By Heidi Trautmann
Hunting is, besides prostitution, the oldest ‘profession’ on our problem-plagued globe. While in the cave ages our ancestors hunted to nourish their families, later to defend their land or conquer new one for the ever growing tribes, the hunters of today hunt for…pleasure? Is it our understanding of sportsmanship to shoot out of a driving car, as I have witnessed it, here in the hills of Cyprus opposite our garden….onto birds?
The hunting season was just over when my husband brought home some very fresh quails still bleeding, smelling of the macchia they have lived in, small tiny bodies with the bullet holes still evident. He loves to eat quails. He used to hunt with his father but has given up on hunting long ago as he is not the person to shoot on living beings. My father, a writer living in Africa, was a hunter too, an honorary white hunter in Angola in the 1950s, when it was fashionable for the royals, millionaires and bestselling writers to go on safaris, and the white hunters were to choose the old and sick to offer them to the hunting trophy thirsting customers. So the passion for hunting is not unknown to me.
While I unpacked the small bodies I asked myself if it was a hypocritical attitude to eat the meat from birds – we do eat chicken and all other sorts of running birds – quails are no singing birds, and on the other hand condemn hunting them. I know of people who say I don’t eat meat coming from a farm, I only eat meat from the supermarket; I know of children in big cities who have never seen a cow alive. The fact is that we are omnivores although there are many vegetarians in our world but I must confess that I always have regarded them a little colourless and pinched mouthed by always having to defend themselves.
I rub herbs and spices all over the small things, they just fit into my hand, and fill the cavity with grated onion and apple pieces and stitch them up.
I love to get up early in the morning and go out into the garden and am happy to hear our birds singing. Oh, good morning, you are also up! Our Cypresses are populated by magpies and the black grey crows and their craw-craw is heard all over the day; buntings come in spring and swallows, many robins and masked shrikes and wheatears. In summer hundreds of sparrows assemble twice a day in the bougainvillea on the house and chat away. In front of my studio tiny birds suck juice from the blossoms of the aloe vera and distract me from my work. But where are the jays we used to have in the garden or the small owls in warm summer nights or the more rare guest, the hoopoes? Once I saved a jay which had bumped into a window pane. With a cold knife blade I flattened the bump on its head and held some ice on it until it came around again and I kept it near me for quiet a time, away from my cats. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a bird from so close? As a child I used to take the young birds which had fallen from their nests to the doctor to mend their legs and wings.
The early risers make my day sweet, also the francolin is heard from the hills with its distinctive uhu huh. When the hunting season is on around us in the hills and the early explosions of shots make me jump out of my bed, I run into the garden and call them, all the birds, to come and take refuge in our garden. Keep quiet, chums, the mad dogs are loose. They go after you to show how strong they are. They cannot fly and are jealous, you know, that is why they have to shoot you down.
In the meantime the quails are in the oven under the grill and a fragrance of wilderness fills the room.
Did you know that Cyprus is a fantastic place for birding? The migrators just fly over us as this is one of the major routes down south in autumn and towards north in spring. Many of them stay here for a while. It is a touching sight to see the cranes fly in formation when the time has come for them to leave, having rested at the salt lakes of the island for some months. You can watch around 350 species of which 50 are residents but wear something red in case it is hunting season.
The quails are ready. I make for them a lovely bed with the heads of roses, white and pink ones, with the petals falling off. I have told them of the birds in my garden and thank them for their sacrifice, sort of honouring them, just as the hunter of the Old Ages did.