Just beneath the surface of our tiny commune – our little protected
natural paradise – there have long been undercurrents: a movement
or rumbling that has gathered momentum, and burst forth as a rupture.
A week ago, on the morning of June 26th, we were woken by a barrage
of gunfire resounding through the forested valley, leaving no doubt
that an execution was taking place. Not only is the hunting season
closed, and the rounds expended far in excess to any form of hunting
practice: the hour itself was telling.
Yet who could miss the cacophony, and fail to see the signs that
sealed the fate of 21 cows (many newborn calves), before breakfast
and adjacent, as shots rang out in our front field – instead of
the familiar melody of cowbells, the silence has been punctuated
by mournful braying as survivors search for their young, roaming
the forest, calling to no avail.
Yet what is to be done? An affair that was sanctioned and swept
under the carpet polarises opinion and tears at the fabric of
community spirit, for those with the loudest voices have
triumphed and the cows were not invited to discussions. The
underlying debate is that they damage the environment and are
a danger, as it can’t be proved they are vaccinated. They roam
freely, at liberty on the road, as in the forest and open fields,
to eat wildflowers and unfenced gardens alike.
So much a regular feature of this area, they are represented in
the guidebook for this region as a unique race, in danger of
extinction – Vaches des Albères, Bos taurus – part of the
intrinsic fabric of the ecosystem, and happily coexisting
with the rest of the fauna that occupies the mountains.
There are many facets to the debate as creation and destruction
cannot be separated – undergrowth is both ‘cleared’ and ‘destroyed’
depending on our view of what constitutes ‘benefit’ or ‘nuisance’,
and what side of the fence we come from. As the ‘wild’ cows were
willed away, their place was immediately occupied by a local
farmer’s herd who enjoy all the liberties of every inch of the
mountain, and the properties of its inhabitants – eating from
the same plate as their ‘Spanish cousins’, the only difference
is that they have the stamp of authority that validates their
wanderings as ‘acceptable’.
Political affiliations are the all-important threads that bind
agreements and support private interests: fraternité, the power
to mobilise a force that represents a majority yet not a democracy,
and égalité, an ideal that cannot be reached when paradoxes are so
flagrantly present – yet not represented – for on the surface
‘all is well’ as butterflies flit from flower to flower and
hushed voices recall a horror that happened right here, yet
cannot be mentioned for reasons of fear and social repercussions;
‘after all, they’re our neighbours’.
So a sense of helplessness pervades – are we not culpable if we
turn a blind eye? How can the balance be readdressed to air a
fair case? On one side, a community who defend their property
and their right to vote, on the other, nature that failed to
comply as fences were not erected to define their domain – their
right to a piece of Les Albères that we share – hectare upon
hectare enjoyed by one and all, with hardly a barrier, for
nature knows not such laws.