By: MARGARET BROWN
A STATE OF mild anarchy seems to be driving the local hunters as they lurk in the scrubland waiting for something warm blooded to come within range.
Two weeks ago, on a Thursday, I set out for a walk while the birds were still wiping the sleep from their eyes and saw a group of cars and 4X4 vehicles parked just above a nearby animal sanctuary. Because I had three dogs with me only one of which was mine, I turned for home. Several types of cartridges were in use, some sounding like mini howitzers, others like the crack of a whiplash – the space between my shoulder blades felt very vulnerable.
Later that morning, we saw a man and his dog walking the ridge above our house and told him that he was too close. With that he raised his gun, pointed it just clear of the property and fired. On the same day some friends living higher up the hill also had a brief exchange with a possé of sporting gentlemen wandering up their drive and there was an angry exchange of views.
Dangerous things guns in the wrong hands and accidents will happen but the person who is armed holds all the aces and it is unproductive to call out the Guarda Nacional Republicana because, by the time they arrive, all is quiet. It is worth noting that under Decreto-Lei (Decree-Law) Nº: 173/9921/09/1999, Article 18, “Conditional Hunting” it is prohibited without consent of the owner to hunt within 250 metres of: walled land, farms, parks and gardens attached to habitable houses.
It takes a lot of courage to quote this while looking up the barrel of an unbroken gun. Fortunately, the majority of Os Caçadores are quite reasonable people.
Similar encounters sometimes occurred between horse owners and the shooting fraternity where we lived in Somerset, England. Animosity bred through fear and resentment resulted in a guerrilla war of considerable staying power: fought within the local forest and an adjacent stretch of down land neither side would give way, each certain of their freedom to roam.
On officially recognised shooting days, small groups of men took advantage of their legal right to hunt partridge, farm bred pheasant and anything woolly and edible, while most riders aimed to avoid the area.
At other times it was not unknown to come across someone hunting illegally. Because their clothes blended with the vegetation, they were almost invisible among the sun dappled or rain sodden shadows beneath the trees.
A rider might be slopping along with the horse uncollected, reins hanging loose and both blissfully at ease, and a shot fired at close quarters was enough to produce the desired result. To be carted by a runaway horse through the middle of a thick forest was both frightening and dangerous; to be dumped in the mud and see one’s transport disappearing out of sight meant a long walk home.
Here at home, we have been in trouble on the computer front. Sometimes we could receive but not send mail, on other days we were completely cut off. Broadband, for which our valley community petitioned long and hard, has proved a frustrating acquisition. Likewise Sapo are seemingly unable to deliver the service for which we pay month by month.
It is a hit and miss affair revealing how dependent we have become on something we can neither see nor control: a system that withdraws its services without warning and then denies responsibility.
Overseas mail might travel more quickly in a Diplomatic bag on a slow boat to China or for reliable local deliveries, should we revert to the Pony Express?
During the two World Wars, Carrier Pigeons saved thousands of lives as they took vital messages from various locations to battle headquarters and that when flying through adverse weather conditions, shrapnel and gunfire. The electronic post continues to feed our demand for instant results but when the service disappears, it produces withdrawal symptoms like any other addiction.
To get away from it all we took a drive in the countryside last week with no particular destination in mind other than to have a change of scenery. With the Boss at the wheel of his comfortable old hatchback and wall to wall sunshine, it felt like a short holiday.
Bared of nearly all their greenery, the desiccated hilltops were naked red in parts, like the head of a balding man too long in the sun, but in reality they were scalped three years before by an all consuming wildfire.
Interspersed by valleys where streams had gone underground for the summer, only two years previously a flash flood had carried away plots of vegetables and small orchards as well as inundating the houses in the village up to shoulder height.
As we enjoyed our coffees outside a small bar, the Portuguese owner told us of their trials during both disasters and although few signs of damage remained, for her the memory would never fade.
We talked against a noisy background of a mechanical digger, cement mixer and men shouting as they constructed a concrete runaway and two large culverts under the road. Water rushing down from the hills would now be diverted away from the hamlet into a dry riverbed, where the flood line was still visible from the last storm.