A Rather Long Story About a Rather Hasty Retreat
I am beginning to wonder about the survival prospects of the pheasant family. Or, perhaps I shouldn't impute to an entire species the slipshod surveillance habits of one member. Let me rephrase, then. I am beginning to wonder about the potential longevity of one particular pheasant.
The bird in question resides in a thicket just off a small footpath through overgrown fields. Thickets and fields being an perfectly suitable domicile for pheasants (and footpaths, of course, being strictly optional) it would seem that our avian protagonist is well situated in all material respects. It would seem that way, that is, until someone (in this case myself and my hapless but lovable hound by the name of Daft Wullie) happens upon this pheasant's abode. Repeatedly.
This encounter plays out at precisely the same location at roughly the same moment every day. It proceeds as follows. I pick my way down a narrow trail, avoiding the stinging nettle that grows lush and abundant there. Wullie cavorts unfettered through the brush wary of no botanical impediment. Our various locomotions are without anything resembling stealth or even subtlety. And yet, at the precise moment when we reach his residence the pheasant takes sudden and urgent notice of our presence. By which I mean he takes off in noisy flight approximately 3 centimeters from our faces.
I inevitably startle at this precipitous avian encounter. Wullie, proving his natural killer instinct, takes off as though his tail were on fire, glancing behind him wildly to assess the further threat. It is an inspiration in canine bravado.
This scenario is repeated every day on our walks. And it is repeatedly the entire extent of our wildlife encounters. It's us and the pheasant. Every day. Well, and the snails. But, they don't come into it much.
Until, last week, one morning, when it wasn't. Walking our normal route, I was surprised to see two deer crossing our path. It was a fun surprise and I was just remarking on it to Wullie when we came upon a runner who we occasionally encounter on this stretch of our walk. Wullie trotted over for his customary greeting but, instead of responding with his usual cooing attentions toward Wullie, the gentleman instead addressed me with a long paragraph of earnest Polish. I stopped him with an apology for my poor Polish but he continued unabated. He had a message to convey regardless of my own ineptitude. I tried to pick out a word or two that might give me a hint about our topic. I was pretty sure he was describing something he had seen. I assumed he must be referring to the same deer we had spotted.
Then, he added one word in English: pig, with a little waggle of his hands that indicated it was an approximation.
I gasped. "Tutaj? Teraz?" "Here? Now?"
The gasp, the question, were not because I thought livestock was on the loose. It was because I understood what he meant. He was warning me that there were wild boar about.
But then he concluded, "Ale, dziki."
My split second language approximation skills kicked in. Dziki. I don't know that word. But I do know the first: ale--but. Ok, so we have a wild boar but then we're negating it in some way. Clearly dziki must mean gone. The adrenaline was quickly replaced by relief at this new revelation. I thanked him and continued on our walk, grateful to know the boar had moved on.
Recounting this interaction that night at dinner with Steve, I explained all about the pigs that were really wild boar, but, luckily, they were all gone.
He answered, "There were dziki down there?"
"Wait. Dziki means wild boar?"
"No. It means multiple wild boar.”
I was suddenly feeling decidedly less jovial about the whole encounter. He hadn't been saying "There are wild boar but now they're gone". He was saying "'Pigs' only really I mean wild boars".
You see, wild boar are no joke. In our first tender months here in Poland we'd witnessed a troupe of wild boar racing around an enclosure in front of trained hunting dogs. The experience taught me three things. Boar are big. The largest of these came up to my waist. Boar are scary looking. These were no cuddly Wilburs. They were bulky, hairy, snouty, most importantly tusky animals. And boar are fast. They kept easily in front of their pursuers with a speed and agility that belies their size.
In short, the prospect of stumbling upon one during our daily rambles was a chilling one. It was enough to keep me off this particular walking path for a few days. Sure, sure, I blamed it on the rain that mucks up the path pretty badly. But, really, it was the possibility of finding myself nose to snout with with a solid specimen of European Wild Boar that kept me to more urban routes.
Once, bolstered by Steve's presence, I did venture on one evening walk down that path. He, quite unhelpfully, I thought, pointed out a handful of nesting sites in the grasses next to the trail. He was rather obstinate in rejecting my hypothesis that they were created by roe deer. Needless to say, it did little to fortify my confidence in venturing back onto that isolated path.
That is, until the sun made its triumphant return. Giddy with Helios's attentions, I headed back to that particular secluded path, intent on enjoying the fields bathed in sunlight. It was only once I'd made it halfway in that I remembered the real reason I'd avoided it for so long. By then the solitude was working its wonders on my heart and I had no intention of turning around. The tranquility whispered alluring assurances of a placid stroll through halcyon meadows.
It turns out, tranquility is not to be trusted.
Quite coincidentally, just at the spot of one of Steve’s purported boar nests, there rose from the grass immediately to my right an enormous grunt. Not a sniffle. Not a shuffle. Not a rustle. This was a growling, snarling threat of a grunt. The grass was high so I couldn't see its source. But a few things were eminently clear. It was piglike in nature, it was close enough for me to touch, if I parted the grasses. And, it was unimpressed with my proximity.
At this point, I made the calculated decision to take a page from Wullie's Encountering Nature 101 book. In other words, I ran. It was heedless, pell mell, uncontrolled evacuation. Stinging nettle whipped at my ankles mercilessly but still I ran. I paused only to cast backward glances at my imagined porcine pursuer. I never saw so much as a snout peeking from the grasses. And yet, I careened down the the path as though hounded by a stampeding hoard.
The only snag in our retreat came at a certain embankment where we need to descend a short hill and ford a tiny stream. Due to the rain we've been enjoying this week, and the haste at which I was proceeding, I found myself in a rather inglorious position, gazing skyward. At that moment it occurred to me that it's an awfully good thing that the boar was not giving chase.
Wullie, for his part, thought this was the most excellent walk ever. He was entirely unaware of what started me into such an unprecedented flight but he was not one to argue with my sudden burst of athletic energy. He bounded gleefully at my side, running before and after, delighted with this new rather more than ambulatory walk. He did seem somewhat surprised at my abrupt recumbent attitude on the embankment. But, overall he found it a most satisfying outing.
Now, in the quiet of my house I am laughing at myself just a bit. Mud is streaked up my back from my fall on the embankment. Every inch of me, knee-downward is screaming from the stinging nettle. It all seems a bit melodramatic. I was no doubt hurdling myself down an untamed path in flight from a snoring boar.
Upon reflection, it was a beautiful morning, really.
A lovely path through a quiet field.
Idyllic in every way.