Monday, June 22, 2020

Involuntary wilding at La Chaise

Thea wildness is coming back to La Chaise!     As the Clun Forest sheep gradually leave us, so the wild plants sneak back and probably small wild life also.  There are small strange holes in the meadows. Butterflies abound but stay safely near the rampaging juniper bushes, now a dense hedge.

Off the top of my head I cannot identify this orchid - but it is trying to get through the fence!*

The ram , Boris, and and his flock of women have been taken to the high Pyrenees there to breed and prosper again.  A young ram lamb with  four one year old ewes has gone to work as lawn mowers in a local garden.   The rest, well they will be with us...

Doubtless other orchids are also exploring the space, especially in places where the sheep no longer tread. Among the early ones will be the 'early purple' obviously.   It was almost abundant under what is probably La Chaise' only ash tree, so prolific that at first I thought it was pink clover.  But then the sheep decided that the shade of an ash was good for their health.. and plonked themselves down to burp. A few hardy plants still show their heads.

This could be a scented orchid - but I could not get my head into the juniper to find out

There seems to be a curious relationship between juniper bushes, ant-hills and the various types of orchid.    I don't know whether this is unique to the soil of La Chaise or whether it is normal for the species.   What I have noticed is that as the junipers die - they are quite short lived for a wild plant - so the orchids disappear,  in the past with no little help from grazing sheep.

But recently, now the young junipers rampage alongside the fence  of the former horse fields  (where they are unlikely to get mowed or eaten) the odd orchid is poking its head through the spiky branches..

An Early Purple perhaps?

As well as the orchids the more ordinary wild flowers are gradually returning, buttercups, daisies, various forms of vetch and clover, oh, and dandelions!  We hope to see wild sage again.  Wild herbs are also slowly returning - the most conspicuous is the ground covering thyme..some of which I hope to replant near the main house.

Thyme creeping across the grass

Animal wild life has been a little slower to show itself or make itself heard. But recently we had  two kingfishers who seemed to be settled in the Black Pond in the Woods.   I hesitate to say 'a pair' or 'a couple' because they might be individuals.   (Note to self:  check up on the nature of Kingfishers.)  All I know is that they are very shy and consequently seem very rare.

Audrey, who studied them with camera over many weeks, insists they are couple which has made a nest. She expects the eggs to hatch very soon.

Recently they seem to do daily flights between the Black Pond and the Pump Lake at the bottom of the valley.   Both lakes are fully of noisy frog life, perhaps even midwife toads.   And where there are frogs - there you will find the great grey heron on its stilt like legs. Yes, I did.

Will I miss the sheep, yes - 

* possibly an epipactis of some sort

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Great Tree Question

The Great Tree Question in these highly  climate wise, sensitive, media highlighted days resolves itself into:   To Cut - or Not To Cut? 

At La Chaise we are surrounded by some 18 hectares of mixed woodland of which only five are cultivated, cleared and cossetted firs. These five also host a wild boar motel with mud bath and regular supplies of maize.  The rest get on as best they can, dying, losing branches, succumbing to rot,blight and wild weather.

This is what happened to twin millenial oaks after typhoon 'Miguel' passed through in June this year.

The most recent, most impressive woodland disaster in the Dordogne was at the turn of the millenium.   One of our greatest and probably oldes oaks was felled - but tactfully fell onto a path rather than a roof.  Its stump was more than two metres in diameter.

Now we are looking to cut the older oaks again but are very aware than many people may disapprove.
But to be realistic, a two hundred year old oak has a head that stunts the growth of any saplings, from its own acorns or  those of other species.  All of us, human, animal must make way for the young.
And sometimes the young are nurtured by the very old.

Youth being nurtured by an ancestor.

