Good grief! This new discipline is positively out of control. Day three and still no signs of being distracted from the task in hand. Or head. Or wherever on earth I’ve got it stashed.
Wednesday. Not wordless for me, I’m afraid. Rather I thought I might devote Wednesday to Wanderings. I thought about making it a day to share walks but decided that, being somewhat discursive by nature, that I would inevitably stray from the path. Wandering, on the other hand gives scope for excursions other than walks – a junket here, a jaunt there, a foray and a forage. Much more pleasing to one as naturally meandering as I.
Words to accompany these expeditions may be many or may be few but I do promise lots of pictures which may or may not please the eye. I’m of the little lauded ‘Myopic Point and Shoot School of Photography’ so be gentle … I don’t profess any excellence, simply enthusiasm.
Today’s little ramble was more than four years ago when I was first living here in Massachusetts. We subsequently returned to France for eighteen months and I commenced my present life here two years ago.
Arriving anywhere in winter gives a naked narrative to the unfamiliar landscape. Nothing is hidden, all is laid bare and it is a season I love for that reason. Three things struck me immediately about this place: the water, the light and the sheer volume of trees. Fortunate since water, trees and light are three abiding succours of my soul.
This set of pictures was taken in the Assabet Wildlife Reserve which is literally on our doorstep. I share them with you for a flavour of what I mean by water, trees and light. This triptych captivated me then and still does now. In winter, they are particularly lovely to my eyes. But in honesty, they are particularly lovely to my eyes in Spring, in Summer and in Autumn also.
Weak rays of sunshine burnish the trees and the water reflects them back at us. One tree is seemingly suspended like a diving acrobat, refusing to succumb to the ground to rot and feed it’s still living compatriots.
Late afternoon light provides a satin lustre to the wetland and the sky silken above deepens as it lights the water beneath
Nature snoozes but never truly sleeps ….
The rosy gleam of the setting sun shimmering on a natural mirror
A long-legged lumber man silhouetted against his eternal landscape
PS: the unavoidable PS: The title is a line from Emily Dickinson’s lovely ‘There’s a certain Slant of Light’. Dickinson was from Massachusetts, born in Amherst, directly west of here. She captures her place quite perfectly.
If you’ve taken even a cursory interest in my drivel over the past however long, you will know that I wander around a lot both actually and metaphorically. A friend from my teeny tiny tot-rearing stage recently commented on FaceBook that she never knows where I am. Tempted though I am to serenely claim that I am being mysterious and elusive, the truth is that I generally have no idea quite where I am, what I am doing nor where I am going.
Appearances are often deceptive and I know that I am a confusing condundrum. I present as ultra-outgoing and sociable but the truth is, that although I find it quite easy to be the happy-go-lucky life and soul of the gathering, I am in fact rather the hermit and I certainly need time to recharge and that time is generally taken alone.
Enter my wanderings. I walk muchly and often as a solitary bee (with the noble and frankly ego-centric exception of The Bean and of course, when available, a goodly dollop of husband) and I find my re-set button pressed gently and effectively when I do.
Friends, true friends, I have few and, in keeping with, I believe, many, Social Media has interfered with this natural equilibrium. I partake less and less in the babbling noise, the king for a day, something to say because I am a self-invented expert-ness of it. I will flatter myself that I was rather good at it but it is akin, I think to rather good at tooting cocaine … it falsely bolsters you up and erodes your olafactory receptors to the detriment of having a decent pair of nostrils with which to twitch and inhale sensitively your surroundings. It has a place, of course it does (Social Media, not cocaine) but I think we really do need to be a little careful of this creeping addiction. And the way in which it induces behaviours that we would not normally indulge in. Think selfies and I will rest my case. For the avoidance of doubt there are those of you here in this blogging place, where we actually give some thought to what we are spewing out, that I do consider friends even though we have never met.
I do have a few lifers. I use the word wisely, for it surely must be some sort of sentence to be embraced wholeheartedly to my bosom and kept there. One such is JimPig. He came to me through a husband who was to prove diabolically damaging but The Pig stayed and I am glad he did. When we met, I already had a daughter and he had a son. I taught his son to skateboard. This made them both happy. My girlie was shy of 18 months old when we met and I made him her honorary Godfather. He bought her a chocolate stegasaurus from Harrods which stood on her special things shelf for years until she took it to a ‘show and tell’ aged 6 and the teacher confiscated it because it was chocolate, stashed it in her cupboard from where it fell on the floor when the door was opened and smashed into irrepairable pieces. The head teacher gave the 6 year old a ruler from Australia as a consolation. It didn’t work. My daughter is still stinging from the loss of her precious dinosaur – the scars will stay for her lifetime, doubtless.
