Weathering it out

This limestone outcrop is an implacable stone face that seems to guard the path to the very edge of the Jura mountains .

My village faces the Alsace valley, but the woods climb up to the very first folds of the Jura mountains which form a great arch of peaks between France and Switzerland. Everyone has heard of the Alps : awe inspiring sheer faces for skiing and climbing, but the Jura is less well known, it is less flashy and very beautiful. I like its anonymity and I am always surprised by how extensive this international range is and I love the cool valleys and its hardworking history of saw mills, watchmaking and engineering. Rivers pour through the gaps in the limestone and this rock lowers over a small stream that sinks into the rock in the summer to flow underground .

Every time I look up at the face I see something different . Sometimes it is an Easter Island idol; sometimes it seems crumbling and undefined, sometimes the ferns are Denis Healey eyebrows beetling above me, but always it seems to have weathered a storm that has just passed.

I am fortunate enough to have had two anti covid vaccinations and feel as if my personal storm of fear is passing . I know not everyone is so lucky and the pandemic is still a terrible danger in so many countries and I can only hope that like my totemic rock they too can weather it out.

Browned off.

So, this is the second Covid spring.

In the first it seemed impossibly beautiful and the skies were peerlessly blue to frame such cherry blossom as I have never seen before. The contrast between the beauty of the mild spring and the awful news of deaths and disease swirling around us seemed absurd.

Covid ebbed and flowed. By the time the cherry blossom was ripening into fat luscious cherries, it seemed maybe there would be summer holidays and life would continue, but after the reprieve of summer the winter was long and cold and Covid spiked again and again, although we were all told it was going to be fine and over by Christmas . Vaccination was going to save us all and the next year would be fine and this would all be bad memory.

But then came the new variants and people kept dying. The vaccines have trickled out so slowly and the shops and restaurants and cinemas and clubs have closed and it seems like they may never re – open again.

It is our second spring in lockdown in France. It seems like no one has been vaccinated and in Switzerland it is even worse. They even closed down the vaccination centres during Easter so as not to annoy people with appointments.

It is all unprecedented.

It is no one’s fault.

Complaining when one is healthy and not exhausted from caring for the sick seems petulant and selfish, but like the cherry blossom frozen by the late snow, I too am browned off/fed up.

There won’t be many cherries this summer. The record low temperatures have done for the vineyards in much of France this year, so there won’t even be much wine.

I never thought there could be two Covid springs.

I like decay.

Before spring covers the world with growth and exuberant life, I am strangely aware of the the aged and decaying world beneath.

There are so many old buildings falling beautifully apart around me in the villages and I am irresistibly drawn to the roofs steep and sliding down to the earth.

Roof joists look like the ribs of animal carcasses picked bare by the winter crows and kites.

The roof of this barn came down in the last storm and the wind pulled it apart from the eye of sky that you can see in middle of the shot.

There has been little human to distract the eye during these covid times. Faces are not faces covered by mask (though I wholeheartedly endorse the wearing of masks to keep us all safe!) , but when faces and expressions are shuttered, I look more closely at the buildings and try to read them instead.

It is the older buildings, those with history and character who attract me and the beauty of their ageing, is both poignant and absorbing.

The moths are back again.

This morning there were oak beauties, clouded drabs, dotted borders and Hebrew characters .

Oak beauty

Their names are beautiful and are now more familiar. Identifying moths was once something for the high summer when I had holidays and time to breathe. Last year when lockdown started and covid gave me fear and the time to appreciate it , I started trapping moths much earlier for distraction and escape.

Dotted border.

It turns out moths fly much earlier in the year than I imagined and I found a whole host of new species that would come to the light in surprisingly cold nights. I trapped much later in the year and become familiar with the species who over winter and are found in the late autumn and the spring, bookending the year with unpretentious names like clouded drabs.

