P1050776Gunshots cracked the Saturday predawn silence. It happened again on Sunday. I heard more that evening, as we ate on the terrace, our cone of lamplight surrounded by still-balmy darkness.

The hunting season began Sept. 10 in the forests, but not until Oct. 8 in the vineyards because the grape harvest was still under way.

With still-warm nights, we sleep with a window open, and so many sounds come in along with the sweet autumn air.

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Beware Traps Danger. Hunting reserve.

Crickets. Where were they in the summer? Maybe it was too hot and dry. Now they chirp loudly in the first hours of darkness. When we first moved here, the nearby river was full of frogs that screamed all night. They didn’t croak; they shrieked like little girls in a haunted house. It was a somewhat stressful addition to the natural soundtrack, but now that the frogs are gone I miss them. Too hot? Too dry? Too polluted? No idea why they disappeared.

 

During the night, there are some birds that break out in exquisite arias. Soloists. Other birds blast a sharp warning during their nightly hunts; being a city person, I don’t know bird calls, but they don’t sound like the “who-who” of owls, which we also hear from time to time. The roosters I recognize, at least.

At around 5 a.m. every morning, a scooter sputters toward the village. In my mind’s eye, I follow its route up and down the hills, getting louder, crossing a bridge, rolling through the stop to turn onto a main road and head into town. The minimum age for driving is 18, but one can drive a scooter from age 14. It seems so dangerous—scooters have small engines and barely make it up steep hills, which is also where cars can’t pass safely. The way this one coughs, it’s just as well it isn’t making the journey during rush hour. The driver must be some teenage apprentice heading to a very early shift…at a bakery, maybe? I send out kind thoughts for a safe trip and a good day.

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A camionette. Not the rickety one full of dogs, but you get the picture.

Even earlier, well before the first inkling of morning, a rickety old camionette—a kind of enclosed pickup favored by vignerons—rattles by with what sounds like a pack of dogs barking in the back. I used to think it was an old guy in the village who had an old camionette and about a dozen beagles. But some years ago the beagles disappeared and the house has been closed up tight, its garden overgrown, so I fear the old man died. I don’t believe in ghosts and the rickety camionette with barking dogs is quite real, so clearly it’s somebody else, most likely off for a morning hunt.

A few days ago, I climbed one of the dry rock retaining walls along my walking route in order to get a better vantage point to take a picture of a vineyard whose leaves were a brilliant orange. As I went up, I realized I would have to find a different way down. So I walked along through the wild brush, looking for a better way down. It was easy—there were clear paths crisscrossing all over, with the tall grass matted down flat. Then I got a look at a bare spot and realized the paths had been made by sangliers—boars. The prints sank deeply into the soft ground. How was the ground there soft, anyway? Our garden is dry and hard from so many days of sunshine. Maybe all the vegetation held in the moisture from the last rain.

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Was it worth the climb? Not quite high enough, methinks.

I wondered about the boars piecing together a life in the scattered morsels of brush and stretches of garrigue between the vineyards. Houses gobble up more and more land, hopscotching farther out, like an infestation of fungus or weeds or a dread skin condition. Trees and brush are torn out, vineyards ripped up, replaced by either lotissements of identical sorry cottages or hideous Mediterranean mcmansions (post on abominable French architecture coming up). When the ancient villages were created, everybody lived close together, within fortified walls, for safety. Crime was rampant back then, with marauding gangs on the few roads. Now crime is rare, and the dangers of walking in the countryside in the dark are limited to getting hit by a car or coming nose to nose with a wild pig.

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An abandoned vineyard, with food for wild pigs.

The French also have a hunting song for children. Here’s a charmingly simple video of it, because the hand motions are key. The lyrics:

In his house, a big deer

Looked out the window

A rabbit came to him

And knocked on the door.

“Deer, deer open up for me

Or the hunter will kill me!”

“Rabbit, rabbit, come in and come

Shake my hand.”

 

17 thoughts on “Heigh Ho, the Derry-oh

  1. We used to have lots of frogs in our river, and every summer there was a dreadful bloom of algae – the two weren’t connected though. Then a small flock of ducks settled in the village – they’ve grown to about 40 strong now. The algae has been gone for the past few years, but so have the frogs…
    As for the sanglier, they are apparently multiplying at a rather alarming rate, and culling them is becoming quite a big deal. There must be enough food out there in the garrigue!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember seeing a deer, but I can’t remember where or when, it was that long ago. I know that on Caroux there are mouflon, and there are deer in the forests farther north. I imagine that their numbers are severely down because of the relentless hunting. Rabbits and hares are also in short supply… Seems to be only the sanglier which thrive

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I, too, lament the new developments as we live in farm community. As the farmers die off and children would rather have the money than land, the properties of notable acreage are sold off and become developments with names like Cobblestone and Ridgewood Estates. The town wants to keep it a farm community so rules have finally been put in place to limit their numbers. Not to mention, the lovely old trees that are bulldozed to build perfect little houses, totally naked but for some perfect landscaping! Ugh. Give me the wide open spaces!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve noticed that many of the developments are named for the features they’ve displaced: Deer Run, Fox Meadow, and so on.
      And while the new builds may be “beautifully” landscaped, it’s new stuff with shallow roots. It’s the old growth, and scrub and wild grasses, with long, deep roots that holds moisture in the soil and the soil in place.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m in Provence, near Carpentras, and we have hunters in the morning and evening shooting at birds. They sound like they’re next door. I was told they are shooting “grive” (may be spelled wrong) which sounds like a redwing blackbird. Supposed to be delicious and expensive. Who in the world is going to prep a tiny little bird like that and end up with four mouthfuls? We don’t have enough of any birds here for people to be shooting them. As for the houses, we are having the same problem here about 5 kms from Carpentras. Our area has been opened temporarily to small lots and small houses, and the crap they’re building is beyond belief. Stucco boxes which look like what we were building in the 60s and 60s (remember Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes?). No landscaping, no trees, wire fences, they will be very hot and dry in the summer but I suppose aircon will be part of the deal. I feel like a bit of an elitist complaining, sitting here in my big house on a big lot with plenty of trees. I’m working on creating habitat for insects, birds etc. and wonder if they will all just get shot. I was told by a naturalist that France is losing habitat at an alarming rate. Oops sorry very long comment.
    bonnie

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would have loved to watch the video but the link wasn’t working for me.
    : (
    So sorry to hear that ticky tacky houses are spouting up in the French countryside.

    Liked by 1 person

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