Saturday, September 20, 2008

Can You Bear It?

While walking this morning I was hit once again by the strong aroma of silage. Something you wouldn’t notice while in a car. Or is it called haylage? What you get with those huge rolled up whirls of hay which are then enclosed in plastic. By the way, I saw a machine doing that one day, it’s absolutely magic. Something like one of those jugglers who lie on the floor, lift a colleague on to their feet and whizz them round and round, rotating on two axes at the same time. Or something like that giant spider in "Lord of the Rings", which had the hobbit neatly packaged before you could say "Miss Muffet".

The haylage sits in the sun stewing away inside the plastic. Even though it is completely wrapped you get this very strong very sweet smell of the fermentation that’s going on inside there. Animals, with their sense of smell, must whiff it from much further away. So when the farmers unwrap it for use in winter or in times of drought the critters must go absolutely berserk at this stuff. They probably salivate all summer at the prospect.

And fermentation produces alcohol, does it not? Is it a myth about mad cow disease, then? After all, another name for it is the staggers. Maybe they are just drunk, or, as a good friend of mine would say, "gassed as a carrot". I once read that something like 60% of the road accidents in Sweden are caused by drunken elk, which have picked up fallen fruit, which has then fermented inside them.

Speaking of strength of smell of animals, one of the animals we have in this area, although not in great numbers, is the bear. When I first heard this, brown bear, I thought smallish animal, obviously a wild animal and not to be approached but I didn’t realise at the time that we were talking something which stands 9 feet high at the shoulder, can run as fast as a racehorse, and which can smell you from 10 miles away, presumably only when the wind is in the right direction (for him!).

Maybe there is some technical difference between this bear and the grizzly but I don’t think that matters to the consumer or the consumed.

They had more or less been hunted to extinction here. The last natural denizen was shot – accidentally, of course, a few years ago. The powers that be have reintroduced these bears by importing some from Slovenia. They were released in the Ariege, which is quite a big department next to us – in fact the border between Aude and Ariege is about 3 kms up one of the hills which leads out of Puivert in the direction of Foix and eventually Biarritz. The bears were released at the other end of the department, near Andorra or Spain.

We read in the paper a few weeks ago that one of these bears had been seen in Rennes le Chateau which is only 10 miles away or so from us, as the crow flies, well inside the Aude. When they were released they were fitted with radio collars so that their movements could be tracked. This one has been wandering around over a very wide area – it was located in Pamiers – 50 kms in the other direction – only a few days earlier. They think it is, as it would be, looking for a mate. We all need somebody to love.

There was another item in the newspaper last week. I don’t know whether it was the same bear, but somebody had “accidentally” shot it, It’s alive, but they are keeping an eye on it. There are big pro and anti-bear movements because farmers, of course, say the bears kill their flocks and other people think that bears are part of the natural fauna of the area – even these reintroduced ones - and should be left to go about their business and that the price of that should be accepted. In the Ariege, one frequently comes upon huge signs painted on the road - "No to the Bears!", "Yes to the Bears!" It must be important - these signs are even bigger than those painted on the roads to encourage riders in the Tour de France.

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