A troubled Eden

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on October 21st 2021.

Is this a mackerel sky?

There are times when the sense of peace in our magical valley is so intense, so strong that I feel I can almost see it, that I could hold it in my hand, or breathe it in from the air around me. But there are other times when humanity intrudes and that peace is shattered. We are becoming used to certain forms of intrusion, but others are harder to deal with and have come from an unexpected direction over the last fortnight. 

Whilst there is no doubt about the beauty that surrounds us, we actually live in a food factory, although most of the time it doesn’t feel like one. Our small valley is part of a much larger network that stretches on for miles and miles, and it is filled with field after field of crops, predominantly sunflowers and maize. For most of the year they only add to the beauty of the landscape, but at certain times of the year our valley becomes a very noisy place.

The sunflowers are the first to have been harvested and now the valley is filled with the sounds of tractors as they harrow and plough, fertilize and re-seed for the next crop rotation. The farmers work long days, often into the night, and we can see the headlights on the tractors moving back and forth, back and forth, like some automated beast in the darkness. The whole process will be repeated again in a month or two when they harvest the maize.

This is our second autumn here and we are beginning to recognize these seasonal patterns as a consequence of the man-made landscape that surrounds us and accept them, knowing they won’t last too long and peace will return. But something different has happened in the last fortnight.

There are large tracts of woodland all around us, higher up on the hillsides, a patchwork of plots belonging to a variety of people, us included, who might fell small areas from year to year to provide wood for their personal use. We came back from our trip to the UK to find a team of professional loggers were working their way systematically through large areas of the hillside belonging to a local farmer. They began last week some distance away from us at the top of the hill, a gang of men on chainsaws all day long, felling trees so big that I would not have been able to wrap my arms around their trunks. Powerful tracked vehicles pulled the trees out of the woods on chains up to a flat area by some barns where they were processed further, stacked in piles twice my height and then taken away by a transporter.

This week they started work on the wood that directly joins on to our land, thankfully not right by the cabin, but at the other end of the field where we park our van. It’s impossible to ignore the relentless whine of the chainsaws, the deep, throaty roar of the track vehicle as it pushes through the dense undergrowth, crushing anything in its path, and that particularly horrible sound that trees make as they fall. The lane has been closed to give the loggers better access and trees are being felled across it, leaving swathes of tumbling acorns that are all that remain once the trees have been dragged away. Hundred of them are being taken and we have no idea how long this will go on for. 

It feels like plunder, a deeply upsetting personal loss for this wood is on our boundary, and I walk along the lane everyday. I have seen land cleared on managed pine forests in Wales, leaving scars on the hills that take years to re-cover, but I haven’t see clearance in natural woodland on this level before and, although I know it is not on the same scale, it puts me in mind of the deforestation of the Amazon and I feel a new level of sympathy and horror. Here in our valley they are cutting down oaks, chestnuts, cherry trees and acacias, many of which have taken decades to get to the size they are now and which will not re-generate at the rate of the quick-growing commercial forestry areas. 

We have recently bought some pine planking to make proper kitchen cupboards in Le Shack. I look at it all neatly stacked in the shed and I wonder where it came from. Presumably from men doing exactly the same job as those at the end of our field. I had been excited at the thought of our new kitchen cupboards, but now I found myself a participant in something that felt wrong. We all buy things without thinking about where they came from and what impact our action might have on the natural world. It’s inevitable in our highly developed, highly materialistic society. We might try to buy sustainably or from reputable sources but there are so many things that slip through the net and when something happens to make you more aware of this problem, it isn’t a good feeling.  

Moving on to a more cheerful subject I promised you in my last blog to share our plans for this coming winter. We still want to travel over these colder months and have decided to try our hand at house-sitting in France. We have joined an international organisation called Trusted Housesitters, which puts sitters in touch with people who want their homes and pets looked after while they go away on holiday. No money changes hands, rather this is an exchange of services. As a house-sitter we have a base from which to explore a different part of France, whilst the home-owner can rest easy knowing that their animals will be looked after in their own home whilst they are away. (And for those of you who will be wondering about the cats we inherited at our own property, fear not – they have other homes as well as us and are also adept at fending for themselves.)

