A Regal Presence
Many people consider the king of the Jungle to be the Lion and he may be, but in the forests around Munich – Ebersberger Forest, Perlacher Forest, Forstenrieder Park – it is the Wildschwein who reigns. In addition to being strong and fierce, I learned one hot summer afternoon that he is also a considerate host.
My friend and I had interrupted our cycling tour to slip into the fragrant shadows of the Grünwalder Forest to get away from the heat. We chose a shady spot near a hurricane fence, which we knew sequestered a territory of unknown size to protect the Wildschwein from cyclists who spent their breaks trying to catch glimpses of them. Just inside the fence stretched a lumpy field of deep puddles and huddled roots steeping a copse of half-dead trees the rest of the way to death in that black muck. No doubt about it, the Wildschwein had been at work sawing up the earth with its regal tusks to get the forest floor just the way he wanted it, a malleable ooze suitable for fulfilling the richest destiny on Earth, a good wallow in the mud on a hot summer’s day for the lord of the forest.
His arrangement is conspicuously ideal: Without any adjustment whatsoever, Master Schwein can divert wallowing to dredging for roots and worms, then collapse back to be received by the supportive mire when dredging becomes less than delicious. It’s cool despite the midsummer swelter, and the earth and water create a seductive micro-atmosphere redolent of, not unpleasantly, mushrooms and dirt. Yes, my high opinion of the wild boar is unshakeable. He is sedate, elegant, clever, and content to lie for hours doing nothing at all when in fact there is nothing to do. This wise fellow requires neither budget nor the means to husband to keep within one.
Determined to see this king, I began to intone the fail-safe universal incantation humans learn as children. Simple but effective, it sounds like this: Here Animal, Here Animal. It works for any wild creature as long as you substitute the official name awarded the creature a long, long time ago. No Boscos, Tuffys, Spots, or Fidos will do; only the helpless dog responds to such tripe – and gets ridiculously excited about it to the indignity of master and servant alike. Here and now, the appropriate incantation was, Here Piggy, Here Piggy (leeway granted for diminutives in acknowledgement of the human tendency towards obnoxious familiarity). And needless to say, the charmed incantation works only when you’re alone or with trusted companions. Among the snide and the streetwise, your concentration will fail and so must the charm, and you will come away ignominiously discredited. However, even within the right company, you must chant a certain way, quite casually to convey the impression that you know they’re in there and that you also really don’t mind if they don’t present themselves at all, because you know they have better things to do.
If you do all that properly – and I did – before you know it, and it happened, the greatest of them all – the sire of the herd – will wander out to take a look at you. And so it happened in my case. Within just a few minutes, the most regal Wildschwein emerged from the underbrush into the dappled light, his massive, sleek body covered with long, straight, coarse hairs, thatched as well here and there, and not to his discredit, with thick crusts of primordial mud. Steadily he came on as I murmured my simple spell, closer and yet closer, until he came to a perfect standstill, lethargic as a hunk of lead, four feet from the fence to direct at me just beyond a long-suffering gaze.
Let me interrupt here to interject a few tips on addressing the Wildschwein in his habitat, fence or no fence, should you ever get the opportunity. You don’t want to end up in a race of some sort with him for any reason. You don’t want him using his tusks for anything other than sawing up woodlands into generous patches of mire for lazy baths. You don’t want to pet him. Scratching him with a stout stick would be more appropriate, but he can do that for himself when he wants to and better, and moreover he will; he does not require volunteers. And you don’t want to squat down and look him in the eye. What you can do is get off your bike and incant your charm through the hurricane fence and you will be awarded by the presence of the most intelligent of them all who will lumber up to find out what in the world you’re trying to do.
Do not betray surprise or excitement. Do not break your charm. Continue talking softly. Ask how things are. You might mention the weather. Say things you would say to just anyone, then ask him something really pertinent, like how those puddle baths are, anyway, and if they suffocate the fleas or force them all up over the water line to a spot where a fellow can finally get at them with those tusks.
The undivided attention he awards you casts quite a spell in its turn over you. Suddenly you find your most profound secrets being pulled from you. You wax philosophic, pondering why people don’t spend hot summer afternoons bathing in the mud instead of perched on bicycle seats for long, tedious hours dressed up like Mr. Peanut.
It is at this point that you begin to discern in the creature’s steadfast silence his true magnificence. Unruffled by the raw ideas you slap down there in the mud, he receives your checkered chatter as Half Dome absorbs sunrays and moonbeams in turn. No backtalk. No flinching. No grunting. Just pure absorption. Never have you had such a listener. But greater proof of his quality is yet to come.
When you are done – which is a lot sooner than you expect, considering you shared your deepest thoughts on just about everything – you say goodbye and bow out of the forest to disappear into a blazing shimmer of sunlight. And only then do you realize, that he’s standing there still. Only after you sling yourself up onto the saddle and creak off, do you discern movement behind the leaves. He has turned, entered his mire, and flung himself into the mud with a groan.
That brave fellow didn’t leave until I did.