JimPig is probably the greatest waste of academic talent I will ever meet. I hope he is because any greater would be dreadfully sad. Not that he is sad. His grandfather died when he was a Trinity Dublin under graduate and left him a legacy which was just enough to live a simple life on. A selfish life some would say. He is a linguist. He speaks eight languages fluently. Not that he will ever admit he is fluent. Linguists are like that. He looks like ‘Where’s Wally’ (that’s Waldo if you are from the US side of the Atlantic and as I am reminded by the quite marvellous Mel (of France Says) in the comments and one whom I certainly consider a friend ‘Ou est Charlie’ in France). Uncannily like him to the extent that when Wally was at the height of his sneaky powers sometime in the 1990s I walked into a large bookshop in Oxford and asked for the lifesize cardboard marketing Wally which they duly allowed me to bear delightedly away and stash in the boot of my Volvo three weeks later. The Pig feigned delighted when I presented it to him as a gift. I am sure it was feigned because I don’t think he either knew who Wally was or cared to find out.
It was the aforementioned daughter who christened him JimPig and no-one, least of all she, knows why. She was two years old at the time which is forgiveable. The rest of us were clearly not concentrating which may be less forgiveable. On her eighteenth birthday she had an interview for a London college and I suggested that we have grown-up lunch at the place of her choosing and invite The beloved Pig. She chose a very fashionable Italian restaurant for the flimsy and entirely defenceable-at-eighteen reason that it was known as a fertile celebrity hunting ground. We were late. There was a blizzard and we were tottering on foolish heels on frozen Mayfair pavements which I find iron hard and unforgiving at the best of times. When we arrived there was a rather tatty bike chained to the railings outside. We made eye-contact, nodded and mouthed ‘Pig’ in unison. Inside we were relieved of our chic designer tweed coats in which instants before we had been proud to be seen but which all of a sudden made us feel like hulking hicks from sticksville on account of the frankly frightening volume of furs that adorned the unfeasibly high-cheekboned, skinny thighed, sky-scraping legged Slavic ladies being lunched by slavering red-faced pinstripes quietly drooling across tables far too tightly squooshed into the odd interior of this modish canteen which included an incongrous porthole with views of raging seas behind it. It had the effect of inducing a sort of hypnotic nausea which seemed rather inappropriate in an eatery. In the midst of this, entirely oblivious to his contradictory appearance was The Pig. Wearing worn to softly transparent chinos and battered converse high-tops and with his shiny anorak on the back of his stylish but clearly, from his air of sitting on a wasp, wholly uncomfortable chair and his wreck of a rucksack stashed on another he was reading Herman Hesse in Italian. Because he could and because it was an Italian restaurant. The staff were clearly bewildered by this apparition. Was he so rich that he simply didn’t need to care what others thought, or was he truly a tramp? We sashayed over and joined him, landing proper smackers on his waiting cheeks – no air kisses shall pass on my shift absorbing but ignoring the collective startled intake of breath from the other, clearly far more sophisticated than we, diners. As it turned out lunch was mediocre but the company was divine. The Pig is hyper smart and raises you to levels of mental agility that are simultaneously stimulating and exhausting. When the bill came I was rendered white at the gills appalled … I was paying and it was twice plus some what I had expected. Of course I seamlessly effected nonchalence but kept the receipt and on checking at home discovered that each and every one of the small bottles of water we had drunk had cost £10. I counselled the daughter earnestly and urgently that in future it would be far better if she always insisted on the finest vintage champagne … I know for a fact from her friends and her husband that she took this sage advice earnestly to heart.
PS: The quote is from Herman Hesse’s 1920 work Wandering:’Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.’ My picture is of Grenoble which is my home for the moment. I have read Wandering only in English, The Pig has, quite naturally, read it in several languages. It is only when I consider the cover now that I realise The Pig looks rather like Hesse.
The Pig, by the way, like my two brained husband has no Social Media accounts. Interesting. Perhaps. Do we think?
PPS: I couldn’t possibly write a piece in response to a challenge called ‘Wanderlust’ (the full library of noble entries here) without adding this moment from ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ … I quite simply couldn’t – enjoy.
Up in le massif de la Chartreuse where the boozy monks make their famed green elixir, we happened on these perfect primevères perkily posing on the muddy, rocky, thorny path up to Mont Rachais. I love Primrose and can never see them without being reminded of the supposedly curmudgeonly Queen Victoria. When Benjamin Disraeli died, amongst all the extravagant floral tributes was a simple wreath of Primrose with the message ‘His favourite flowers’ written in the Queen’s hand. An unlikely pairing – she the Monarch, he a Jewish novelist, and we are not talking heavyweight tomes here but rather the Victorian precursor to a celebrity memoir with a heavy emphasis on the gossipy, with not an aristocratic bone in his body they nonetheless shared a true and deep friendship that had nothing to do with his being her first minister though I am sure it helped the process immensely. He loved primroses, and wrote to her ‘I like them so much better for their being wild’ a fact with which I am wholly as one with him. The untamed, the untarnished, the unfettered have always called loud to me. There is something remarkable about flora and fauna that survive and thrive with no interference from human(un)kind … a reminder that often the best way is to leave well alone.
