A chill clung to the edges of the air like a griffon’s claw. Summer never really got a foot in the door this year, and autumn is pulling faces at us already. “Good for the garden though,” as the Brits would say.
It was midday and I was hanging my washing out, which was in itself an act of audacious optimism. As I pegged soggy bits of cloth on the line, I spotted a fellow with a stick walking briskly down the track. Clouds followed him in pugnacious gangs, pushing impatiently at his back. The stick was raised. It waved. Then the man held his other hand aloft. It seemed to hold a plastic bag.
“Segundo!” I shouted.
“Pan. Tengo pan,” the man shouted.
I waved, stuck the last peg on the line, and walked down to meet him. Segundo is my nearest neighbour. He’s in his mid-seventies, and his name means “second” or “number two”, because...you guessed it: he’s the second born. Yonks ago, he and his wife built a charming stone cabin in the rocky folds of the hill we call Wuthering Heights. It’s the cutest cabin in the vicinity, all nobbled and nestled, with smoke pouring out of the chimney like something from a bygone tale. Segundo and Maribel don’t live here permanently, this is their holiday retreat. But since the pandemic they’ve been staying one heck of a lot, along with their 93-year-old mother.
“Quieres repollo?” I yelled as I passed my veggie patch.
“Si si!” The answer echoed round the slope. So I went into my huerta and cut him a nice fat cabbage. Because I like Segundo. He’s part of the place.
As I approached the slapdash creation that constitutes my gate, I remembered a funny conversation I’d had with Segundo a few months ago. It was bang at the end of the hunting season. I’m reminded of it now as I scroll through my newsfeed and witness the sheer magnitude of intolerance. Social media is largely antisocial these days. Just like the other media, it carves people into two-dimensional ideological caricatures either to market to them, or set them at odds with one another.
Segundo and I are very different. To describe us using media sound bites, I’m an animal-loving eco-hippy, he’s a septuagenarian family man and a hunter. If we were different versions of ourselves on Twitter, which I thank God we’re not, we’d either never meet because the algorithm would slice our worlds apart, or we’d be having it out in some righteous Twitter war.
Back here in the other world, the magical real world of nature and humankind, Segundo and I don’t fight. We talk, we laugh, we learn, and we share food too.
For many reasons I’m not the biggest fan of hunting. And with those words, I wonder how many people are now sticking me in a certain box, making assumptions, tutting and raising their eyebrows, or feeling happy and smug because they think I’m on “their” side. Sigh.
It’s a sad part of modern life that people seem unable to hold space for differing viewpoints. Personally I’m over it. Wait and hear the story folks before jumping to conclusions, two-dimensional conclusions The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, The Guardian or the Daily frigging Mail have inserted into everyone's noodle. Because neither I nor Segundo are cardboard cut-outs.
Back to the hunt. In truth I am lucky. Hunting rarely happens here. I hear a gunshot but once a year. Yet there was this day back at the end of February, the last hunt day of the season, when suddenly a gang of rifle-waggers decided this was where they’d wrap up the year’s activity. I realised something was up when I walked to my kitchen hut one morning, gazed up the hill, and saw what looked like a stout old man sitting on a chair. I couldn’t work out what he was doing there. Was he a bird watcher? Was he mad? Pulling out my binoculars, I engaged in a bit of good old fashioned spying. Yes, if I’d had curtains they’d have been twitching.
Squinting through the field glasses I saw the fold out camping stool. And a rifle. Glum was how I felt.
Connecting with the Boar
Suddenly there was a rumble and a roar. A convoy of jeeps drove up the hill and stopped at the top by the rotund man on the stool. Doors slammed and loud men appeared, cracking apart the silence of my world. I guessed they were hunting boar. We have them all over the place. I see where they’ve dug up the soil in search of roots and truffles. Ah the pig, such an interesting animal, so ungainly, and yet so implausibly nimble too. I like boar. But then I like all animals.
After a confab, the hunt caravan left the man on the hill with a walkie talkie and what looked like a set of binoculars. They jumped into their jeeps, dogs barking in their trailers. Off they sped down the slope, rattling and roaring. I noted the direction, knowing they were trying to corner off an animal.
So what did I do? Well as you know I’m a witch, so I sidled behind my barn to indulge in a spot of Earth whispering. He he he...
Sitting there quietly, hazels rustling overhead and sunlight warming my hair, I settled down and moved into that other place, that vast ocean of beauty where all is connected; hunters, wildlife and witches alike. In that great Gaian field I searched for the hunted animal. I felt a boar, and I sensed her fear as she raced through the undergrowth. Envisaging the path by the brook, I told her which way to run.
“Go to towards the mountains dear one, they’re all on the other side of the hill,” I whispered.
Boom! There was a shot. Then another. And finally a third. The noise ripped through my body so hard I jumped. Exasperated, I gave up my meditation and walked to my kitchen to spy again. It was then I noticed Segundo had appeared. I could see his silhouette up on the hill by the stout man, who was now leaning on his gun.
Before long the convoy of hunters returned, jeep wheels kicking up dust, trailers clanking. Doors slammed once more. There was chatter and shouting. And then, after some loitering, they all left. Peace and silence drifted down upon my world once more, and I felt my body lighten and soften in response.
Noticing Segundo striding down the track, I trotted down to my gate to catch him and his casket of gossip. He arrived, eyes gleaming, calf muscles rippling, because he’s a spritely chap is our Segundo.
“Did you see that fat man?” My vecino asked, scratching his silver goatee.
“Yes,” I replied. “Bit of a funny hunter.”
