The perspective offered by assaults on the senses
I have never seen nature’s fecundity at quite the level of excess we have in Lot et Garonne at the moment. The damsons are are as sweet as blueberrries. The mirabelles have a perfect pink blush, the greengages fall apart in one’s hands, releasing the most amazing scent and flavour. We have pears at least five weeks ahead of themselves, cooking apples about to go rotten on the branch unless we pick and freeze them, and young prunes not yet too sweet…so you can pretend they’re Victoria plums.
Our two terriers are into everything that drops to the garden floor. But as soft fruit has stones (and they eat the whole thing) defaecation on their part becomes a painful process. The resultant residue is an odd mix of crunch and squelch. Sorry: bit too much detail there.
I was mowing the lower field this afternoon, and the house martins were once again ‘beating me up’. For those readers born after 1960, this phrase is used in the World War 2 sense of spitfire pilots larking about by flying at hedge-level in order to frighten folks. In fact, the martins are just playing: they duck and dive around the tractor-mower and just above my head, their speed and grace a constant amazement to me, a mere earth-bound hominid. I’m sure like me you’ve dreamt at times of being able to fly, the most liberating thing about the dream being that it is so easy to fly once you know how. The terrible disappointment of waking up to find the secret has vanished is as bad as it gets.
Most of the hedgerow on two sides of our land is sloe bush, and in our early years down here the collection of these for making sloe gin became something of a tradition. I have to say, it’s one I’ve grown out of: the resultant liqueur is powerful and a perfect pousse-cafe, but one winds up with so much of it, the only solution is to damage a thousand livers with gifts. This is something about which I feel increasingly guilty. But the rest of the hedge is ash, and therein lies a short story.
We bought the house in 1998. To mark the borders of its terrain, the previous owners had planted ash trees at rather too regular intervals. Ash trees in south-west France are a bit like sycamores in the UK: something of a weed. In fact, they’re much prettier than sycamore trees, but they do grow like topsy. So over the years, we’ve thinned them out. It has become something of a hobby of mine – rather than kill the tree stumps – to trail the shoots from them horizontally to form a live hedge. This drives Jan mad, as she sees it as the creation of constant work to hack it all back regularly – and further evidence of my borderline compulsive condition.
Be that as it may, there is something intensely satisfying about, year by year, yard by yard, joining up the stumps to make a hedge which, in the end, has wound up looking rather smart. Even if I do say so myself.
The evening light tonight was staggering. Dark orange, enough to highlight red leaves in some of the bushes we have – and yet soft enough to make every white look pink, and tinge the blue patches in the sky with flecks of green. As the light faded, a dark grey cloud above the sunflowers was made to seem almost royal blue. I take pictures of such things, but no photograph can reproduce the effect on the human eye of watching such a display, having used the brain behind that eye to appreciate it on myriad levels.
This is the sort of end to a day that makes a nonsense of fame, wealth, chat shows, tabloid editorship, financial news and television. The sort of gentle dusk that enables even the amoral lies of contemporary culture to seem not just unimportant, but even bearable. We are a very self-important species having only an ephemeral effect on the planet, an orbiting sphere of far greater moment than us. For we are but creatures programmed to find all these colours, fruits, birds and climatic effects pleasing. The effects themselves are something vastly superior to anything we will ever be.