I have no particular reason for sharing my simpletons philosophy except that the picture was taken on my road travelled, not the one less travelled by, which is my preferred route but the one I am choicelessly taking with every breath, every heartbeat, every step of this one little life I am living through and in which I try to be as tolerant and uninhibiting as possible for the rather dull and untrumpetworthy reason that I actually do not believe I am any more important than anything on this earth we call home. Certainly no better than the brave primevère blooming in February at 1,100 metres altitude. In fact put like that, I’m rather feeble in comparison, I would aver.
PS: The title is plucked from Hamlet. Ophelia genially berates her brother Laertes, reminding him that he should refrain from pontificating whilst he himself blithely flies in the face of his own wisdom.
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven, Whiles, like a puffed and reckless libertine, Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads, And recks not his own rede.
If the cap fits, wear it but it’s probably better to tighten your hatband and admit that casting those boulders in fragile huts of glass does nothing whatsoever to enhance one’s credibility.
PPS: If you ever get the chance, do visit Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire (Disraeli’s home) and if you can make it in early spring you will be treated to a carpet of primrose that will melt your heart. I promise. The promises of nature, you see are only broken when she is tampered with.
I could have called this post ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ which, if you are British you will know instantly is an old saying from the North of England that means ‘where there’s sh*t, there’s money’. But given that many of my readers are not British and on account of the much more important fact that I wanted to give you all a bonus at the end for being SO patient with me as I clawed my way back from the arrid desert of a dastardly writer’s block, I have opted for the title above.
The image was taken in April when we were back in our beloved Cantal for a few days and took the opportunity for a longish hike which promised a waterfall.
Alert as ever, my bat-like hearing was teased by a low humming which rose steadily to a gutteral grumble and finally a spluttering roar as rounding a corner on the craggy track we were ambling along, I was confronted by this. A tractor with a tank on the back spraying cow dung on the field. Muck spreading in fact. Actually, I should say that our olfactory glands were alert to the identity of the machine long before we spied him.
I will forgive you for wondering what on earth this has to do with the weekly photo challenge this week titled Jublilant. Even for me, this might seem a stretch. But bear with, do. In France the farmers always look positivily euphoric when they get the opportunity to splash some dung about. They sit in the cabs of their tractors with beatific smiles seemingly wafted to an odorous corner of paradise. I have no explanation for this. Perhaps you can help me out? But I do promise you I have studied the phenomena and it is a truism. The grumpy growers I have seen in England scowling from their cockpit, nose invisibly pegged, mouth set in an inpenetrable line, eyes stony and unyielding are a world away from these merry manure slingers and even though my nose may be wrinkling decorously at the fetid stench they are generating, they always upgrade my mood as they lift a paw casually from the steering wheel, like John Wayne riding one handed across the range, and bestow upon their mildly stunned audience a raptuous and infectious grin.
PS: I promised you a bonus and a bonus you shall have. And an explanation. When I saw the title I closed my eyes and imagined myself for a moment on Christmas Eve, the wireless turned on as I potter through the preparations for the big feast the following day listening to The Choir of Kings College, Cambridge sing carols and hoping this will be one of them.
If you are of my vintage, you will remember that Mike Oldfield produced a thoroughly exhuberent instrumental version. Here are Pans People, dream date of every boy of my age and every girls aspiration joyously dancing on BBC Top of The Pops in 1975.
You might have a favourite, I love both and I particularly love that In Dulci Jublilo means ‘in sweet rejoicing’ which is exactly what I am doing since I purged my clogged creative channel.
As I kiss au revoir to The Bean who is flying back to Boston with Two Brains whilst I fly to the UK to spend time with family and friends, it seemed only polite to re-post an early blog from her. Rest assured she is working hard on her transatlantic flying blog. After all when you are a jet-setting Bean it is your duty to share your wisdom with the masses ….
I’m not an ugly bug. I am a really really ridiculously GOOD-looking dog. A dog with a serious message to share. I am The Bean.
I may look like a handbag dweller (I am Metrically less than 4 kilos which makes me Imperially 8 and a half pounds) but I am feisty and fit.
In order to keep my sleek appearance I take a lot of exercise. I walk many miles a week with my humans – mostly my mummy (because he is busy doing something called ‘bringing home the bacon’ although in truth I have not seen any evidence of this bacon, to which I am very partial) but bestly with both of them. We walk and hike on trails here in the USA just like we do in Europe.
The winter here in New England has been unusually mild. I am grateful for this fact. I like snow but I am told that sometimes it falls in metres rather than inches and being quite economic in the leg I would soon be unable to walk at all. We had some of the deep stuff but mostly it was the sort of snow I am used to and I had plenty of fun diggering and snuffling on my walks.
