Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Morning Hunters

Last Sunday morning the tinkling of bells outside our window woke Best Beloved and me simultaneously at about a quarter to six. BB pulled on some clothes, opened the French doors, and went outside on the verandah.

“Re Fileh! (Hey Friend!)” I heard him shout. “ Call off your dogs, please!” The man answered something that I couldn't hear, and BB responded “Yeah, well if my hobby was playing the bagpipes, how would you feel if I brought the instrument to outside your house at this time on a Sunday morning and started playing?” He came back to bed, but the tinkling continued, and two minutes later I saw a huge hound on the wall, a scant two metres from our window. “There's always the rifle,” BB said with a sigh. And got out of bed again.

I heard him go upstairs to the kitchen, take the air rifle down from the top of the dresser and pull the handle back to cock and load it. I heard the back door open. “I told you before...” he shouted. “Now call off your dogs!” There followed a hasty series of shouts and whistles, and the tinkling began fading into the distance. Then I heard a shot as BB cleared the rifle, and his steps came down again.

“He was too far away to see that it wasn't much of a weapon," BB said. “But I think he got the message.”

Our house looks over a valley where a seasonal creek straggles on its route to the sea. We own one side of the hill – a wild place where gorse blooms in brilliant yellow thickets through winter and spring, and wild olive, lentisk, and juniper are a haven for hares, foxes, birds, snakes and other wild life. A cousin owns the other side, and except that it's somewhat barer as she allows the goat flocks to pass through in the spring and autumn it has the same character. The whole valley is barred to hunters, both during the hunting seasons and outside: it is one of the respite places where hare and wild birds can raise their young unmolested – to keep their numbers flourishing for the areas where hunters are allowed to pursue and shoot them.

But it's a convenient valley – largely unpopulated, close to town, between two villages and near the main road, and hunters are constantly 'exercising' their dogs here (spot the difference between 'exercising' and 'training'.. I can't, especially as a pack – sometimes the men 'exercise' as many as eight hounds at a time, and when such a pack starts a hare, both dogs and men follow in full cry) in vioation of the regulations and the posted signs.  The hare usually escapes -- and I love seeing them outwit a pack of dogs -- but the stress will often cause pregnant does to miscarry, hence the total ban on hunting dogs in this valley.

In past years Best Beloved has put calls through to the Game Service, and when one of their armed mobile patrols has been in the area, the wardens have arrived in time to serve summons and hefty fines on the violators. One morning a while back I watched as two wardens (their AK47s discreetly out of sight) argued and negotiated with one recalcitrant hunter who refused for ten minutes to come and take his ticket. Only the threat of confiscation of his pick-up truck – Game Wardens throughout the EU have considerable confiscation powers, including of a vehicle and any equipment suspected of being involved in a violation – induced him to come and collect his fine notification. But the service manpower is stretched thin, and rather than call the wardens, it can be easier to deal with the situation 'in-house'.

This morning Best Beloved was off from 0530 picking the next round of grapes, and I was sound asleep when the barking of dogs and the shouting of men insinuated itself into one of my dreams. Waking, I found that the barking and the shouting was no dream, and that several men and a pack of dogs was just outside my window.

Then I heard Mili's voice.

This time there was no “Re Fileh, please remove your dogs!” Mili was a Cypriot matriarch in full spate, and she reached back into her village childhood and dredged up colourful epithets and threats that (according to Sophia, whom I met ten minutes later on the steps) had men and dogs beating a hasty retreat. I heard the piping voice of a child, then Mili shouting again (“Yeah, they had a kid with them,” Sophia told me. “And I felt really bad for Yiayia because he was being rude and swearing, but she just gave it right back to him, saying that she'd call the police and game service, and that she'd poison their dogs – and even if Yiayia wouldn't, most Cypriots would and these guys really don't want to risk that! Hunting dogs are expensive...”), then silence.

Go, Mili. Between BB's rifle and her threats of poison, maybe we've seen the last of the hunters. They can't risk poison, and they don't know that we wouldn't use it as it is a common (if unfortunate) Cypriot country method of dealing with problem animals. Someone (probably a hunter jealous of another hunter's dogs) laid poison on our land two years ago and both Lucky I and Lizzie were casualties – Lucky I lived up to her name as her suffering was spotted by Li'l Bro and he whisked her to a vet in time, but Lizzie didn't make it.

I just wish that I'd been able to understand her tirade. I'm sure it had plenty of colourful vocabulary that I won't learn from Kyriaki when Sophia and I resume Greek lessons in September.

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