Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nocturnal disturbance at Gamone

Once Fitzroy beds down for the night in his luxurious kennel, on a thick wad of sweet-smelling straw, he seems to sleep soundly. A couple of nights ago, exceptionally, he started to bark furiously around two o'clock in the morning. I opened the kitchen door so that Sophia could investigate. She has the advantage of seeing in the dark (I don't know how), whereas Fitzroy hasn't yet mastered that art. As for me, I looked around with a powerful flashlight, but I was unable to figure out what had woken up and disturbed Fitzroy.

The next morning, the two dogs were both in an aroused state, and barked frequently, as if a foreign presence were disturbing them.

I thought it might be the visiting pheasant, which I hadn't sighted for a couple of days. Or maybe it was a fox that had captured the pheasant. On the other hand, the direction of Sophia's muzzle suggested that the foreign presence might be located on the far side of Gamone Creek. Sure enough, I soon sighted a large roe deer. I even had time to race upstairs, fetch my Nikon, install a long-focus lens and take a couple of photos of the animal before it disappeared into the thicket.

For dogs, the scent of such an animal would seem to be both intense and alarming.

No sooner had I written the word "alarming" in the last sentence than I realized that it was quite stupid. But I won't remove it. My awareness of my mistaken use of this word illustrates the regular progress I'm making in becoming more and more naturally adapted to the evolutionary thinking of Richard Dawkins. The dogs are aroused by the scent of the deer for the simple reason that some of their archaic genes are screaming out (if genes can be thought of as capable of screaming) that the dogs should race out, attack this animal, kill it and eat its flesh. Wolves that reacted like that when they picked up the scent of deers ended up getting a good feed and surviving. On the other hand, wolves that didn't happen to get upset by the scent of deers were likely to starve, and die out instead of procreating. In other words, when little Fitzroy gets all adrenalized in the middle of the dark night, it's because his wolf genes are trying to persuade him that he should go out and capture a wild beast, to satisfy his hunger. But, insofar as Fitzroy's belly is already full of pasta and croquettes, his little dog's mind is puzzled about the logic of the signals being received from his muzzle and his archaic wolf genes. Ah, life is not necessarily easy when your closest ancestors were wild hungry wolves. It's easier for us humans because it's quite a long time since we dropped the habit of racing after deers in the middle of the night… if ever we behaved in such a way.

Once upon a time, I used to wonder how I might react if a glorious female creature were to sneak quietly into my bed while I was sound asleep, dreaming of Grecian nymphs. Would the powerful waves emitted by her presence react upon my archaic primate genes in such a way as to interrupt abruptly my snoring, and wake me up? Maybe they would. Maybe they wouldn't. To be perfectly honest, I've never had an opportunity of testing the experimental scenario I've just outlined. In any case, I'm sure as hell that I wouldn't start to bark or howl or race around crazily in the dark night. So, which of us males is better off, Fitzroy or me? It's hard to say...

BREAKING NEWS: Once again, at 2 o'clock in the middle of the night, Fitzroy spent half-an-hour barking. This morning, during our ritual walk up the road, the two dogs went out of their way to investigate scents in Gamone Creek up at the level of Bob's place, but without digging up anything. I've just been chatting with a hunter who strolled by with his dog, in the role of the advance scout (without a gun). He confirmed that there's a wild boar hiding in the creek up there, and that they plan to root him out later on in the day. So, we're promised a Wild West afternoon at Gamone, with gunshots, shouting and men and beasts scrambling down the slopes. I've often thought that what we need here at Choranche, particularly in the hunting season, is an elected sheriff. Meanwhile, with a wild boar in the neighborhood, the temporary winners are the roe deers and pheasants, which are considered by the hunters as relatively uninteresting small fry. Confronted by a terrified cornered boar, a hound can get its belly ripped open by the tusks of the beast. (Sophia and Fitzroy would scamper to safety before any such encounter.) The hunters no doubt appreciate this dimension of risk, and the aroma of blood. To my mind, it evokes bull-fighting accidents such as when a picador's horse is gored.

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