But now it is really quite Springy here and this is the point of me hijacking my mummy’s blog. I got a tick. I didn’t feel it. It just sat on my back which is black. Then it started to grow – at first my mother thought I had some sort of blemish. She can be exceptionally stupid. Obviously a dog as beauteous as I has NO blemishes. These little blighters sit on leaves and blades of grass and wait for a likely victim (they call it a host but surely a host invites people to the party and I did not invite any ticks to mine). They can crawl but they cannot leap or fly.
By the time my retarded people realised what it was, several days had passed and it was Sunday with no vets except emergency ones open. So they did what all humans do and they Googled. I don’t really know what Googling is but it seems to be regarded as a fast track to wisdom. Personally, I prefer to use my nose. I’m a dog – it’s what we do. My daddy was satisfied to discover that his method is the right one. You take tweezers and make sure you pull it hard and straight without pinching the skin. But mummy was insistently maverick. She had found an article written by someone who suggested something unbelievable. My daddy was mistrustful. But he agreed to try it. Probably in the interests of shutting her up. When he was deciding on a career many aeons ago, he considered being a surgeon. He did a very passable impersonation of having trained thus as he got ready for the operation. Sterilised tweezers were laid on the table for the inevitable moment when she was proved wrong and he was proven right and he had to operate with pincers as he had first suggested. He donned blue surgical gloves and I was taken upon mummy’s knee (which I like very much) and stroked tenderly whilst she held my head in a vice like grip lest my teeth got the better of me and decided to nip. Which I have to own up, they occasionally do. Under stress, you understand. Like the time when someone tried to sit on me when I was a puppy – I was under a cushion and they forgot to check – I was extremely small and the posterior bearing down on me was extremely large. I had no choice. Anyway, he started to rotate the critter quite rapidly with his pointy finger. His face had incredulity virtually tatooed on it and he was clearly just going through the motions to keep her quiet, so imagine his amazement when after about a minute the tick leapt off me. Maybe it was dizzy with all the whirling although I don’t think ticks have ears so that can’t be right. Or maybe it just didn’t like the sensation of being whirled but whatever it was, it jumped leaving no bits of itself in me although it had made a crater in my skin to sup my sanguine fluid out. Which is extremely rude for an uninvited guest.
And to prove the point that we weren’t fantasizing, two days later I got another one (purely in the interests of research you will understand) and the people did the same trick again and after about a minute it simply flung itself off me.
Daddy put the tick into a pot full of something called Gin and covered it with clingfilm. Mummy says Gin is also called mothers ruin – well it ruined this mother. After several days it was very definitely a dead tick. I don’t know if it was helplessly drunk before it’s demise – I am not that well acquainted with tick habits and I don’t intend to enlighten myself further.
The day after the first tick was removed my daddy rang my mummy and said he was going to the hospital. He had removed a tick from himself after a run and left it wrapped in paper in a freezer bag in the kitchen. His work people told him not to take any chances. He asked mummy to take a picture and send it to him so the hospital could identify it. I don’t really understand how they do these things – I just know how to pose for pictures and I know it makes them smile so I have become something of an expert at it because it usually generates pats and treats.
Daddy’s tick was a Deer Tick. My tick was a North American Dog Tick. I think this is a bad name because clearly no North American dog actually wants to be associated with these vile beasties. They steal our blood. Deer ticks carry Lyme Disease. This is a very bad disease and it can kill people. It can also affect dogs. My daddy is fine because the hospital gave him antibiotics but he did have the start of a bullseye blemish where it had started to bite him. This is a sign that the tick is infectious.
My people now spray themselves with DEET and their clothes too. They went to the hunting store to get some. The hunting store is full of stuffed animals. I did not go with them. I do not want to be stuffed. They also annointed me with anti-tick drops which last a month. I despise these. I have them inflicted on me in France where my Vet refuses to believe that they hurt me very badly. Because I can’t talk human (though I bark very eloquently if you speak dog) I can’t explain what the problem is and they say that my skin doesn’t have any signs of anything bad. But I really really NO like. I try extremely hard to rub the stuff off. Therefore, they used trickery by getting me in the car (which I love), taking me to the running trail (which I love) and with my guard down they squoze it on me and then took me for a long, reasonably fast, run. Each time I tried to roll they distracted me and by the time I got back I was so tired I had forgotten it. Until next month. Sometimes being a dog is very very hard. This is why I have to have a cupboard full of snacks. Because my life is tough. It’s a dogs life ….
PS: The title is from one of my mummy’s favourite childhood songs – Burl Ives ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’. Interestingly even the bugs seem not to have invited ticks to the party ….
I’ve been niggled by a think for a while and the think that I’ve been thinking is that I really should share more of the humungous archive of photos that I have accumulated since I arrived in France. It’s the first time in my life I have had a reasonably decent camera and, as importantly, the first time I have had the time and place to spend on taking pictures. I remain resolute in my belief that I am a leading myopic point and shoot photographer and I am happy that the approach does produce some nice pictures amongst the disasters. Having reached the conclusion that I might do something worthwhile with some of this vast catalogue, it’s a simple question of finding the right mechanism. After much navel gazing and machination with self I’ve decided on my own personal TWTWTW or TW3, (‘That Was The Week That Was’, that legendary satirical show that aired in the UK from 1962-1963 and in the US from 1964-1965 and spawned some of the greatest ever including David Frost and John Cleese). Except my TW3 is ‘Those Were The Walks That Were’ – hardly praiseworthy semantics but enough to amuse my frou-frou brain.
