At last, at last, the rains have come! After all the drought ridden summer months wondering whether there would be enough early dew or scotch mist to dampen the fields and stimulate the grass, the daily chore of watering the ungrateful vegetable garden, the rains have fallen.
The arrival of the autumn rain is always a frighening moment in deepest rural South West France. It is the moment when the house owner discovers whether or not the roman tiles on his roof have slipped, allowing the water in either through the channels or through the cracked covering tiles. Foresighted owners have been up on their roofs, cleaning the gutters of dried leaves – only the long-lasting summer meant these fell in one go, unexpectedly, along with the rain. A blocked gutter means rain back-firing up under the tile channels and dripping through the plasterboard ceiling below – with a sleep-disturbing vengeance. Terra cotta roof tiles are slippery in the wet and it is recommended that only expert roofers walk on them – but with the rain, roofers (like London taxi drivers), dissolve into the mist and owners have to be patient and find last year's buckets.
This is the age old story of Dordogne roofs, delightful roman style terra-cotta tiles, provencal style, but unsuited to the higher pitch of local roofs, hence sliding and slipping and propping and generally getting too heavy. Somehow the locals do not seem to demand that their roofs keep out rain, unlike northern Europeans, there is an 'ah well' attitude. And just as a Dordogne male is not a man without his own chain saw and cement mixer, he must also be able to fiddle with his roof. Fortunately in the thirty odd years we have been year, improvements have been made to the basic tile concept, all aimed at attaching the tile in various ways to the underlying roof, with varying degrees of success.
But there is a joyous side to the advent of these downpours – going out in the rain to see what has happened. I clapped my long unused boots together to shoot out the spiders, millipedes, earwigs and any other univited insect that had taken up residence during the summer. I did the same with my long, green plastic, serious agricultural rain coat. Insects scuttled, grumbling, into the further reaches of the conservatory as I vainly searched for my hat. Then, armed with mobile phone (in case I slipped) a serious rain hat, the boots and rain coat and the standard plastic bag for collecting things, I set off to see what, if anything the rain had achieved.
The first day's answer was - not much. The earth was so hard baked, the rain had hardly penetrated. The soil of the vegetable garden did look fertile again and the comice pear tree, planted just last year, and sporadically watered since, looked as though it had decided to live. The carrots revived, as did the bugs in them. The courgettes were rotting and the aubergines were failing to colour. The odd chilli pepper strove to produce a red bean. Down the fields the hard marbles of sheep shit at long last began to dissolve and carry their goodness into the soil and there were signs of the faster intestinal transit of the wet grass.
The trees dripped, more fir-cones had fallen but closed, there were more acorns and chestnuts on the ground and the last of the walnuts were scattered under their trees. Most walnuts by now had been hollowed out by passing rodents but we were feeling generous. With the nuts down came the leaves, turned yellow brown in the course of a weekend, the maples still defiantly holding on to their own.
But the ponds, small and large, had hardly been affected. The duck pond nearest the Farmhouse, its bottom covered in lush grass, was barely wet, the solar powered fountain still disconnected for lack of water to spout. The Black Pond in the Woods, which is fed by the run off from the road, was doing better, but still the green growth of opportunistic grass and lentil weed showed. The pump lake, at the very lowest point of the land, has shown some intake of water but the reed and grass growth was hardly affected. We still keep it fenced off so that animals cannot get stuck in the mud.
But, oh the joy of the locals! The rain, the rain, if followed by warmth – which the local weather forecasters did not hesitate to predict (at times one would think weather forecasters were elected) would lead to another crop of champignons! Perhaps some 'trompettes de la mort' would show up (late because there was no rain on Halloween) or there would be more 'boletus edulis'....there were certainly a lot of agarics, rosée dès près, the simplest of field mushrooms. Sadly a considerable number turned yellow when handled, vomit inducing but not deadly.