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!

Look what I found!

Life goes on as always in Saint-Chinian, despite the hysteria surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. People are still greeting one another in the street, albeit less often with kisses and/or handshakes.  I’m sure that people will pick up that tradition again before too long, once the worries have subsided.

To clear my head, I went for walk – nothing strenuous, just past the campsite and through the vineyards.  The weather was spring-like and I found lots to distract me!

My walk took me along a canal which is one of the remnants of an extensive irrigation system.  As I walked along the canal, I noticed a plain terracotta tile lying by the side of the water.

Here’s what I saw when I was peering over the wall and into the water:

Dozens and more tiles, all neatly laid out!!  I continued to walk along the canal, and took a few more pictures.

There were tiles the whole length of the canal!!  As I was walking along, I figured out why they were there – they are being cleaned!!  There’s someone in Saint-Chinian who sells reclaimed building materials, and this must be part of his operation!  The water gently scrubs the old cement and anything else off the tiles.  The tile I saw lying by the side of the canal must have been cleaned already!!  What an interesting discovery!!

Along the way there were also many wonderful flowers!  First came the buttercups:

A little farther was a field – yes literally a field – full of wild narcissus!  If my identification is correct, this is called a petticoat daffodil.

Here’s a picture of the field – unfortunately you can’t see the daffodils very well, but you should get an idea:

In the vineyard next to the daffodils, there were lots of white flowers: wild rocket!  The leaves have a lovely peppery taste!

Here is another harbinger of spring: a clump of violets:

Daisies flower in Saint-Chinian pretty much all through the winter.  Seeing one of these flowers always cheers me up!

Farther along the river was a viburnum bush, bursting into flower:

The sweet bay tree next to it was also in full flower!

The sound of splashing water drew me down to the water’s edge – across the river there was a little waterfall.  And look at the pale green leaves bursting out!

In the undergrowth, honesty was flowering.  Why is honesty so underrated??  And why is it so often overshadowed by other things??

Dandelions appeared along the path.  Some had been around for a little while:

Most of the vineyards had been pruned already:

A stone wall runs along the path back towards the village and it is home to many plants, some of which I would call weeds!! 🙂   The plant in the picture below would take over in my garden if I did not keep it in check:  fumaria muralis or common ramping-fumitory:

The grape hyacinths were very pretty:

I love the acid green of this euphorbia plant!

I saw this pretty pink flower in only a couple of places along my walk.  I didn’t remember having seen it before, and I was not able to identify it other than it probably belonged to the toadflax family.  The flower was only about the size of a small fingernail.

And then I was back across the river and I was back on the edge of the village.  One last glimpse of flowers: a peach or apricot tree in full flower!!  A promise of bounty in months to come!!

That walk really cheered me up no end and cleared my head.  What do you do when you want to change your frame of mind?

Red all over

As a result of our wetter-than-usual spring, we’ve had the most amazing display of wildflowers this year.  Poppies have been truly exceptional!  One field in particular, just by the roundabout in Cabezac, was simply extraordinary, to the point where I made a special trip just to take pictures to share with you!!

Papaver rhoeas is the latin name of the common poppy, also called field poppy, Flanders poppy or red poppy.  It grows particularly well in recently disturbed soil, and hence it’s association with the churned up WWI battlefields of northern France.  In Cabezac, the field had been ploughed, perhaps late last year or earlier this year, in preparation for a cereal crop or some such.  If any seeds had been sown then, they had had no chance against the poppies – I saw no evidence of a struggling crop.

The field was so spectacularly red that many people stopped their cars by the side of the road and hopped out to take a picture or two.  The snails on the post didn’t seem to be particularly fussed about the poppies or the passers-by.

I walked around the edge of the field, careful not to step on any poppies!  I found this beautiful thistle which looks wonderful against the red background, don’t you agree?

There were also some marguerites:

Some of the visitors walked right into the middle of the field, perhaps thinking of Claude Monet’s Coquelicots (Poppy Field) form 1873, which shows a lady with a parasol and a child walking through a field.  It’s a painting which has been reproduced countless times – I’m sure you’ve seen it somewhere!  The original hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

Nobody carried a parasol the day I took the pictures, but there were many mobile phones in evidence!! 🙂

I’ve teased you long enough with my descriptions – here, finally, is the field in all its glory:

Something to think about: a single poppy plant can produce up to 400 flowers during its life cycle!  If only some of the poppy flowers in the field produce seeds, there is a good chance that there will be another amazing display before too long.