My Two Brained husband calculated recently that I have walked more than 3,000 km in the Cantal since arriving in the Autumn of 2013. This means that The Bean on her much shorter but markedly springier legs has also walked the same distance. She is heartily impressed with herself. With 340 PRs which stands for petits randonees – the network of waymarked paths in varying degrees of difficulty that you find throughout France to choose from, I don’t need nor want to go off-piste. Sticking to the laid paths is no hardship at all. Some are very well marked and easy to follow, some less so, some frankly, barely at all. Which adds a frisson of farce to keep complacency at bay.
One of the very first walks I did and one that has become my standby, my head-clearer, my go-to when I arrive back from England ravaged from the 1100 km drive on my own with unhelpful small dog or a 9 hour round trip to drop The Brains for a flight from Lyon or yet still an 11 hour round trip to pick up a visa in Paris, circumnavigates le Lac de la Cregut.
It’s a 15 minute drive from my village give or take a bovine hold up or two and about 350 metres (1150 feet in old money) higher. It’s a glacial lake and forms part of the hydro-electric system for the Massif Central as, in fairness does most water in our area. The marked walk (named ‘L’histoire de l’eau’) is 6km and designated blue which means it is easy. It has a déniveler of about 150 metres (that’s the difference between the lowest and highest point on the walk …. it’s quite a crude indicator without an OS map to show you the contours since it could be a single trudge uphill or several undulations – in this case it’s a single stretch that accounts for the majority of the relatively light lift). The path has a series of educational panels along the way. They tell you about the fish in the lake, the birds in the woods, the animals and the way the lake was formed. There are four devoted to the birds of prey found in the vicinity – you turn big cubes to find the information about each one. It’s aimed at children but I’m not too proud to learn and of course it’s in French so it helps with bits of language that one might not learn otherwise. Like lombric which is another word for a vers de terre or earthworm. I might never have learnt that word. And it took me a while to remember it. In the end I drove home muttering over and over to myself ‘Herbert Lom likes Bric-a-brac’ …. it worked and now lombric is in my venacular along with the very useful tattou (armadillo). You never know when you might need such words and in what combination.
I have walked here in all seasons and most weathers – in the heat of summer when a little altitude is a relief and the harsh frozen winter when it takes on a Narnia like appeal for a girl who loves snow. I’ve walked it with my husband often, two of our four daughters and a friend or two. I’ve strolled it, struggled it, marched it, rambled it depending on my state of health, wellness and fitness at any given time. I’ve shocked the cobwebs out of my musty mind and I’ve slain the anxiety that sometimes sets in when you spend too much of your life on your own.
Along the way are trees, of course – its a mixed disiduous and coniferous forest which forms part of the landscape of the lightly populated but widespread commune of Tremouille. It straddles Cantal and Puy de Dome the next departement north in the Auvergne. The trees are blanketed in mosses and laced with lichens and many sport Conks of differing flavours. Fungi are positively frenzied whenever the weather is warm and damp, flowers abound in spring and summer and for a while we are graced with the lovely lillies that float like lanterns on the water. There are deer and boar and smaller animals too, of course, and bugs and beasties and birds. I don’t necessarily, in fact rarely ever see any of them. I just know they are there and I get a sense of great harmony with my earthly companions. There is a pit along the way which we believe to be a wolf-trap having seen one identified as such before. I remember the old fellow who told me there are wolves but if I see one to please not tell for fear of man going into panic overdrive and destroying them all over again. The ultimate maligned of creatures wolves are. I find it to be the most peaceful of interludes walking under the changing canopy passing rushing water hurling itself over rocks and lacing and tracing to the lake’s edge.
The very first time I walked it and several times after, I happened past a farm which I silently christened ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ and briskening my step, hoisted The Bean into my arms as we were pursued by a hunting dog, it’s deep bass hoot echoing behind us in that particular combination of folorn and forceful that is peculiar to these dogs. On every mound and trailor and joining the hootathon with laudible vigour were other dogs. A pack numbering a couple of score at a guess. The farmer bellowed valiantly at his escapee to come back. To no avail as it buttoned its ears soundly and carried decisively on. It seemed an eternity before it eventually deigned to give up on us. It was, therefore with deep joy that I discovered some months later that I had no need to pass Cold Comfort Farm at all – I had missed a mark and had been moaning falsely about the length of time spent on the road since in truth you veer straight off the road almost as soon as you come on it, penetrating back into the woods above the farm. The farm itself looks so much prettier viewed from aloft with its magnificent backdrop of les Monts du Cantal and les Monts du Cezallier beyond. Turn 180 degrees, by the way, and you get les Monts d’Or just in case two handsome ranges aren’t enough for your greedy self – I’m a self confessed glutton for mountains so the third is a welcome bonus. After making this momentous discovery we had a couple unpeturbed walks before the darned dog spotted our game and hared across the road (it’s a very tiny one car a day kind of minor road so don’t panic on her behalf) to pursue us through the woods. It’s a small price to pay. We play the game whenever we do the walk. She follows us, The Bean feigns alarm, I walk resolutely onwards ignoring her and when she gets to a particular tree she slings her undercarriage downwards, takes a long and purposeful pee and goes home. The Bean nips back and over-pees the pee. We are all happy. It doesn’t take much.
