John and I are amazed at how much wildlife we see in France, more than anywhere in the US. It’s hard to imagine where the animals live, the entire countryside is cultivated and most of the woods are planted – sycamores in straight, evenly spaced rows, no undergrowth. It seems that people and animals have co-existed for centuries.
Sighting a hawk was always a special experience at home. Here they are commonplace, sentries on trees and telephone wires. I’ve become very fond of one that stays near a large herd of light brown Limousin cows. I think he watches me and flies off, in beautiful, effortless flight. Once we saw a large hawk beating his wings in place like he was treading air and then made a steep dive for his prey. They are magnificent birds.
We always see deer, small, delicate, some no bigger than a dog. Driving at night can be hazardous. If we are visiting friends, the warning before we leave is “watch out for the deer.” There are large deer in France, too; hunting them is a popular pastime. But only once have we seen one, near our village. He was enormous, handsome. He stopped on a bank and turned to look at us, fearless.
And, oh, the owls. Standing outside at night you can hear and feel the powerful movement of their wings, sometimes uncomfortably close. The last time we stayed at the Domaine de Beaucour, Claire took us up in the barn to see some baby owls — soft white powder puffs with black, shining eyes. Driving home at a dusk, we saw an enormous light brown owl taking off over a field – wings the color of chopped walnuts. Beautiful!!
Most dramatic of all are the wild boars. They are legend in the Périgord. When you mention them, someone always has a story. Visiting a friend, he showed us what looked like a newly plowed field; but it wasn’t. The earth was turned by wild boars, using their upward bent tusks to find grubs. There was violence in the scene. I don’t think I would want to be near them, under any circumstances. Now we have own story: we were driving home after dinner at a restaurant near our house, rounded a curve and voila! Ten or 12 young boars trotted across the road in single file as nonchalantly as you please. Their coats were lightly spotted, giving them a vulnerable look, despite their spiked backs and vicious-looking tusks – almost cute. Then, after the last had passed and just as we were getting ready to move on, the mother crossed, more slowly, as big as a German Shepherd. Menacing! She, too, took no notice of us, as if we had the stop light. The French word for boar is sanglier (sang means blood). I was so excited I called my slightly demented 92-year-old mother, the naturalist, to tell her. She listened to my story and said, “I hope you were able to get them all safely in your car.”
En fin, the renard. He crossed the D2, the road to Cadouin, rust-red, full coat and bushy tail. Bounding across a field, he stopped at the edge of a wood and turned, standing absolutely still for the longest time, watching us with bright black intelligent eyes. He was Courbet’s fox, from a late painting of a fox in the snow. Entitled, the world was his and only his. The most French animal of them all.