Clouded drab

I checked my own photographic records of these glimpses of the night and in between the snaps of transient moths were the others pictures of the year, the garden, the cats, roses and snow and nothing else. It was as if time had stood still – same cats, same sunshine, same peonies.

Hebrew character

Horrors have raged around me. I have been lucky to spend more time than I expected amongst the quiet moths.

Spring on the Table

February is the longest month for me as we wait for Spring, so I cheat and go out and buy it!

This selection of bulbs and plants is from a wonderful nursery over the border, where rows and rows of perfumed primulas, cheeky pansies and thousands of other plants thrive in perfect conditions under atifical lights and modulated heat.

They will cheer up my kitchen table for a few weeks and the bulbs will go out into the garden to maybe flower again next spring, if they survive.

The borders of France are officially closed to stop the spread of Covid, but this time they are open to neighbouring Switzerland for those who live within 30 kilometres of the frontier. This means that I can shop over the border and the awful sense of severance and dislocation that happened during the great lock down of the spring 2020 has not been repeated. It seems incredible that Covid should still be dominating our lives, but it is. The virus is not political and it is not nationalistic: it is a horrible fact that we have to deal with with patience and fortitude, though I often lack both.

One thing that has changed for me since the great lockdown of 2020 however, is the purchase of a wonderful electric bubble car which has given me mobility again. My tiny Citroen Ami, goes a maximum of 45 kilometres per hour, is so cute people wave at it and can be recharged at an ordinary plug in garage!

I adore it and I feel confident and free after years of hating driving and feeling intimidated and inept.

Spring will come!

The photo also shows Winston investigating the Ami after its delivery. He also approves mightily,

Something missing

2021 has started and rarely can a year have been so happily discarded as 2020.

A year of loss and fear and exhaustion for those fighting the virus first hand and of limbo and anxiety for those of us watching with our carefully washed hands folded in our laps.

The wonderful scientists across the world who have worked flat out to develop vaccines will liberate us all eventually and we just have to be patient and wait our turn to be inoculated against Covid 19, but something will be missing in 2021 that won’t come back.

There is a hole in the heart of Europe where my country used to be. Britain is no longer part of Europe and the vision that was formed after the destruction of the Second World War no longer includes my country.

I know I am haunted by metaphors, but when I saw this fruit tree in the green field inexplicably burnt out, the significance was not wasted on me .

Lead days

Some days are cold

The sparrows won’t feed

The smoke lies in flat Sunday lines

Then there is good news :

a friend will be vaccinated in two weeks time.

It can stay grey, the sparrows can hide in the leaves for just a little longer

The sun will return!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group

I have been keeping a close eye on the research about the usefulness of face masks to protect us from Covid infection. Unfortunately the cloth masks we have made, are not very effective at filtering out the virus . Disposable masks with pinch-able nose bridges are much better, but it seems terrible to use something once and then throw it away and it goes against all my green principles!

By mistake I have often machine washed a disposable mask that has been left in the pocket of clothes. I have been surprised by how the process has not harmed it all and how fresh and intact it was after a long wash. I was delighted therefore to read that studies have shown that a disposable mask can be machine washed, tumble dried and even ironed 10 times before its filtration of covid virus is impaired.

This is really good news to keep more of us safer and doing less harm to the environment while we wait for the vaccine to restore normal ( what ever that is! ) life!!

Disposable masks can be reused 10 times says French group
— Read on www.connexionfrance.com/French-news/Disposable-masks-can-be-reused-and-washed-up-to-10-times-says-French-group-UFC-Que-Choisir

Today sounds of robins and catastrophe.

Today sounds of robins, their rich round burble of music rolls from the hedge and is answered in kind by their mate hidden in the tall tree . Robin song always sounds like Britain and is a relaxing link with home. Here in France they are much rarer in gardens and I can go a whole year without seeing one in the garden. They remind me of my garden in Wales, which was a damp suburban slice in the shade of a magnificent oak tree.