We leave for our first house-sit this weekend, down on the Mediterranean in a small town called Marseillan, looking after a cat for two weeks. We have been to this area once before on Olivia Rose, on our way down to the Canal du Midi in 2018. I have great memories of our brief time here, particularly as we cruised across the Etang de Thau under the bluest of blue skies and it was one of the highlights of our trip. We can’t wait to have time to get to know the area better and I hope to have some pictures of a very different landscape for you next week.

For now I leave you with a few images from Le Shack and hope all is well with everyone.

MJ

A monastery half an hour away with wonderful collection of trees.
Our sunset chairs.
A good crop from our fig tree this year.

14 thoughts on “A troubled Eden

  1. You have put into a very eloquent way what has troubled me for years – the apparent wasteful destruction of old and established trees.

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  2. Hi Mary-Jane, I do enjoy your weekly updates immensely. Moonshadow is now going into winter storage and we have taken delivery of our new camper which I am off to Brittany in tomorrow to try it out for a week of two before heading south after Christmas to hibernate.
    Regarding the tree felling, I wonder what the outcome will be in the next few years and whether the farmer will allow natural regeneration, plant new trees or has other ulterior motives.
    I own around 140 acres of deciduous ancient semi-natural woodland in Kent, predominately chestnut, oak, ash, cherry and so on. All of these can and do regrow from the cut stools quite quickly and within 10-15 years a closed canopy is formed again blocking out light from the ground during summer. Over the years I have cut around 1-3 acres per year on a coppice system and the wood is used to build fencing etc. or firewood. At first when I started I was quite apprehensive about the resulting damage I may cause but then something remarkable happened. The first summer after felling was relatively quiet but by the second year the cut area became alive with wild flowers and plants, the seeds of which had been dormant for decades, if not centuries. Insects and butterflies appeared everywhere and the whole area was buzzing with activity. Life was all around in an area which previously would have been dark in summer. The trees grew back over the years and slowly shaded the ground again but as they grew they produced fresh new shoots at a low level which the deer found delicious. The areas the deer browsed regularly, where no trees were, were kept clear of brush by the browsing, allowing orchids (which the deer don‘t like) and other rare plants to thrive.
    I once had an idea which sadly never really took off. Watching a group of teenagers eating hamburgers outside a McDonalds one day, it occurred to me that probably none of those teenagers would be thinking that part of those hamburgers was once a living creature which was born, lived and then died, just to never be thought of again.
    I then thought, this surely is not just true with the animals that go into fast-food but perhaps the trees that go into fast-furniture a la Ikea. Furniture too is bought just to be consumed in a relatively short space of time until it is no longer fashionable or unliked. No thought is placed on the fact that the wood once came from a living tree which was decades or perhaps centuries old. How different to my childhood times in Wales where there was no Ikea etc. back then and furniture like Welsh dressers was handed down to the next generation. I thought it may be an idea to make some furniture pieces starting from the living tree, documenting the very tree as it still stood there, photographing it and mapping where it came from and documenting the making of the piece from the start to finish to show complete traceability. I found a cabinet maker who did show some interest by as time progressed and we spoke to people who may be interested in purchasing a piece, it soon became apparent that most people had no concept of what I was talking about and I shelved the idea, realising that society has moved dramatically in my lifetime to now be driven by consumerism with little time for any emotional attachment to nature.
    Best regards,
    Rob

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  3. Hey MJ, I’ve stayed in Marsienne, if you haven’t already, try to visit Sete, interesting place with canals & great seafood restaurant’s, try the ones on the opposite side to busy canal front.
    Yours Gary K

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  4. It must be so distressing to see the wholesale destruction of the woodland. Just a field away from our house, there is a lovely copse of oak trees, but they were surely planted to be felled one day, and I dread the arrival of that moment. On a lighter note, I hope your house-sit goes well.

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  5. Humans need to see trees as more than lumber for our use. Hopefully, older growth trees will be valued as is, standing, for their beauty as well as the carbon sequestration services they provide. It is heartbreaking to see clear cuts, the ecological disasters that they are, knowing recovery is a long process.
    In contrast, I hope your time away is pleasant!

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    1. Hi Eliza. I agree with you, but I think money making opportunities so often win over everything else. Sadly. But on a happier note we are sitting in our campervan tonight after a long drive and looking forward to taking over our house-sitting first thing tomorrow!
      MJ

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  6. We have fond memories of staying in Marseillan in 2010 for a few days and, unbeknownst to us, it was during this time that the seeds were sown that later germinated into us buying a barge to cruise in Europe. A lovely town.

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