The signs of spring continue to multiply. The latest are the cowslips, very pale yellow and curiously short stemmed. Of course the grass, against which they would normally have to compete, is short also. Alas, and alack, lack of rain is mostly responsible. It makes me sentimental about the days Before Sheep, Before Golf Course, when there was spring rain, the grass was just allowed to grow and a neighbour turned it into hay. The fields looked like an advertisement for 'natural' shampoo: cowslips, three different colours of wild sage, ox-eye daisies, thistles, clover and trefoil, large dandelions, the woodland trimmed with violets and the scrubland with creeping thyme and majoram. In April the wild orchids began to appear, often nestling near the junipers.
But I have to remind myself that hay and I do not get on. I react strongly to the various grass and tree pollens. Drifting through a flower strewn field, long hair flowing, whilst pink nosed and sneezing is no advertisement for anything – except allergy remedies. So it really is better to have the sheep and just try to get to the wild flowers before they do, especially the orchids.
The aspens and the hazels are shedding their catkins now but I seem to be able to cope. Fortunately the pines are not yet releasing their pollen. The visual impact of the pines is a curious aspect of every spring. Huge, black Rorschach blots, they dominate the forest, loom over the naked deciduous trees, make one wonder whether the latter will ever produce leaves again. In our woods, they will.
But across the road, where the wood cutters have made a coupe rase, (they cut everything), the deciduous trees will not come back. A few spindly ones, rejects, have been left standing as have a few pines. Neither are likely to withstand a severe wind. The woodland ground is covered with the heads of the cut trees, branches too small to be of any use today. This is 'natural regeneration' at work. Men are too expensive to clear the forest floor and, in theory, saplings should be able to force their way through the rough cover. Eventually the cut branches will decay, turn into humus for the new trees. In the meantime, the land is impassable to anything but wild life that can spring, or charge or wriggle its way through. It is a bleak and depressing sight. A waste.
It was not always so. When we first selectively cut down some of the larger oaks surrounding our house - with particular attention to those that were practically leaning on the roof – our neighbours watched with interest. Once the trunks and larger branches were down, cut, split and stacked, we received a visit from a couple who lived at Chantepoule. Could they have they have the left over heads of the oaks, tidy up for us? The grandmother could use the wood. It would be most kind.
We were kind.
Then Madame Veuve V..., somewhere in her seventies, came herself, armed with a billhook that probably weighed as much as she did. It was certainly as long as her fore-arm. She set to and I bolted back to the house to make sure I knew the phone number of the emergency services; to check I had enough bandages, plasters and brandy. Then I kept away until, a few days later, she came to announce she had finished. There was a considerable pile of wood. It would keep her cuisinière going all winter she said. She could not imagine a winter without her cuisinière . As the expert told me, when I was looking for a wood fired cooker plus water heater, you need a grandmother sitting next to it, feeding it small wood all day.