We were having breakfast on the terrace when we heard the hounds baying among the trees up on the hill in front of us. We have nothing against hunting per se because we can see the damage that farmers have to tolerate. The main culprits around here are the sangliers or wild boar and it seems impossible to cull them. But we take a proprietary interest in the deer. For some weeks now there has been a small family of parents and fawn down in the corner of the field below the house. We need not have been uneasy because they were not in danger, but they didn’t know that. After a lengthy horn blast they came leaping gracefully across the field directly away from the hounds and disappeared.
Arnaud, our nearest neighbour, owns several hectares of land including woodland which abounds with wildlife. He was brought up on the family farm in the heart of the Pays Basque and understands animals, wild and domestic. He came across a very young fawn which had been abandoned so took her home and fed her. Bambi (yes, banal I know) became so tame that children could pet her. For reasons best known to him he preferred us not to talk about her to anybody. He never found out what had happened to the mother but it would not have been (or should not have been) because of the chasse. There are very strict rules for hunters in France and only selective shooting of male roe deer may be allowed in late summer and a specific permit is needed from the mairie.
She thrived under Arnaud’s care but inevitably one day she leaped over her paddock fence and returned to the wild. Two years passed and we forgot about her but out of the blue she reappeared near Arnaud’s house with a foal. He knew instinctively that it was Bambi and he likes to think that she returned to show him her youngster as a way of expressing her gratitude for his rescuing her.
Late one evening Madame and I were driving back from town where the cinema had been showing an English language film. It was pitch black and the trees on either side made the road even darker. Without warning a deer leaped into the centre of the road about 50 metres ahead of us. It stood and looked at us, temporarily blinded by the headlights, then jumped the ditch on the other side and vanished.
This unfortunate deer (Bambi’s mother?) was not hit by a car nor accidentally shot by the hunters. Nobody could explain how she came to be trapped between the bars of the gate. She had not been injured so the consensus was that she had tried to leap over the gate but didn’t make it.
Usually the deer keep their distance and it’s almost impossible to film them, hence the poor quality of this photo. Walking down the track beside the house early one morning a stag leaped over the hedge in front of us. He looked at us enquiringly with his large, gentle dark eyes then jumped into the trees. Needless to say neither of us had the time to film him. They are nervous animals and sense your presence before you even see them. Only once has one strayed into our garden, a young and spindly legged foal, but the visit was brief.
Living in the country during the lockdown had its advantage when exercise was limited to a kilometre from the house. We could leave the garden and walk down to the river then follow it round in a horseshoe. One’s senses were heightened during the confinement, at least ours were, and we became more aware of what we were seeing, like the tracks made by the deer for instance.
If you walk two kilometres downstream you come across the ‘laundry’. The parents of a ninety-four year old acquaintance once owned our property. She was not born in this house but eight of her siblings were. There was an outdoor privy and no bathroom. We are talking twentieth century here. Somewhere there was a well but we’ve never found it. Going to the river was not an option; somehow family laundry was dealt with here.
One Sunday at the start of the lockdown we went for a longer walk, down to the river then climbed up to Marc’s farm and back, about 4 km. No rules were broken because at no point were we more than one kilometre from the house (well, that’s how we interpreted it). It meant that the last twenty metres to our house were by road. Almost at the front gate and a police car materialised from nowhere. My attestation didn’t pass muster as the date was in pencil (it did save the ink cartridge when you had to change it daily). Anyway, it was their lunchtime so they didn’t linger.
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