PS: For the avoidance of doubt and because the seeds of uncertaintly have been sewn in me by Two Brains when I read the ongoing to him – it’s the DOGS that pees at that particular tree. Not me. I save mine til I’m safely round the bend – which is my favoured default in life.
The title is Wordsworth from ‘Tintern Abbey’. I chose it for two reasons …. that Wordsworth was of the Lake District and this area resonates with us as strikingly similar to that beauteous region of England. And the poem is written about a walk – with his sister at the magical ruins of Tintern.
It was hot and sunny and we were walking a walk that I had tried in the last gasps winter but the waymarks simply stopped – trees felled or fallen … it happens. The Bean and I, that day in the snow decided to call it a day, even though it meant a near vertical scramble back down what is in fact the edge of an ancient (no seriously, it’s 10th century ancient) quarry to the car. That had been March. Now in July we determined to find the main event – 10th century cottage remains … their owners driven out by the plague it is thought. The plague – up here where the air is clean …it makes you think! In the hot sunshine this beauteous butterfly did aerobatics thence alighting and sunning its stunning wings and then again making a beeline for my exposed skin and delighting in intruding. It hurt by the way. But I didn’t flinch … such an up close and personal experience with so etherial a creature who would be dead by dawn was an unmissable feast … I hope it was good for flutterby too.
PS: Shortly after the picture was taken and for the next 2 hours straight as we walked, the heavens opened in a deluge of biblical proportions and we were quite literally drenched to the skin. I wonder about what butterflies do in the rain. Just a ponder. The cottage ruins were worth it incidentally despite the fact that visibility was practically zero. Just walking in a place that was a community a thousand plus years ago and seemingly wiped out in a whisper of invisible venom made me shiver far more than the saturating rain ever could.
The title is swiped from a 1996 movie starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer which I loved and am reminded to seek out again
As we drove back to the village on the first Saturday in March after a sojourn in the south, I spoke to the animals. No, no – I am not effecting delusions of Dr Doolittle, but I did speak out loud in human to all those creatures in our woods and fields – deer, red and roe, boar, foxes and badgers, rabbits, hares, weasels and stoats, martins and all manner of other little furry things and of course their flying feathered friends too.
What I said to these enthralled creatures was that they now have 6 months grace – 6 months to have babies and enjoy their lives peacefully without having to hide from Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and all his other gun-toting mates, because the season is officially fermé. Hunting here is a sport, and I do not begrudge those that take part, in the main, despite the fact that I am disrupted, and I can explain why.
When I lived in England I actually took part in hunting as a keen rider in my tens and teens. I was blooded and it made me physically sick. I did drag hunting where the hounds follow the scent of an aniseed trail, on Exmoor, far more happily than I followed the hounds on the scent of a fox in my home counties. I also did Beagling whilst a student in Oxford following the Oriel College pack. You run after them. And in wellies, wearing a waxed coat and layers of jumpers and jeans under, it is frightfully good exercise. The beagles were pretty useless and when a rabbit appeared it could cock a cheery snook at them safe in the knowledge that they would run precisely the polar opposite way to it and we would see its bob tailed cotton wool adorned bottom disappear down the nearest hole as we huffed and puffed behind the joyous pups tearing the other way. The pub was, of course the main lure and I can say that mulled wine and home made scotch eggs are pretty damn gourmet delightful at the end of a cold chase. I was also regularly invited to ‘beat’ as a teenager to earn a bob or two. I always declined. I think that hatching eggs, feeding chicks and releasing young birds when barely old enough to fend for themselves, only to invite a load of chinless city boys in Jermyn Street tweed fancy dress waving their Purdeys as they loose off at the birds being frightened out of the undergrowth in the face of a platoon of ‘poor’ folk swiping the bracken with sticks, some of them the same people who fed them only a short while before, is about as sporting as putting propellor driven flippers on an Olympic swimmer. Just my personal thought but those heaps of dead pheasant destined for tables in restaurants in the West End having hung by their dead claws for a week made my skin crawl. And don’t get me started on the illegal hare coursers – contentious? Moi?
