Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In Harm's Way

There is a 2-kilometre section of road between Quillan and home, starting at the top of the big climb, at the Col du Portel. This bit of road was closed for several weeks recently while they dug to replace the foundations, improve the drainage down there, and hopefully stop the road erupting so that in some places it more resembled the surface of a rough sea than a habitat for moving vehicles.

The same bit of road has again been closed for the past few days, forcing motorists into a diversion into higher territory. I walked along the closed road on Sunday but there was no evidence of workers, equipment or new work being undertaken.

There was evidence of hunters. They and their vehicles (closed road?) were scattered at intervals along the whole two kilometres. Perhaps the public highway was blocked off for their sole benefit. On the left (as I was walking) the wooded hill rises sharply, on the right it falls into the valley containing the lovely village of Brenac. From that valley I could hear the excited barking of dogs on the trail of their quarry, probably a wild boar or a deer. The sound was quite near, and rapidly approaching.

I had already passed some of the gunmen who were standing by the roadside every fifty to a hundred metres, when they all seemed to get very excited, clutching at their guns and becoming very anticipatory. The commotion was even nearer by now and from the attitude of the hunters, they were expecting their target to come bursting up the hillside and on to the road. Just behind me, as it happens. Looking over my shoulder I could see a rifleman running towards me and obviously ready to shoot the animal when it appeared. In front of me was another man, also running in my direction and equally ready to fire. Perhaps I was the only one who noticed that I seemed to be in the field of fire. What do you do in this situation? Fortunately the hunted animal came to my rescue by changing course and the tell-tale barking of the dogs moved away somewhat.

A little further along my walk, I was on a track which runs parallel to the road and a few metres from it. On my right was an open field. On the other side of the field I could make out that something was happening but I didn't know exactly what, because as it was raining, I had taken off my specs. I hoped it was not another hunting party. Especially when I saw something running very fast across the field in front of me. It turned very sharp left onto the track I was on, and raced straight at me. It was a hare. I stopped walking, hoping it would not see me and would run close by. Unfortunately it spotted me - possibly helped by the vivid yellow Goretex jacket I wear for safety when walking the roads - and swerved off again over the field. I still don't know whether it was being hunted, but there was a lot of dog noise in the blurry distance. But boy, could it run!

A couple of days before, while Gay and I were driving into Quillan along the road diversion previously mentioned, we had to slow for a couple of deer in the road. These were smaller than the usual type we see here, which are the same as red deer. A week before, Gay had seen a very similar pair of smaller deer in the woods while we were climbing the hill. I saw nothing, having fairly recently moved into blind-as-a-bat mode.

We have yet to see the animal described to us by Frank, a Yorkshireman who has a stall at some of the markets hereabouts. He lives in Quillan and told us that, while he was driving to Esperaza market one Sunday morning he saw a creature effortlessly climbing the bank at the roadside. It was a cat, but not as we know them. He insists that it was huge and like a black panther. I hope we don't meet that in the woods one fine day.

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