Monday, March 15, 2021


A confabulation of cranes passed over La Chaise early this March, string after string of black V shapes, honking at each other. It seemed to me that they circled over our roof. Why I don't know – perhaps they were trying to locate the direction north by looking to see where the moss was on the trunks of the oaks. Or they were just arguing about it.

Apparently moss grows best on the north side of tree trunks, or so I was told during my one and only evening at a Girl Guides meeting some forty years ago. This would be helpful, apparently, if I was ever lost in a wood.But I had already read Little Red  Riding Hood..and never went to Girl Guides again.

Although I did not notice it particularly we must have experienced a very long, damp period from the beginning of September until now. There is moss on everything, even on things that are not wooden – such as some of our wrought iron garden gates. Yes, I know – lack of maintenance.

I did get rid of the ivy, anyway.

There is moss also on the leafless japonica that exploded into blossom soon after the cranes had started flying north. There is moss almost everywhere that is damp – like the terracotta tiles on roofs and walls.

On the roofs it is simply moss, nothing else, but with luck frost season is over. Only the locals* warn we must wait for the Saints de Glace to come and go before we can be sure. There are three of them, Saints Marmert, Pancrace and Servais whose days are 11, 12, 13 May! Frozen moss will crack the tiles. Hopefully a dry period – let's call it 'summer' – will dry up the moss and no harm done.

See how many friends the moss has!

But in some places the moss is not alone. On one particular tile on our garden wall it shares space with ferns and some hair like lichens. Some twigs on still naked trees are completely covered in different forms of lichens, which are, I read in some leaflets I sent for years ago, an association between fungus and alga, about 15,000 versions...try not to think about that.

Think how artistic your 'flower' arrangements can be instead.

* I had a long argument, once, with a Dordogne taxi driver as to whether I could call the local French residents les indigenes but he found that rude. Indigenes he said, were only to be found in non European continents. The people of the Dordogne were autotochtones.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

If you go down to our woods....

 This is what you might see.....

or perhaps this...

                                         maybe this....

                        and who might this be?

                                an older version of this, perhaps?

or a variant of this?

a decaying version of the same?

But this is real decay!!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Toad in the Pool, the Crocus in the Grass.

 By skilful manipulation of the pool skimmer - handle some three metres long -   I managed to save a small toad from drowning.   That is two lives saved in less than two days.  The other, a froglet, was in a skimmer with a dopey lizard which I hope revived.

But a toad in the pool is hardly surprising, the toad and frog pool is nearly dried up despite storm rains and because of the ridiculous weather we having been experiencing in the Dordogne this summer.

Below however is absurd, possibly worrying, possibly related.

This is the first autumn crocus of the year - seen on August 20th and not  usually expected before mid September.   They are emerging fast everywhere.

I do not know what the weather gods are taking but their behaviour is most erratic.   We are all hoping that they will soon settle down to more adult, reasonable behaviour pattern

After all the current crop of weather gods  started life at the millenium so are no longer teenagers. They have reached their 20's and should begin to behave. 

But that is me, talking like the old lady that I am.   I look back at my early twenties and cringe.   I fear we shall be living in interesting climate times for a few years yet.

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..