Cut to France. Many years ago, our habit was to take the month of January as holiday. We ran a cheese shop, my then husband and I, and we would take the car and drive down to a little village near Arles in Provence where my parents in law had a cottage with views over le Moulin de Daudet to use the cottage next door which conveniently belonged to an old school friend of ma belle mere as a base and take off for a few days at a time. He had lived in Ariege so we invariably headed into the Pyrenees, staying in Carcassonne en route and ended up searching for somewhere that we could stay. This particular occasion, my firstborn daughter was not quite 2 years old and everything but everything was shut. The locals, then as now, take January as holiday from running shops and restaurants and hotels. Eventually we happened on a hotel with lights on and I was despatched to ask if they had rooms. The husband worked on the theory that hoteliers in general were more likely to take pity on me (a woman) than he … this was the late 1980s and he should have been born in the 1780s but that is another story. The very kind Madame said indeed we could stay but we needed to be warned that tonight was the night of the Pompiers Ball and it coincided with the end of the hunting season … I quipped that I supposed the new season started in a couple of days and she nodded the affirmative perfectly gravely. In those days it is true, the French shot anything that moved and gave themselves little down time from their blood-lust presumably just because they could. We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening and the bar was full to bursting with flack-jacketed men and their wives in Sunday best attire downing shots of the local eau-de-vie before devouring plates of civet de sanglier (wild boar stew) and staggering cheek to cheek under a glitter ball to the strains of the local accordian band. Simultaneously the pompiers, suited and booted with their WAGs in their evening finery were also swigging with gay abandon, stuffing a different menu and about to trip the light fantastic around the floor when the two functions came together around 10 p.m. Many moustaches lubricated liberally made for merry hell as the night wore on. We ate a decent supper and contemplated a difficult night with a toddler unable to sleep due to the fascinating racket downstairs and took a collective and sensible decision to do in France as the French do. We would put a little vin rouge well watered in her beaker, and relax the beast. She slept like a top. We didn’t – the noise was deafening, the roaring of firemen and hunters, their squealing epoux joyous, was a sound that will haunt me forever. In the morning, we ate a decent Sunday breakfast and hit the road. The tot in the back-seat grew horns that would grace an angry bull and became the tyrant in the car-seat … this baby had the mother of all hangovers and we learnt the hard way that a good night’s sleep with an infant has a payback which is painful. She bellowed at us to ‘dup’ (shut up) every time we opened our mouths and commanded us to ‘doff’ (switch it off) when we tried to lull her with music on the radio. That baby is now 28 years old but it is fair to say that I bear the scars of that morning after to this day.
These days there are rules and hunting is well regulated. Numbers of hunters are in decline overall though interestingly the numbers of lady hunters (that is ladies that hunt rather than men hunting ladies – for those I have not got stats at this time) are increasing. No-one may hunt without a Permit de Chasseur and to get your permit you must pass both a written and a practical exam. If you fail either you have to start the process all over again.and the species hunted and the numbers permitted are set by individual departements according to ecological need and once set the individual communes will decide amongst themselves the ratios and divvy up the numbers between them. The departements also have the say-so over the specific dates of their season so although it will generally run from the start of September to the finish of February there will be slight variations. To the ill-informed the fact that there are 24 species of mammal and 64 species of bird permitted to be hunted seems excessive. But in context there are actually 119 species of animal and 529 species of birds in France. Incidentally roe deer are semi-protected and you must have a specific licence to hunt them.
You may remember that I walk a lot. Hunting encroaches on my walking, it is true but I try hard to co-exist with the hunters and I will generally, in Winter, not walk in woods on a Saturday and on a Sunday will time my walk to coincide with lunch (12-2:30 approximately) to avoid being mistaken for a fine trophy (though one would hope that being a 6’ biped might be a clue). The Bean wears hi-viz. Last year I, wet behind the ears as I was, bought what I could which gives the effect of a shetland pony wearing a Budweiser Clydesdale’s mac and it was fairly difficult for her to move freely without tripping over the edges.
This year, she has a new number. German made it is the Porsche of active canine attire. In fact police forces across the world equip their dogs in this very harness. Hers is bright orange and has its generic branded strips but should I chose to I can attach panniers so that she can carry emergency equipment … she would consider this to be cheese, biscuits and meat, I imagine.
I wear hi-viz arm bands and a determined chin.
Although I am interrupted, it is the walking that has given me the greatest insight into hunting in this area. I can’t speak for the whole of France just for my coin perdu but these are my observations told through the power of stories, which is my way.
For now, I live on my own mostly (with The Bean, of course) in an apartment in a reasonably sized village in the Sumène Artense at the north-western corner of Cantal. My neighbours are a young couple, he indigenous to the commune, she from Lozère just south of here. He is a farmers son and works hard on his fathers farm. At weekends he hunts and he has a beautiful dog who lives indoors on the farm to help him. The relationship between the two is quite lovely to watch though the dog is carted about in a cage on the back of his jeepster.
