Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Weatherwise, the first days of the year have not been too bad. The temperatures have been reasonable, the rain moderate – with a few exceptional days when it managed to get in under the roof tiles. The main feature of this past fortnight has been the mildness of the temperatures and the wonderful morning and evening mists.

The difference between mist and fog is that one can see through mist, fog patchily obscures roads, houses, oncoming cars. Mist drapes itself over trees, bushes, even Electricite de France's appalling pylons, softening the outlines, making the mundane mysterious.

I love walking in our valley when there is mist. It makes the place seem bigger, otherworldly, a setting fit for a novel by the Bronte sisters. The trees behind the horse-fields follow the shape of the hills on which they grow, a gentle curve from side to side with the horse boxes centred in the middle. The trees on the opposite side of the valley have a more ragged outline, certain species stand taller than others. The pines dominate whilst the leafless oaks and chestnuts seem more ephemeral.

Sitting in the kitchen at breakfast time, the Rayburn warm at my back, I look up the drive at the two linden trees either side of the gate. Their majestic outlines seem deliberately created rather than simply natural. Curiously, the softening of the mist makes them seem more solid. I worry less about the branches breaking off, about the need to prune them for stability's sake.

At ground level, spring life is beginning to break through, worm casts and weeds, also some rosettes of orchid leaves. Up near the right hand linden, the billy-goat orchid has started to show, one plant more advanced than the other. At least I think it will be a billy goat orchid (himantoglossum hircinum) because in that place last year there was a plant that looked, and smelled, a lot like one. As there was the year before. It came up nearly to my knee, was plentifully garnished with flowers and I kept the car windows closed in passing. But you never know with orchids. Sometimes they just give up growing in their habitual places and come up elsewhere.

I blame the sheep who are particularly partial, it seems, to the various pink orchids, starting with the lazy purples of end March that come up under the ash trees. Those they not only eat but also squash by sitting on them. If I knew it, there might be some ovine medicinal reason for this. Until I find out, I will just put it down to pure ovine perversity – like only eating white clover and not daisies.

Meanwhile the cold threatens. I have put emergency heating in the gites
under the vulnerable pipes and am keeping my fingers crossed. February is often an evil month, cold-wise.

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