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On a walk through the forest, in Oberlausitz near the Czech border.

While taking a long hike through a local forest this afternoon, in the teeth of a bitter wind and some driving snow, we came across a long run of these:

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They ran for a few hundred metres along a track deep in the forest, spaced out at an even distance, here in the Oberlausitz region of Saxony, which is close by the Czech and Polish borders.

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‘Look at those tracks’, I said. ‘Do you think they’re from a wolf?’

‘Nah, that’s a big dog’, Christina said. ‘Shit, it’s big though’.

‘Are you sure?’ I said.

‘You can see that it’s on a lead’, she said.

I wondered about the absence of human footprints along a muddy track and the  long lope between prints. She wondered about the size of the middle pad and the long claw marks at the front of the print, not to mention the size of an animal that would leave such deep prints.

Back at our lodgings by dusk and slowly warmed up again, we decided to check on wolves in this area.

The results: this is the favoured area for wolves returning to Germany, after an absence of 150 years!

Why? It is a relatively sparsely populated region, with 20,000 hectares of forests, open country, moors and heathland. And there’s plenty of game, since too many deer roam the forests. In fact, a wolf pack lives right here, initially a handful but now with cubs born every year. It all began about ten years ago, when a pair decided to cross the border from the mountains in Poland and set up a new home hereabouts. They mated and had two female cubs. Now known as One Eye and Sunny, they found mates, reproduced, and so the pack has expanded year by year. The young males born have set out to find new territory, roaming throughout the eastern parts of Germany and then as far as Jutland and the Netherlands. And now they are meeting up with some of their Mediterranean cousins from Italy and France. Apparently, a wolf can travel up to 200 km of an evening.

Given the German propensity to have everything managed, neatly and carefully, there is a ‘Wolf Office‘ right here, with all the information you might or might not want.

So yes, they are wolf tracks. A match for the wild boar spoor we saw yesterday.

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For some reason, it’s almost impossible to avoid the temptation to set off walking in Oberlausitz. In the end it matters little whether the sun is shining,

Or snow is falling.

At first it was perhaps 10 km per day, passing through dark and ancient forests:

Over moss-covered pathways:

Or by tribal gathering places:

And then the hikes lengthened, to 12, 15 and 20 kms a day. We glimpsed cottages as we passed:

Or across ploughed fields:

We pondered what vivid dreams might be conjured by the fungi:

And admired the strength of German bridges:

We were puzzled by shrines to the local gods found by the wayside:

Or the patterns of shadow on a forest floor:

But over the last few kilometres the path always seems endless:

Until at last one may rest tired feet and taste that heavenly German drink:

Oberlausitzer Küche: try any eatery – of which there are less than a handful – and you find variations on the same basic menu. The farmer’s breakfast is loaded with butter, cheese, potatoes and onions. The half-dozen offerings of dead pig (schweinefleisch), arse of a cow (rumpsteak) and fish (fisch) come loaded with butter, cheese, potato and onions. The turkey (pute) is chopped in small pieces and cooked in a sauce with butter, cheese, potato and onions. The other version of dead bird (huhn) is chopped in small pieces and surrounded by butter, cheese, potato and onions. Even the international dish, Hawaiian Toast, with its innovative introduction of pineapple and ham has, yes, butter, cheese, potato and onions. So what are the variations? It all depends on the skill of the cook. The turkey may be tender or tough; the dead pig tender or stringy; the arse of a cow, chicken and even the fish may be tender or as tough as old leather. No wonder the lovely locals are a little on the solid side.