It had been a scorching hot day, but the earth was yielding up its store of heat, and the vineyards were blotted out in darkness.

As we passed the horses’ paddock on our right there was barely enough light in the sky to lend a sheen to their coats, but we could just make them out in the gloom. They were standing alongside each other, heads to rumps, gently swishing their tails.

A little way ahead at a bend in the road was a faint smudge of grey on the darkness. It could have been one of those rocks daubed with whitewash that serve as road markers in rural France, but I sensed that it wasn’t, and soon enough the little rock began to bark.

We couldn’t see our antagonist, who had retreated onto his masters’ territory, but the noise was more of a yap than a bark and could only have come from a small breed of dog. It was loud and insistent, however, and followed us as we passed in front of the farm and for minutes afterwards as we walked away down the road.

10 minutes later we came back the other way and the barking started up again. But then it stopped, and I heard the pitter patter of claws and a short, tubby little thing emerged out of the shadows into the orange light of the lamppost.

He had the silky ear flaps of a jack russell, but with a longer snout and narrower skull, and protuberant eyes that gave him a cute and comical air suggesting both alertness and a kind of meekness congruent with his diminutive size.

I got down on my haunches and the little fellow came up to me, grateful no doubt to be relieved for a moment from his solitary vigil.  His tufted stump of a tail didn’t wag, but he did seem to enjoy our attentions. There was something very touching in this nocturnal encounter, and as I stroked his back beneath the stars there was a special feeling of trust and mutual acknowledgment, the sense that – despite the gulf of ignorance that sets us apart – the need for love and fellowship is shared by all God’s creatures.

Correns, July 2018