Segundo chortled and chortled. “Ah it was funny. I was standing behind him when I saw a boar running down that path behind your land. I pointed at it with my stick, and whispered ‘there, look!’, but the fellow was so hopeless he fired one shot and missed. He was so slow with the next two shots the boar got away. If it’d run off in the other direction the others would have caught it, but it ran off towards the mountains instead. They’re very cunning, those boar.”
Hanging onto the top of my gate, I laughed and laughed, before punching the air. “You know what? I did a meditation and told her to run that way.”
“Darn you!” Segundo shook his head. I chortled some more.
“That’s nature, sometimes the boar is lucky, sometimes you’re lucky,” I said, feeling my smile widen mischievously.
Segundo nodded and laughed. He waggled his walking stick like a long bony index finger. “Very true. Sometimes they win, sometimes we win. Pah, would’ve made a great bit of morcilla! Not that you’d eat that of course, because you’re a vegetarian. But vegetables have feelings too you know!” He grinned at the provocation.
“Well everyone draws the line somewhere. I mean you’re not eating cats or dogs are you? Why not? All meat, and it’s not like they’re endangered,” I replied, chuckling.
“True. True enough.” Segundo nodded. “But when one of those pigs gets your hens you’ll be laughing on the other side of your face, won’t you?”
I winced. “Fair point. I’d be really upset if it ate my hens.”
“And it’s not like we’re throwing the pigs away. We eat them.”
“Also true,” I said. “And I agree, hunting is a thousand times kinder than factory farming. At least the boar get to live a great life before they die.”
We both stood there for a moment. And it was a beautiful moment. A complicated moment. Delicate and deep. Because there are no simple answers to anything in this life. Our opinions and ideologies are narrow airless corridors we’ve built to hide from the mystery of our planet. The truth is so vast, colourful and sometimes painful, it is far beyond polarity.
For this. Against that. Vegan. Hunter. Veggie. Meat-eater. Left. Right. Polarities. Yawn. So many of them. Yet are they even human? Because in the real world of magic and nature, we all coexist. Diversity and difference are what life is all about.
Since the weirdness of 2020, we now have four semi-permanent clans of humans up here in our neck of the peaks. Each one of us holds wildly different viewpoints; there are Brexiteers and Europhiles, vegetarians, vegans, farmers, and hunters. There are Christians, witches, and atheists too, right-wingers, left-wingers, and system-sceptic eco-wingers. The truly entertaining part is how all those factions intersect and cross over in the strangest ways, with high-tech Christian vegans, and socialist hunters, which only furthers to blow the crass stereotypes apart.
Yes. Here in the real world Segundo the hunter invites his vegetarian foreign neighbour for dinner. Maribel always makes me something without meat, and I’m touched by this care and consideration for a part of me which is meaningless for them. But that’s because for the folk up on Wuthering Heights I am not primarily a socioeconomic class, or a political subset. I’m a vecino, a 3D human being, a part of this landscape. In return I feel affection for Segundo, more than I do for a lot of so-called 'like-minded' people I run into. This affection is of course what those polarized views seek to destroy, because powerful local communities are diverse ones with different characters and abilities all of which can be pooled. Thus I hear the hunter viewpoint, always knowing it’s just a part of a person, not the whole story. This is what it means to truly be human. Humankind. It has the word ‘kind’ in it.
If I were to choose who I would share my world with, it wouldn’t be some intolerant bunch of clones who think exactly like me, because heck, who am I? God? Anyone who’s halfway alive has changed their mind about something as they matured. So why all this clinging to the latest random ideology, when tomorrow we might think completely differently?
We think other people control us
Of course, differing views are not always easy. But what of value in life is? Some viewpoints are deeply unsettling for us, as ours are for other people. But this is because we still believe other people have control over us and our worlds, when they don’t. It’s because we still don’t stand in our power and create the reality we claim to want. So we feel attacked and afraid of other people’s thoughts and ideas, and often our fear only serves to fan the flames of what we’re afraid of. Don’t forget, the boar didn’t die on my watch. The gun failed in its mission. And I didn’t even post a judgemental meme on Facebook about it, never mind start arguing with a hunter. This is power. This is what people are being distracted from by pointless debate and argument (if they’re fortunate enough to be allowed to do that anymore).
Roll forward a few months. The sky has knitted the cumulus and nimbus together into a cloak of silver plumage. Our magical world huddles under it, wild boar, huntsmen, and witches alike. The air has teeth, but the land is warm and juicy. I lean over my gate. Segundo hands me the bag of dry bread for my hens. I hand him a slug-chewed cabbage. And off he marches, staff tapping the ground in rhythmic beats.
As I walk back up to my washing line, I see the bees plundering the dead nettle plants, and the goldfinch family flashing in and out of the trees. I recall one farmer has lost a cow to the wolves this week. Another has sent a few calves to slaughter. Two Egyptian vultures soar overhead in search of a carcass while a hawk flits into the gulch. I pass my beloved hens who are causing a snail much grief. I look for Hilde, but she’s hiding in a nest somewhere. Why? Because I’m stealing her eggs. Stopping off at the huerta once again, I yank a beetroot out of the ground and wonder how it feels about it.
Simple answers there are not. Complexity there is much of. And in and beyond that there is life and loss, all woven together by threads of beauty and wonder. This is an incredible planet; multidimensional, ever-evolving, brimming with light, dark, and mystery. But to experience the more mind-blowing landscapes, we have to leave both the tight tunnels of judgement and the complacent highroads of self-justification, and accept that basically we don't know. We have to strike out on riskier journeys through bramble-encroached woodlands and over rocky outcrops. We have to face aversions and fears and parry away false certainty. Because reality isn’t a for or against. It isn’t a single viewpoint, a headline, or something we saw on “the news”. It’s an infinity of possibility. Living. Growing. Expanding and Opening. Every. Single. Minute.
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.