And another thing to remember: poppy seeds can stay dormant for a very long time, until the soil is disturbed once more…

Wildflowers aplenty

A couple of Sundays ago, friends invited me to join them for a walk in Saint Pons de Thomieres.  It was to be a little adventure, followed by a picnic, and since the weather was hot we decided to leave early in the morning.  We were going to attempt part of the walk which loops around Le Lauzet, as on the map below.  You can find maps like this on http://www.geoportail.gouv.fr – it’s a great site for exploring the area in detail!

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We parked the car in the car park in front of the Cathedral in St Pons – if you want to find out a little more about the church have a look here and here.

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From the car park we walked along the narrow back roads, until we came to Rue du Truquet, and that’s where the climbing started!  Soon we took a turning onto Chemin du Coustou, looking back every so often to admire the view as we climbed higher and higher.

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Chemin du Coustou is fairly steep, so onwards and upwards we went.  Once we were past the last house, the road turned into a track, and we started to see the most wonderful wildflowers.

You can see how the view of the town was changing as we climbed ever higher up the mountainside.

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We passed some impressive stone walls, patinated by time, and looking as though they had been there forever.

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And still more wildflowers to be discovered!

The track turned into a path and vegetation drew closer, but it looked well-trodden, so we carried on.

We were all very excited when we found this orchid!

Its name is Himantoglossum Hircinum, or the Lizard Orchid – most impressive!!

The flowers we saw after that paled a little by comparison 🙂

But then we happened on a small meadow, completely covered in white flowers – what a stunning sight!!  You can just make out the path!!

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We were still climbing, and at the same time discovering new flowers!

St Pons became ever more distant as we neared the top of the mountain!  The views were glorious, and we could hear the church bells ringing down below, calling the faithful to mass!  There is a video below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the webpage to view the video), to give you an idea of how wonderful it was.  Make sure you turn up the volume! 🙂

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As we were getting closer to the top we realised that we had been on the wrong track for some time – we’d suspected as much – and now the track disappeared altogether!!  But we found ever more wildflowers, including a Cephalanthera rubra orchid!!

After we scrambled across some woodland, and walked past several patches of earth which had been newly dug up by some wild boar (we kept looking out for them in all directions), we finally reached the regular path again, and soon found ourselves with the most beautiful panorama laid out in front of us.

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The vegetation on the top of the mountain seemed to be somewhat different to what we had encountered further down, and we saw many plants and flowers we had not come across on our climb.

This bee was having fun on one of the cistus flowers – it seemed to be almost drunk on nectar!  There’s a very brief clip of it after the photograph.

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We were now at a spot used by the hunters during the hunting season, and there was a small shelter, with a makeshift table and a few chairs.  Perfect for a brief rest and a drink of water.  A little bug decided to pay me a visit – he really was tiny, but such a wonderful verdigris colour!

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We were now on the path which is marked on the map (see top of the post), and found ourselves very close to the marble quarry.  So we took a little detour, for a quick peek – but only a very quick peek, since it is really closed to the public!!  The piece of marble on the signpost was a hint, I guess, that we were walking on a marble mountain!

The path led us through a bit of woodland – most beautifully dappled with shade.

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And still there were new flowers to discover!!

Just before we got to the quarry we passed this butterfly sitting on a flower.  He was not at all shy and, to my surprise, stayed on the flower as we walked by.

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Melitaea cinxia (Glanville Fritillary) on Scabius

On the way back he was still in the same spot – highly unusual I thought, so decided to take a closer look.  It turned out that he’d fallen prey to a spider, who had perfectly camouflaged itself by imitating the colour of the flower.  Look closely at the pictures and I think you’ll see!  What cruel fate for the poor butterfly!

Heading back to St Pons, we were watching out for the yellow markings which are painted on trees and stones along the path, to keep us on the right track!

The town soon came into view, but seen from a totally different angle than when we had started our climb.

Another couple of flowers…

… and we were back in town!  On the way down we realised where we went wrong – and how wonderful it was that we missed that turning to the right.  We’d have never seen all those wonderful views and wildflowers!!

And just to finish, here are some quirky images of St Pons, taken on our way back to the car.

Thank you, Pam and David, for sharing this beautiful walk!!  And the picnic?  We had that once we got back to St Chinian, in my potager, sitting below the wisteria. 🙂