We could have been forgiven for thinking that Santa had come to our valley 7 months early (or 5 months late)...
A few days ago, we were taking a well-deserved lunch break on our terrace when we suddenly heard bells.
They were of the 'Rudolph the red nose reindeer' variety and they were coming closer.
We bounded off our seats and leaned over the railing of the terrace, our heads turned hard right towards the entry to the property.
Within seconds, 5 dogs appeared on our driveway: 4 beagles and 1 blood hound. Each dog had several small bells hanging from a collar around its neck. They were shortly followed by 4 men in boots and orange fluoro vests who carried two-way radios in their pockets and wore rifles over their shoulders.
The dogs were fine specimens, the hair covering their sturdy bodies clean and glossy. They hovered around our hedge for a while, pushing their noses into the greenery and bumping snouts in their eagerness to take on a scent. We wondered if they could smell the hare that had appeared there the day before.
The humans oozed the same level of excitement. Their steps were strong and deliberate and their faces tense as they called a distracted 'Buon Giorno!' to us. They didn't even take time to stop and talk, instead explaining in mid-step that they were hunting 'Cinghiale!' (wild boar).
Excitement must be contagious because very shortly we felt as exhilarated as these strangers in our valley.
But as animal and man moved off, we slunk back to our seats to ponder the concept of hunting.
As Australians, we are well aware of the fox hunts that are still conducted in England today. We'd always been critical of blood sports. Our conversation went along these lines for the next half hour. In the end we agreed that there was something different about hunting a wild boar to eat. Italians hunt for food. Since they have such a deep respect for food, it seemed easy to justify hunting for this purpose.
The bells hung in our valley for the next hour. Sometimes they would sound close by, perhaps in our vines or down at the creek. And sometimes they would seem at a distance, possibly on our neighbour's property or in a secondary valley.
At one point, the bells came very close. There was a cacophany of noise only metres away from our seats on the terrace. This time, we jumped up and pounced on the gap in the stone wall to try to see something. The men were calling loudly to each other constantly; their two-ways scratching frequent messages. We wondered if the purpose of this constant communication was to minimise their chances of being accidentally shot.
We could feel the tension. Our hearts pumped faster. The hairs on the backs of our necks stood up in anticipation of a gun shot. Every few seconds a dog would come into our limited view as it bounded through the long grass, clearly chasing 'something'. The men would yell louder, the dogs would bark stronger and the bells would tingle faster.
So it was strange that, when a volley of gunshots finally rang through the valley, we suddenly felt guilty and lonely.
At that moment, we hoped above all else that the bullets had missed their target.
It was one of those times when I truly wished it had been Christmas and that the visitors to our valley really had been Santa and his reindeers.