Once he had gotten over the unexpected oddness of living next door to a Spanish Cow speaking Englishwoman he took to telling me when and where to take care at weekends. He is happy that we walk and doesn’t want a wounded neighbour gasping her last on his conscience when he could have helped. Most weekends are absolutely harmless given the precautions that I take but when la grande chasse is en cours with the boys from Toulouse and Bordeaux and Paris loosing off liberally and with little skill in his words ‘they will shoot at anything moving’ then it is better for me to stay away. The idea of The Bean’s head adorning a trophy on the salon wall of a buffoon in Paris is rather too much to bear. And there are a number of people shot each year in France. Better not go down in the woods those days for fear of the wrong surprise.
Last year, we were out walking – the Brains, the Bean and I and we bumped into our neighbour out for a walk in the wilderness with his dog. The dog shamed The Bean with its impeccable manners and he warned us to stay cautious as there were hunters around. Moments later we came across a man and his dog. A red setter and the only example of that breed that I have ever encountered (my mother had one called Jane and we were brought up on stories of her famously frantic antics) who was trained and calm and sensible. The man stopped and chatted. Gentle he was. And he showed us the woodcock he had been stalking for three hours before finally bringing it down. It is a testimony to his quiet charm that I was able to look at the little dead creature … I have a long established phobia of dead birds on account of our bonkers Swedish au pair when I was aged four … another time. The dog, softest of mouths had run through a good 100 metres into the dense woods to pick it up and bring it back. It wore a ring on its ankle. He must account for every single bird he kills or risk being outlawed and unlicenced.
This year, The Bean and I went walking at a high volcanic pond hear to Riom-es-Montagnes. We started our walk at lunchtime and had partially circumnavigated the pond (l’Etang de Majonec) which you would be forgiven for calling a lake … it is quite large, when we heard shots.
We saw vehicles bearing the placards that the hunt was taking place and we altered our path.
To get back to the car, however, we had to go the way we had come and by this time it was peppered with orange vested old men bearing shot-guns. Now, I could have been indignant and feisty but I chose the softer path. This is after all France and I am not French. The elderly gentlemen I spoke with, quite peturbed by my presence, explained that the hunters were everywhere. I said that I support them but that I did rather need to get back to my car. Carefully he showed me the alternative. I did not need to argue. I do not need to fight. I prefer not to hunt but the fact is that this is a hunting place, that the people have lived their lives through here, that they now abide by rules set down for them to follow and that above all, I am the stranger, the visitor.
Of course it should be noted that there is good and bad in every situation. I am not keen on coming across caged dogs when out and about with The Very Free Bean. Dogs who live for the hunt. Who are fed scraps of meat by their owners and kept hungry for the kill. These dogs are as unfortunate as my Achilles (named so that I could shout ‘Achilles, heel!’ with gay abandon) who was found wandering in my little Oxfordshire town a victim of the pikies who wanted him to course hares. His taste for blood was akin to mine so he was frankly useless and was left to starve. He lived happily with us, never losing his ability to stalk an unsecured bin until his death 4 years ago. Hunters can be good and hunters can be bad in any culture. But I prefer to let them prove they might be the good guys before I condemn them. And in the spirit of the against – a little story …. walking last autumn I struggled through un hameau where the signs proclaimed the hunt. The Bean and I found it hard to find the way marks but eventually after much toing and froing we got there. And lo (as they say in the Bible) we came upon a chap shoveling muck. I asked if I was going the right way. He nodded. I asked him if the dog (rather beautiful, incidentally) was for hunting. He jutted his jaw and shook his head violently as he proclaimed ‘non! je deteste le chasse …‘ I simply smiled and nodded and patted the dog – sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Driving home, I spoke to the animals. I told them they have some freedom now and that they should make the most of it. I also told the fish to take cover because as the hunting season finished, so the fishing season started …..
PS: I was brought up to talk to and as the animals … my daughters will confirm that all dogs have a voice and that we can all ‘do the dog voice’ as taught by Granny … possibly certifiable, certainly eccentric but what we do have is respect for our four leggeds.
February was all about the snow here. It came thick and thicker and The Bean snow-snorkelled through the soft stuff and danced niftily on the icy crusts of the more exposed drifts. For me, it was the ministry of silly walks as I picked my way over the compacted stuff only to sink thigh high and have to heave my seemingly hulking form onwards (note to self … get some rackets). We still have snow on the mountains, of course but it’s mostly gone lower down. For now. It’s only March and it may return. The snow poles will stay where they are for several weeks more. This picture was taken walking at Lac de la Cregut in a break between blizzards the vivid orange of the sign, all of a sudden given beauty by the monochrome pallet created by the snow and the sky, a lighter shade of grey before the clouds begin to tinge with yellow against pure lead ready for the next dump …. You can see lots of other responses to the title ‘Orange’ in the weekly photo challenge just here
PS: The title? Anthony Burgess, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – slightly more than tenuous but I like it.