Updated: Oct 19, 2019
The wolves appeared last summer. It’s the first pack in Bélý for as long as anyone can remember. Our friend Wilem said they panicked his horses one night, leaving a mare with deep scratches on her flank. He has seen them at dusk, and reckons there are six of them.
Wilem is also very clear on one issue – the wolves, he says, have no place in the modern landscape. As predators they were superseded early in the 20th century by humans, who fulfil the super-predator role by bagging deer, boar and mouflon with guns (something of a national pastime). Meanwhile, the wolves cause sleepless nights for farmers, smallholders and horse owners, and make people afraid to venture into the woods.
Distracted by an image of a Czech Little Red Riding Hood, I was aware that I had stumbled into A Contentious Issue. But it’s better to stumble head-first than arse-first, as my old Uncle Aphorism used to say.
It seems to me a typical human arrogance to rule against the return of a native animal in favour of a sportsman’s gun. The arrogance is compounded by the scapegoating of a predator who would far rather keep out of sight than launch attacks on our loved ones and steal the hard-won sandwiches from under our noses. But, found guilty of possessing big teeth and a suspicious habit of howling at night, the wolf struggles to elicit any sympathy.
I attempted to verbalise this notion in a concise way, but found my wine-fuelled tongue comparing it to the current political scaremongering surrounding Muslims in Czechia. They are demonised, and preventing them from taking root in the country has become an important foundation for any populist political soap box. The dozen or so Muslims actually living here must know how those half dozen Bélý wolves feel.
This lefty wittering didn’t go down too well. After all, I was a foreigner myself, from a country that keeps bunnies as pets rather than food, so how could I possibly understand? It’s okay, I said, I speak fluent Racism – it’s an international language.
So, asked Wilem, Are you saying I’m being racist against wolves?
Yes, I said. The Muslim wolves, at least.
It was meant to break the ice, but merely nudged the glacier.
Deep snow, invisible wolves
None of which altered the fact that there are wolves in the Bélý hills. It’s a subject we’ve learned to steer clear of now, as two other people – every bit as intelligent and thoughtful as our music-teacher friend Wilem and his family – have agreed that there is simply no place for wolves in the human landscape. The hills and fields of Bélý may look bereft of humanity for most of the time, but it’s still a wholly owned, managed landscape. Lines were drawn long ago, I was advised, and the wild predator line ends at the fox. EU legislation encouraging the rewilding of Eastern Europe, and the return of wolves, lynx and bears, does nothing to change the fact that the world has changed, and the top end of the food chain is now managed by humans alone. No migrant worker wolves required, thank you very much.
Imagine if it was brown bears, our friends said. Would a small population of Ursidae be as acceptable as six Bélý wolves? It was a good point, I had to admit. The dogs get themselves in a flap over a passing cat; a bear would give them heart attacks.
Nasty things lurking in the snow
Meanwhile, I’ve looked out for the wolves every day for the past month. In my mind’s eye I see them running darkly across the snow between the trees on the steep hillsides. No actual sign of them so far, though.
We’ve been buried under a metre of snow since new year, and by now, after a bit of melting and several fresh snow blankets, the piles of white stuff are looking as layered and complex as a small cliff face. Saffy and Fido have begun unearthing frozen dog poo in the garden, dark and solid like toxic trilobites, deposited by themselves a month ago and now lying two feet under. They are able to do this due to the increased garden access facilitated by the installation of a garden-facing door in our rapidly transforming living room.
This room received six new windows last week, and the walls are being plastered even as I write. There’s a lot of wall, though, and combined with the need for new floor, ceiling, stove and heating, it’s all still a month or so away from that moment when we can say, without a hint of irony “Let’s go and sit down in the living room”.
The snow has only kept the builders away for one day so far, on a snow-heavy morning when the newly added layers caused the tarpaulin on our two makeshift woodsheds to rip and collapse, dumping a ton of ice onto the supposed fuel below. The fact that we had originally hoped to have this part of the house finished a year and three months ago is neither here nor there.
The snow has caused surprisingly few problems for our car, weaned on the anaemic winters of England but now equipped with Czech winter tyres. It was only on the aforesaid super-snowy day that Magda thought she was going to be stranded, just over the hill from Bélý in the village of Machov. Deciding to leave the car there, it was, she said, the thought of a 25 minute walk over the snowy hills in the dark, with the possibility of wolves, that dissuaded her. She risked the ice instead, and made it home avoiding ditches and carnivores alike.
And it did make me think yet again of the wolves, and our ambiguous attitude to them. Like prodigal sons, they might be on the way back; but they shouldn’t expect a very warm welcome.
The black blob having a crafty poo in the centre of the pic is Saffy, not a wolf…