Bilka, the herald of the forest

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Elusive and secretive, light as autumn haze and quick as a mountain creek, wild beasts shuttle through the barren landscapes beyond the limits of man’s formicaries. Invoked by fairy-tales and cave drawings, dancing in the fire light they have long inhabited our imagination but felt as distant as the mythical creatures that were once believed to roam the wilderness. Natural life documentaries and the sporadic glimpses of evasive wild animals while on a hike only reinforced that superstitious mysticism of their aura. We thought of them as the imperceptible ghost-keepers of the forest that wake up when the sun sets.

Several years of night walks off the beaten tracks dramatically changed our understanding of the wild beasts. We still see them as the forest guardians but the sense of their intangibility has slowly evaporated. The numberless tracks in the snow sometimes ornamented by gnawed bones, the fluorescent still eyes burning in green and reflecting our headlights, the shadows melting in between the trees and the orchestra of sounds filling the night have introduced us to the breathtaking theater of natural life.

These are not zoo animals, caged in fake homes and fed three times a day. They forage and hunt, they hide and they chase. And in the midst of their play we are often overtaken by fears and question whether we should consider ourselves privileged spectators or active participants. Do they fear us and roam around in safe distance taken by curiosity? Or can it be that our scent attracts them as tasty herbivorous prey? Don’t they wonder whether we are encroaching on their shrinking habitat aiming to extend further our settlements?

A limping shadow attacks our vegetables (Bulgaria)
A limping shadow attacks our vegetables stock (Bulgaria)

Going over the same questions one more time, vainly hoping to reach a definite conclusion, to our surprise the answer finally comes in a blurry shape. It literally runs towards us, its tongue sweeping in the air like a pendulum, one eye blue, and the other brown.  Caught in amazement we stand petrified for a moment but it takes a second for tomatoes, onions, peppers and bananas to fly towards the poor thing. Apparently on the brink of starvation she devours everything, without sparing even the banana peel. Fantastic! She is evidently vegetarian and we call her Bilka (meaning ‘herb’ in Bulgarian). We try to walk away but she follows us happily until we suddenly stumble across several caravans in the forest. Thinking that we have found food and maybe even a home for our new friend we approach them but access is denied. Bilka is apparently a hybrid between a dog and a wolf and she is not welcome around the fire and the roasting diner. Ragged and dirty we are accepted but the starving animal is subject to mockery and threatened with hunter’s guns. We walk away speechless and helpless accompanied by Bilka who steps proud and queenly, disregarding the smell of food despite of her hunger. The night sets, giving a way to a spectacular and devastating storm of pink and white lightening that explode around us like fireworks. The mountain cries in a wild rage.

Bilka (Bulgaria)
Bilka (Bulgaria)

The morning after Bilka is still around. She has protected us from the fury of the storm. We walk to the nearest village hoping that if we feed her properly she will gain strength and return to hunt in her home away from the menace of people and bullets. She flirts and dances with the cars on the road unaware of the dangers for her life, discovering a world that preconditions and presupposes her absence.  We reach the village successfully and Bilka has a meal under the shadow of a tree, ignoring the suspicious and unfriendly looks of the villagers. We continue in silent contemplation overwhelmed with sadness and concern for the life of an innocent little being doomed to live misunderstood in a hostile environment.  A consequence of the impossible love between a dog and a wolf, with one eye blue like the sky and another one brown like the depths of the forest, her image stays imprinted in our minds. Is she still alive? Did we help her or only prolonged her suffering? We wonder if we could have found a better way to express our gratitude to the beast that has striped us off our fears and showed us that it is mainly misunderstanding and unwillingness to go around it that lay at the bottom of any trouble.

We conclude that for the way, English, Russian or Arabic are not the only languages we will need to master.

Bilka - vegetarian breakfast (tomatoes)
Bilka – vegetarian breakfast (tomatoes)
Bilka - 6 km walk till we find food.
Bilka – 6 km walk till we find food.
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Boris, Marta and Burma roam the world at a speed of a snail. Two humans and one cat that found their way to India overland.

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