyway, this morning I was vaguely surprised that, by 7am, he wasn't calling. He's not a cat to miss a meal.

I went into the kitchen and glanced out of the window at the terrace. There he was sitting in a pool of electric sunshine, slightly hunched, staring fixedly at something.

I craned my neck a bit and saw Gregory's sheep. Two of them, enormous animals, puffed up with huge coats of wool, both trying to get their tongues in the bowl of water left out for the red squirrels.

Their appearance explained Coco's sudden mutism. Last year I found him confronting a brebis one morning and spurred by my appearance he charged the poor animal, sending it running into the forest. I had never seen a Burmese cat, or any cat, charge a sheep before.

On that occasion my neighbour Gregory, glad to get a call that his lost sheep had turned up safe after a month AWOL, arrived quickly on his quadbike and shepherded the animal back to his land. He has geese, ducks, cats, dogs, kids, donkeys and a confused rooster which crows in the late afternoon. I wondered if the sheep had departed to get a bit of peace up in my neck of the woods.

Summer here always entails such visitors passing through. It's a pleasure to have the two pale elegant greyhounds who live near the canal suddenly whipping through the garden to dash into the house, do two laps round the séjour, zip off to the forest, hurtle back to the terrace, stop for a quick hello and then cannon off again onto the chemin de terre on their way to my neighbour Monsieur Moricone's olive grove. Before presumably rushing back home to eat and fall into a deep exhausted sleep.

My other neighbour's beautiful Alsatian, Ulyss, trots over here more often in summer too. Often he appears silently out of the dark at night, arriving at the table on the terrace as a bunch of us eat dinner. Attracted by the food and sound of our voices he bustles around saying hello to everyone, putting his huge head on our laps. Often when he appears he sends Coco thirty feet up a tree in two seconds flat. Cokes will stand up to other dogs, arch his back and growl, but ironically though Ulyss is the least likely to harm him - more likely to cuddle him to death - Ulyss is the one that puts the fear-of-dog into him.

A rust-coloured hunting dog arrives every so often too. Ears flopping all over the place he scoots up to the house looking rather dim. The hunting dogs round here all look rather dim actually. I'd be surprised if some of them could find a roast turkey on a dinner table.

And then there are the sangliers. I feel very protective towards these creatures although there's nothing I can do, of course, to shield them from the chasse. The hunters, when they arrive later this year, will greet me cheerily as they pass the house, guns casually slung over shoulders, and I'll greet them cheerily too. They're all guys from the village who generally spend hour upon hour staring into the trees and broussailles hoping to bag a hare. Their wives then make paté to go with a decent local red wine. But it's the possibility of shooting a wild boar which appeals most to the Provencal hunter, making my nerves and sensibilities shriek. How anyone could see these solid, tusked creatures, surprisingly light on their trotters, emerge from the forest onto open ground, taking a tour of leur coin, and then want to kill them is beyond me.

Which is hypocritical, I know, as I have from time to time eaten sanglier paté and sanglier saucisson. Although those animals are generally reared for the market, it doesn't make any difference really. Still, there is something wonderful about wild boar trotting about the forest and dusty paths.

I imagine Coco has come across these impressive animals at dusk or dawn, moving quietly through their terrain in the half-light. I saw how transfixed he was by Gregory's sheep and I know how he reacts to the dogs that wander over his territory. I wonder how he reacts when he sees a little troop of wild boar, trundling along the path or passing by the house. I bet they make his jaw drop like the sheep do. I bet he watches in wide-eyed silence.