Hunting season

Saturday morning had the kind of luxurious air you want to wrap around you—like the softest of Pashmina shawls—or pack away in a drawer to bring out again on the darkest winter day. The sun was low and golden in the south, the air was humid and warm. It was a bread-dough kind of day—so beautiful I extended my walk up the hill, going as far as the big bridge before turning around.

Since it was a Saturday, and thus a hunting day, I was a little apprehensive about going too far into the mountains but I saw no “Prudence—Chasse” signs, so kept going. Every Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday through the fall and winter you will see caravans of little trucks heading into the hills. Sometimes there are only two or three vehicles; sometimes a dozen or more.

The French hunting style is simple and effective. At their chosen site the hunters park themselves on little campstools along the road—well spaced of course—and wait while the hounds are sent down through the brush to scare up a wild boar (sanglier). The boar is then herded uphill and onto the road where a hunter shoots it. After a successful hunt everyone returns to the starting place and much wine is drunk in celebration.

On hunting days we can often hear the distant barking of the dogs, or the sound of the bells they wear as they roam the hillsides and, of course, the crack of high-powered rifles. I was safely back on the valley floor when the morning's peace was broken by two shots in quick succession. The day turned suddenly dark, the blue and white daisies folded up their petals and ducked their heads. The birds ceased singing and the sun hid behind a cloud.

My sympathies are all with the boar. I have been fond of pigs ever since my dad introduced me to piglets on my uncle’s farm at the age of four. And though I used to munch pork chops with abandon, I always felt guilty about it and gave up the practice long ago. Pigs are special; don’t ask me why.

Not surprisingly, my aversion to eating pigs has no influence on the French. Hunting has a long tradition here and it’s not likely to end soon despite my wishes or the annual toll in accidents and deaths. A curious tourist was killed this year when she parked near a hunt and got out of the car to watch. Last year a man from our village bled to death when a boar he’d thought was dead gored his leg, slicing the femoral artery. And our local doctor was nearly hit while bicycling this fall, when a bullet hit the ground close enough to spray gravel onto him. The hunter claimed he was “in full control of his shot.” Just like Cheney.

Despite such accidents the hunters are fearless when deciding where to hunt. We often see them within a few yards of busy roads, and coming back from Carcassonne a week ago on the D3 we passed two perched on either side of the highway, guns at the ready. I suppose if a wild boar had charged across the road in front of us, the men would have had no qualms about taking aim and firing. After all, they’re in full control.

But even the hunters deserve a little understanding. Some of them are poor and they use the meat to supplement their diets. And following good French tradition they use all the pig, not just the prime cuts. I know this, but I am still opposed to hunting.

Unlike me, nature is resilient. Wild boar have lived and been hunted here for thousands of years. (This is, after all, Diana’s valley.) Other species have been depleted, but the boar remains plentiful enough to be a pest to local gardeners. And by the time all these dark thoughts had passed through my head the sun had reappeared and the daisies had taken a deep breath and returned to normal. The horses in their pasture wondered why I had forgotten—again!—their carrots, and when I finally stepped in through our gate the morning was once again beautiful.