The Shrew – untamed!!

Over the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of time working in my garden.  I was there pretty much every afternoon, except on rainy days!! 🙂 During my time in the garden I’ve been able to observe the wildlife that calls my garden home.  Very early in spring, I found a very large toad hiding among the weeds by the rose bushes.  It sauntered off slowly, and it is probably still hiding in the tangle of weeds which I’ve not gotten round to clearing yet!

When the pear trees bloomed this spring they where abuzz with bees  – the promise of fruit later in the year!!

Bumble bees loved the comfrey flowers:

I left a fair number of borage plants to flower this year – they provided lots of bee food!

This tiny green spider was a little cross at being disturbed, I think.  It waved its front legs at me in a fairly threatening manner! 🙂

Many years ago, when I first took over the garden there were many small lizards darting in an out of the gaps in the stone walls.  They were fun to watch as they jumped and dashed about.  I managed to photograph the one in the picture below many years ago – it was sunning itself in an old ceramic sink!

At some point the geckos started moving in – I don’t remember when, but it’s been a good many years.  Somehow the geckos took over and I haven’t seen a lizard in the garden for a few years – they got crowded out.  I have one bruiser of a gecko living in one of the compost bins – it is feeding on the little flies and other insects that buzz around in there.  Doesn’t it look well fed??

Over the years I have spotted many other animals in the garden!  Once I came across a large bright green lizard (no I had not had a drink!).  Another time there was fairly large snake slithering away into the bushes.  The snake had me spooked – for quite a while I was very weary of reaching with my hands where I could not see!

All kinds of birds visit the garden and it’s always a pleasure to sit and watch them once I’ve turned over a patch of ground!!  And of course there are cats – a succession of them, some better behaved than others!

This year, I discovered an animal in the garden that I had never encountered before.  In February I became aware of something scurrying about – I thought it was probably a mouse and gave it no more thought.  At the beginning of April I took my camera with me to the garden, to take pictures of some of the flowers, and that’s when I saw this little animal in one of the flower beds:

Its fur was a kind of grey-ish brown colour and its body was probably the length of my ring finger.  It was rummaging around in the mulch, totally oblivious to my presence.  I first imagined it to be a mouse.

I couldn’t quite see its face as it was buried in the mulch most of the time!  As it rummaged it came closer to where I was crouched, and finally I managed to get a good picture!

I’d never seen an animal like it – a mouse with a pointed nose!!  A bit of research on the internet showed this to be a garden shrew.  I did a bit of reading and found out that this was not a rodent – what a relief!!  Shrews have a very high metabolic rate and eat insect larvae, slugs & snails and worms.  Because of their high metabolism they have to eat a lot!  Perhaps this shrew was very hungry and therefore ignored me??  In any case, it would seem to be a very beneficial animal to have in the garden!!

Here is a brief video of the shrew:

Do you have any interesting animals living in your garden??

Virtual reality

Please join me on a virtual visit of Saint-Chinian and some of the surrounding area!  I’ve found a number of videos on youtube, which I think will give you a great taste of Saint-Chinian and its surroundings!

To start with, a walk that takes in the countryside surrounding the village:

Next, a couple of videos which show Saint-Chinian from the air:

I found several videos about virtual wine tastings of AOC Saint-Chinian wines.  The following video is about the wines of Chateau Pech Menel, whose wines I have enjoyed a great deal!

Fréderic Revilla of Restaurant Le Faitout in Berlou participated in a programme about wine and food pairing.  The video is in French only, but you’ll get the idea – just don’t watch it when you are hungry, the food looks delicious!

Here is another aerial video showing the landscape around Saint-Chinian – it will give you a good idea of the vast and varied terrain of the area.

Domaine des Pradels is in a little hamlet just outside Saint-Chinian, nestled in a little valley. The wines are very good, so add it to your list of wineries to visit next time you are in the area!

And to end our virtual visit, here is a video of the Saint-Chinian jazz festival 2019!

I hope you have enjoyed our virtual visit!!

Close to you

This past week has been somewhat mixed – our confinement will be ending soon, since Saint-Chinian is in one of France’s green zones where there have been few cases of the virus.  However, this does not mean that our lives will go back to normal – far from it!  Many restrictions will remain in place, and we’re a long way from being out of the woods!

So, since I cannot be close to any of you I went for another walk with my camera, to be close to nature instead!  Below is a map of my walk – it started by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. I wore my sturdy shoes since a part of it was on slightly uneven terrain!  Only a short length of it was somewhat challenging, where the path went uphill, but for the rest it was pretty easy and very enjoyable!

I started the walk by going along the Chemin des Gazels, passing the cemetery and then took a right turn, just past the former distillery, to join up with the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After about 750m on the Chemin de Sorteilho, I turned right onto a somewhat overgrown track.  This track is not marked on any of the maps, but the hut it goes past is marked with a little black speck on the map!  At the top of the track I turned right once again and followed the path back towards the cooperative winery.  The walk was about 2.5 km in length – easy!!

We’ve had wonderful weather over the past weeks, plenty of sunshine, but enough rain to keep nature happy! The wildflowers I saw along my walk were beautiful and here are a few of the pictures I took:

The hut I walked past during the uphill part of my walk had been abandoned some years ago.  The door was missing, and the inside was strewn with all kinds of rubbish.  The roof was still intact and from one of the beams hung an enormous wasps nest!!  It was very well preserved, so might have been built only last year?  I would never have been able to go anywhere near it if it had still been occupied!!