And as the small ones grow, the old left standing continue to breathe.   As the sun sets slowly in the west and the wind drops, wisps of vapour, the breath of the trees, is visible on the skyline across our valley.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A sentimental road journey - la nostalgie

Driving back from Merignac airport one darkish evening I was rather tired and cross - anyone would be who had just fought their way through Gatwick South to a plane. Fortunately the rocade is not the bumper to bump jam in the evenings as it is in the daytime.   So I was gradually soothed, avoided taking the turn off to Toulouse and headed dutifully towards Bordeaux Centre. 

Once over the dreaded Pont d'Aquitaine*, I remembered I had to take the second right turn, try to squeeze in between lorries thundering down on my right in order to join the rocade.  I had to be in the very rightmost lane in order to get off the rocade to get onto the A 89 to Libourne and Lyons. We were still on the free part of this motorway.

 Then the  blue signs for the peage loomed up I took a wrong turning on the A89 and headed for Libourne Centre.    This takes one off the motorway to  as I quickly discovered.  So I drove home, which is near Perigueux, from signboard to signboard, starting towards St Medard de Guizieres which I knew was somewhere near.  We spent a couple of hours wandering through villages and vinyards north of Bergerac and eventually found a link to Perigueux.

* I dreaded it from its inception. Then it was a a steepish four lane bridge, slung on metal strings between four metal towers.   The formal speed limit was 70 km/ph.   Now it is a six lane bridge with no immediately visible change to the untutored eye. It just got wider.  The speed limit is still 70km/ph.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

June: hot enough to wash a bear; birds fail to eat all the cherries

June was a wonderful month, even allowing for the excessive heat. In fact it was hot enough to wash Gregory Bear, much loved successor to Artur van Gelderen.  now in the Bethnal Green childhood museum - somewhere.  And, gosh, was Gregory dirty!

Gregory sunbathing himself dry

  For the first time ever in the near half century * we have been at La Chaise we had more cherries than there were birds, or small children, to eat them. Adults gathered in quantity but never had the time to conserve or preserve.  It is much easier to eat them than to stone them..

These are the cultivated cherries just ripening in early June

  The cultivated cherry trees also had more than enough at a low level for even the stickiest small person.  The wild cherry trees, merisier, in French out did themselves.  They are tall trees, most cherries beyond ground tied adults, or even adults on ladders.   They taste quite different to the cultivated kind, slightly more acid, a little less flesh and a smaller pip.  Locally, those who can manage to pluck sufficient, just bottle them in alcohol.

Merisier wood is prized by ebenistes for use as an inlay - given the narrowness of their trunks there is little enough around. The drive down to the gites is now covered in dried cherries

A wild cherry tree bearing a very full load

And talking of carpenters we cannot close our June diary without mentioning Miguel, Tempest Miguel, an early arrival.  Miguel managed to destroy one of the defining images of  La Chaise:  the twin oaks at the head of the ravine.   (Our own private wild life reserve)

Sadly I do not have a picture of the twin oaks upright - but I remember the day young James Brown, an acrobatic tree surgeon, to slightly mistranslate the French, shinned up one oak, tied an 'elastic' band round it, crossed to its  twin, thus holding them together.  Some quarter of a century later, Miguel struck.

Divided, they fell.

*actually about 10 years short of half a century..

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The odd behaviour of orchids

The orchids started this summer at La Chaise with a most odd behaviour.   Usually they are in small clumps of two or three plants.    One extreme exception was the spread of the early purples under the ash trees - from a distance they looked like a rash of clover.  But then the sheep decided this was a good corner for digesting and sat and sat.   Now there are no early purples there.

Instead single flowers showed themselves in random parts of the fields.   An orchid's way of showing its head above the ramparts.   Of course the sheep bit their heads off.

Ever since the juniper bushes started dying some three/four years ago I have worried what would happen to the orchids that used to co-habit with them on the rocky slopes.  After good winters, warm and wet, there would be prolific numbers of pyramid and scented orchids, sometimes the hanging man could be found, also the bee and fly orchids, if not plentiful, were not rare. 

