FIGS AND CHESTNUTS
The beginning of October; chestnuts, figs, crisp mornings and evenings drawing in ever earlier. We are relishing wrapping up under more and more layers as we make the most of the clear skies before winter arrives.
Autumn here is also the time when animals are walked back down from high grazing in the mountains to lower, more hospitable, ground for the winter. These 'Transhumances' are often accompanied by 'fêtes' and communal meals as the village traditionally welcomes back the shepherds and the herdsmen. We watched a flock of sheep arrive back in a nearby village with the community out to welcome them home. It was quite moving to think that in the past these farmers may have had no contact with their families and neighbours for those summer months spent caring for their flocks and this welcome home was a real reunion.
My sister came to visit and we had a special weekend of adventure with her: Vulture spotting in Bugarach (the mountain destined to be the sole location to survive a 2012 Apocolypse according to some interpretations of Mayan prophecies- or something like that, I didn't check the details), hot springs in Rennes-les-Bains where you can bathe in warm pools in the river (it feels magical!) and the nearby Fontaine des Amours where the freezing river water runs through a beautiful deep pool carved out into smoothly shaped rock – only for swimmers as brave as my seven months pregnant sister. Then some time spent modelling clay figures in the wood around a fire and barbecue and lots of chatting...
The girls and I have been trying to mark Autumn in our crafts and walks and wanders. Collecting lots of leaves; enormous Plane leaves the size of my two hands together, picking out the brightest coloured ones like magpies after jewels and stashing them into pockets for afternoon collages. We've made a 'hybernation nest' out of a takeaway pizza box and lots of seasonal decorations although it remains very clearly a cut up and reimagined pizza box and it usually looks like it's hosting a crazy animal discotheque rather than cosy nest for the winter. I'm regularly inspired by ideas about how to live seasonally, ground the children in nature's rythms but there always lies a conflict between my vision of this and the children's own imagination and creativity. Our Autumn display, on the window sill outside of our house, is in fact a constant battlefield, my conkers and rosy crab apples vs. Little L's scavanged old crisp packets and cigarette butts. I'm really not sure how other parents ever create anything that looks vaguely 'nice' with their children. I fight hard to not stiffle their creativity but it's hard to accept the small scale recycling centre on our window sill.
Throughout this process of renovation we are trying to recycle the maximum of materials and use as many 'eco-materials' as possible (taking into account our budget).
This week Florent has been plastering onto the areas of exposed stonework inside the house (the plaster is a mix of calcic lime, hydraulic lime, hemp, horse manure and water). This mix should serve a number of purposes ; the hemp reinforces and adds flexibility to the plaster necessary because of the uneven stonework behind and will therefore guard against cracks forming. Over the years, fires burning in various hearths and chimneys led to a build up of black soot and grease difficult to remove and the horse manure is added to prevent the blackened surface of the stones leeching through the plaster and eventually staining the surface of the wall. As I am writing this, Florent has admitted that the manure bit is an experiment. Finally the calcic lime is for workability and the hydraulic lime is for strength and also speeds up the drying time.
Below are some pictures giving a little tour of the house and including Little L learning on the job... Putting these photos together brought into all too sharp a focus that the house looks less habitable than it did when we started. We hope this is normal.