Just before I reached the first of the ponds which are by the side of the path, I noticed the mushrooms in the pictures below.  They were incredibly well camouflaged amongst the rocks!  What a shame that they were not truffles!! 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this walk – you’ll be able to follow it yourself on your next visit to Saint-Chinian!!

I leave you with a video of Karen Carpenter singing Close to you…

Changes afoot!

Week 6 of the lockdown in France – still doing fine here in Saint-Chinian!!  We’ve had some rain this week, which has been incredibly beneficial for my garden and for nature in general!!  I swear that the potato plants pretty much doubled in size during the three days of soft drizzle!  As I am writing this, the sun has come out once more, and everywhere is beginning to dry out a bit.  It’s still too wet to work in the garden this afternoon, so perhaps I’ll clean the windows instead?? 🙂

Here is a picture I took the day after the rain stopped:

You may know that I’m heavily involved in organising the music festivals in Saint-Chinian.  Our July festival was scheduled for July 19 to 26 this year.  Was because the committee members (of the association which runs the festivals) have had to take a good and hard look at the facts and pronouncements by the French government, and in the end we came to the conclusion that we had better postpone that festival until 2021.  Very sad 😦 , but we had to think of the wider implications for our public and musicians.  Three of the concerts from the July programme were rescheduled and added to the September festival, which will now run from September 2 to 6, 2020.  Of course there is a question mark hanging over that too, but we’re trying to stay positive!!  🙂

Here’s a little summary of what we’ve had to postpone/reschedule:

This is a very difficult time for all of us, but my heart goes out especially  to all the performers, musicians, singers and actors who are deprived of their public!

I am very much looking forward to the day when I will once again be able to attend live performances in person. It will certainly be a moment of intense emotion!  In the meantime, take good care of yourself and continue to listen to music as much as you can!!

A picture a month

Back in the last century, in 1999 (remember those days?? 😉 ), I worked on a calendar project with a friend.  She was a professional photographer and I had some computer skills, and so we pooled our skills and resources to produce a calendar illustrated with photographs taken in and of the area.  The calendars were sold to visitors and locals alike – they were very popular!  It was a very enjoyable but one-off project.

Many years later, in 2008, I made a photo calendar for a friend, just a one-off for a Christmas present.  That started a tradition which is still going!  For the past eleven years I have produced a calendar each year, using photographs taken mostly around the area.  I have only ever had a small number of them printed, and I have given the calendars as Christmas presents to friends and family.

A recent conversation with one of my brothers sparked the idea of sharing some of these calendars with you.  Here’s the background to the story: The management team of the nursing home where my brother works, recently decided that they needed new pictures on the walls.  My brother had kept all the calendars from over the years, and he felt that these were just the pictures that were needed!  So the calendars were cut up, the pictures framed and hung up all over the place.  My brother now sees reminders of Saint-Chinian throughout the building!

Here are the pictures from that very first calendar in 2009:

2009 calendar cover

The cover

Landscape near Saint-Chinian

Barrel Cellar, Domaine des Jougla, Prades sur Vernazobre

Pear blossoms, Saint-Chinian

Calla Lily, Saint-Chinian

Redcurrants, Saint-Chinian

Echinacea flowers, Saint-Chinian

Geese, Le Bouys, near Minerve

Casa Milo, Barcelona, Spain

Artemis tinctoria, Saint-Chinian

Vine leaf, near Saint-Chinian

Windmill on the hill above Saint-Chinian

Garden of the Gods, Colorado, USA

The pictures from Barcelona and Colorado were the odd ones out in 2009 – I’d visited both places the previous year, which is why the photographs made it into the calendar!

I’ll be making another calendar this year – I don’t think there’ll be any pictures of far-flung places in it! 🙂

It’s the little things

We’re well into week two of confinement, and so far I’m doing just fine with it!

  • Having a routine and sticking to it helps.
  • Not being on my own helps.
  • Having the garden to work in helps.
  • Being allowed to go out for short walks in the countryside helps.
  • Cooking and eating delicious meals make for variety and definitely helps.
  • Knowing that the shops are open and fairly well stocked helps.

I could add to this list, but you can tell that I’m counting my blessings!!  🙂

For a long time now, I have written my articles at the beginning of the week, sent them to Annie, who checked them for any errors (and she always found some!!), and then I posted the articles on Fridays on the blog.  After last Friday’s post, and with the drama of the Covid-19 crisis unfolding all around us, I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to write about.  But then I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and I changed my mind!

I had taken my camera with me, but when I wanted to take my first picture I found that I had forgotten to put the memory card back in its slot.  So I resigned myself to not take any pictures.  My walk started behind the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian and took me along the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After a while, I headed down a track on the left which brought me to the Chemin des Gazels (you can find the route on google maps!).  When I reached the Chemin des Gazels I turned left and headed back towards the village.

had observed many beautiful flowers along my walk, but what really struck me was that there was a clarity in the air, which was all to do with the absence of noise.  I could hear the sound of my footsteps, the sound of birdsong, some rustling in the bushes, the sound of my own breathing when I walked up a steep incline, the sound of water in a hidden brook.  But there was no noise from planes, from traffic, from agricultural machinery or from any other human activity!  It felt somewhat eerie but also incredibly peaceful!!

It was after that realisation that I happened upon a white lavender plant in full flower.  I knew Lavandula Stoechas only as a plant with purple blue flowers, so I was thrilled to see one with white flowers.  And that’s when I remembered that my phone had a built-in camera!! 😉

After that, I took a few more pictures which I’ll share with you below, but for me the essence of the walk lay in observing the little things that were all around me.  I really enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of that moment in time!