On Friday, we went to a friend’s house for a hunt. The hunt was on a vast property in the Yvelines, it was in two parts that day, one on one side of the “route nationale”, the other on the farm side. We were hunting wild boar and red deer. The property is bordered on two sides by main highways, on the other sides are farmland, and the wild animals have been causing so much damage that the forest department has threatened to have “extermination*” hunts on the land – so the owner has had to increase the number of hunts on the land (which is no hardship for my husband, who loves to hunt) or for Auguste (who also loves to hunt). I rarely go to the hunts because I don’t love the hunt, but I do love being in the forest, and so I agreed to be a beater that day and stomp through the woods. I wore a orange florescent vest and carried a long staff, and I kept to the forest paths and let the “pro” beaters crash through the brambles and underbrush.
I saw roe deer, a couple stags, and a family of wild boar – the mother and her twelve babies ran across the path I was on, about fifteen yards from me! Behind me, across the field, a huge stag had broken off the group and was running towards the next forest over. What I didn’t see what Auguste – he was on the stag’s scent, and off he went. Out of the woods. Across the field. And away, and away. No one saw him – he’s so small. I didn’t see him – I saw the deer, but not the little dog. And so we went on and on, until the end of the hunt and the end of the day. Night was falling, the beaters gathered at the edge of the forest; the dogs were called and came trotting back, tongues lolling, panting, tired. I waited for Auguste, but he never showed up.
My husband and I were frantic. We borrowed a jeep and went back through the forest, driving down the paths, calling, calling – but still no Auguste. Three, four times around the forest. Night fell – we put on the headlights and drove. We stopped several times, got out of the jeep and called until we were hoarse. Where was Auguste? He would have barked had he been tangled in a briar somewhere (he’s such a wimp) or he would have barked if he heard us and needed our help. But not a sound. No jungle of his little bell, no bark. Just silence, and the sound of leaves falling like raindrops in the vast forest.
Heartsick, we left Stephane’s sweater beneath a tree blind at the meeting point. We left, had dinner, and went back twice that night – still no Auguste. We hardly slept a wink. Saturday morning and we rushed to look at our phones. Any messages? Auguste wears a bright orange collar with our phone number on it. But no messages. Our hearts were broken. Stef left for work. I started to do laundry – and then the phone rang. Auguste had been found on the highway! Miraculously unhurt, a good samaritain saw him, stopped and put him in her car and called us. She had to go to the city to do a what the French call “stage des points” to get points back for her driver license, so she took Auguste with her. He sat at her feet during the meeting, and at lunchtime, Stef came to pick him up and gave the woman a bottle of champagne as thanks!
Auguste came home as if nothing happened. I gave him a bath (he was filthy) and he slept for half a day. But today he’s up and trotting about and barking at me, telling me all about his wonderful adventure. I wish I could understand him – but I think he was telling me that he was never worried, he knew he’d be found, (this is about the fifth time he’s been lost and found again) – he is forever escaping and coming home either on his own, or with some kind person! A couple times it was the mailman who knocked on our door, holding Auguste under his arm, and saying, “I have a package for you!”
*I thought I’d explain that in France there are strict quotas for hunting and each property gets a certain amount of “bracelets” that they must afix to the hunted animal. But when the animals do a lot of damage to nearby crops, the farmers complain to the forest ministry, which has the power to organize an “extermination” hunt with no quotas. Our quota that day was one yearling red deer (male or female), one 2 yr old red deer (male), and as many wild boar (male) as could be shot. We ended up with & yearling doe and five wild boars, so not a bad day. All the animals are butchered and the meat is given to the hunters, beaters, and sold. We didn’t get any meat that day because we were busy hunting for Auguste – hopefully next time I’ll be able to fill my freezer; I rarely buy meat from the supermarket!