Young juniper bushes sprang up in a random manner, some came up near the lake and grew rapidly.   Others gradually spread along the fence at the bottom of the horse fields.  Now they are flourishing -  not least because they are not mowed, there are no horses in the fields and sheep do not relish young juniper tops.    Soon there will be a good thick, long hedge of juniper.   We could call it 're-wilding' even though involuntary.

And now the orchids have discovered them and the partnership has been restored.   Lurking in the lower branches are some smaller purple orchids - may they spread and prosper.
Yes, I know - one of them is actually a clover...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The frogs are back!

For  the past couple of months we have woken to the glorious sounds of frogs revelling in the Black Pond in the woods. In the evening the sound is always as great.    We have missed them for a year or so and wondered why.   There were flies enough, strange things moving in the bottom murk, greenery if wanted.  The Black Pond is filled mostly by run-off from the road, it has no spring that we know about.  

Curiously, the short diversion of the official ditch is not just discreetly on the pond side of the road - La Chaise property - but appears to run under the road because there is a hole also in the ditch opposite.      We do not have enough knowledge of when and how the road was built or when it was adopted by the Department of the Dordogne as the D103.  Speculation is fun. 
This is the Black Pond, complete with fallen cherry tree making a bridge.

 The road that goes past La Chaise may be a departemental but it is not very busy, thankfully.  Still we wondered if pollution was the problem. The road is cleaned by the departement from time to time,mostly by cleaning the ditches.  The time of fauchage causes little traffic perturbation but, many years ago, caused us great annoyance. The driver of the tractopelle was a little bit too proud of his skill.   He came too close to our garden wall and down it fell. The property builder's fault, apparently, for not having envisaged 200 years ago that machines, rather than cantonniers, would clean ditches.

Actually the Black Pond must have been a major work of engineering when it was created.  It is probably 60 metres long and at least five metres wide at its widest part.   Depth varies according to rainfall and off take - by the aid of a floating pump it can be linked to the watering system in the fields below. And - just imagine this for a moment - the pond you see above was dug by hand.

This curious structure is made of stones and has an insert for a handle on the top.
Our local know-it-all said the Black Pond was linked to the well in front of our house by a form of sluice.   On top there should have been an iron handle which opened or closed it.   Presumably the iron vanished during war time to serve a more useful purpose and anyway a close relative of the then resident family parked half into the well coming home late one night.  Know it all forgot to mention that a smaller well had been dug alongside the house when a granny flat was added. Then filled in also.  But water passes where it will.

Monday, March 25, 2019

No going in the Chicken House

The La Chaise chicken house is worthy of a picture postcard.    It is not very high, roof tree about two metres from the ground level, wide roofs slope down to thick walls way less than a metre high.   There is a skylight in the flat mechanical terra cotta roof tiles and a small wired window in the 40 cm thick walls..  The cock crows with daylight - some times before.   The roof is partly covered with a profusion of dog roses.  All that is missing to make the picture perfect is a short person in old-fashioned clothes,  straw hat, and a basket of eggs.

A chicken house is seldom a salubrious place  Not just because chickens shit# without moderation.   Experienced chicken keepers manage to put a replaceable plank or thick cardboard under the perches to collect most of the muck and change it regularly.  There are also spider webs with accumulated dust and debris in them.    There will probably be rat or mice droppings if careless chicken keepers have thrown in chunks of hard bread. These are often disease bearing for humans as well as fowl. Scraps of dank feathers will be scattered as a result of chicken squabbles, along with the rotten rejects of unconsumed vegetables.  The lid of the laying box can drop on clumsy fingers.

All in all not a desirable place to be explored by small children.   Hence Oma's frequent greeting to the small grandsons:   NO GOING IN THE CHICKEN HOUSE!!

This,of course, is regularly ignored especially once all the other forbidden or nearly forbidden places have been visited.

But to see the glow of joy and triumph on their faces, almost reverent, as they come out of the chicken house, each carrying most carefully one egg in their cupped palms, proffering it to the adult in triumph - all is forgiven.