Country diary: Ariège, Pyrenees: A French farmer contemplates his boar problem

Ariège, Pyrenees: I've often seen them: huge, primitive-looking animals, razor-tusked, trotting at twilight by the margins of the trees

Through the winter the farmer has prepared the fields stretching between winterbourne and forest edge in a cultivated strip that runs the length of the valley. Months ago, I watched bright tines of his plough turning the heavy clay, flopping it over to the side of the furrow in low, jagged ridges of clods that frost and rain broke down. The chain-harrow came out from the green barn, the valley throbbed as the big tractor dragged it up and down, up and down, and then came the drill.

The relaxed pace of the work, with swinging symmetries the land dictates in easy rhythms, has produced a wry and humorous man. "Tournesol" – sunflowers – is this year's rotational crop, he tells me when I meet him on the path by the barn. He gives me a brief lecture on the benefits post-harvest of their stalk-litter, which binds the soil, lightens its texture when ploughed in and guards against water-erosion.

He points out a great crater in the field. "Sangliers!" – wild boars – he explains, with an inflection between fondness and resignation. I've often seen them here: huge, primitive-looking animals, razor-tusked, trotting at twilight by the margins of the trees. Their signs, the network of their paths, are all around. He tells me he'll put up an "epouvantail" – literally, a frightener – to keep them away.

I walk on, wade the ford of the swollen stream whose chill water carries a memory of ice. Its wooded banks and the hay meadow on the far side are an entrancement of flowers, through which I pick a stooped way, pausing to appreciate the delicate beauty of intimate features: the pert, vulval springiness of ribbed melilot's yellow flowers, so early this year even for here in the deep south; miniature, glaring, purple dragon's-heads of fumitory; delicate rust tracery on cadmium-yellow archangel; the subtle green gradations of wood spurge; star of Bethlehem, its glistening white petals chased with pale green and studded with gold anthers.

Returning on my evening walk, triethylamine scent of May blossom heavy on the air, the farmer's new boar-scarer guards the field. First shoots of tournesol are probing through the tilth so laboriously prepared. Moths flit by. A hawk-like bird brushes my shoulder flying low and fast in pursuit, and the throaty, bubbling call of other nightjars wells up through the dimmity light.


Jim Perrin

The GuardianTramp

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