We loved the tree as soon as we saw it and owning the tree was as exciting as owning the little bungalow that sheltered under its bows .

The oak was pollarded periodically and then we left it to go and see the world and the bungalow and guardian oak was rented out to a long succession of tenants.

At the very end of this summer, when the tree was thick with green leaves there was a huge storm and the wonderful tree was uprooted. It walked like an ent from Tolkein across the lawn and it threw itself onto the little bungalow and crushed it utterly .

The house in boarded up now and there is a temporary roof on. It will be rebuilt, we had insurance, the tenant is OK and rehoused, but the oak is gone forever. It was all very shocking.

When the tree was still lying across the house it appeared as if the foliage had simply finally engulfed the upstart house, but when it was sawn up and hauled away by a crane, the full extent of the devastation was apparent.

This was the house we (and the bank) bought when we were first married and we always considered that it was the home we could return to when our wandering was over.

Brexit, Covid and a huge storm has made even knowing where home is anymore , more more difficult .

So when I hear the robins sing I think of our lost oak tree and hope it set plenty of acorns in the hedge for when and if, we ever go home.

They shut…….

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods.


I

As Europe goes back into lock down for everybody except for front line workers ( which now includes school teachers as well as health workers!), maybe Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem should be adapted to –

“they shut the road to the city

Seventy years ago …..“

The tendril goes on …

Just thought I would show you how far the grape vine has grown across my front door, as there is no new reason to cut it back.

( Sliding on By ) https://cathysrealcountrygardencom.wordpress.com/2020/09/17/sliding-on-by/

Covid is still keeping guests away and me inside, but I can still step over it and go into the garden.

The delivery man is amused by it, the cats are bemused by it and it just keeps on growing.

If it is a metaphor for the insidious growth of the virus, then when winter eventually kills it, we will all be set free . If it is a metaphor for the resilience of nature, then I shall leave it to grow. If it is a metaphor for my sloth then I should hack it back.

As planning for the future seems impossible these days, I shall live the metaphor and do absolutely nothing at all and just wait and see what the tendril does next.

Sunlight on the shanty shed.

It has been cold here after a week of such sunny spring weather that made the fear of the virus seem very silly and melodramatic. Everything has been growing and blooming and the birds have been tumultuous, everything must be OK, mustn’t it?

But the news from Italy has been so bad, so many people dead and the hospitals here overflowing with people who need respirators that are already being used by the critically ill.

Replacing the ancient shanty shed has been put on hold, as has so much of life and the tattered roof is now flapping in a cold wind.

But the roof is just keeping out most of the rain and when the sun flashed out for a minute, it lit up the white frothed blossom of the blackthorn bush safely sheltering behind the shed.

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Stay home!

We are staying home to save lives as the COVID-19 virus rips through Europe.

I take inspiration from the solitary bees that have made a home under the ripped roof of our shanty shed in the garden. When I peeked under the flapping plastic sheeting I found every hole had been made into a home by masonry bees with dark red tails. They are collecting pollen from the willow tree to lay their eggs on, which will feed them as they slowly go through the stages of their lives.

Such solitary bees are better pollinators than sociable honey bees. They carry more   pollen than honey bees and do not suffer from the same viruses as their hive living counterparts .

Covid-19/Coronavirus is spreading at an alarming rate and it can be deadly for the infirm and for older people. Younger people catch it just as much, but for them it is much less serious. The problem is that these younger people can spread it even if they are not visibly unwell.

Europe is having to enforce draconian mesures to stop people from socialising  and spreading the virus. No one wants to be confined at home for weeks, but if that is what we have to do to stop it, then that is what we have to do, and that means everybody, for the welfare of the whole of society!

If you are in Italy, France, Spain etc I am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs again. If you are in China, we need to learn from how you have dealt with this; if you are in the rest of our beautiful world, then please take notice of what is happening in Italy and beyond and stay away from the hive, stop travelling and stay safe.

 

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