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