Sunday, 26 June 2011

Top Ten Sounds of Summer at the Cabin

Forget Glastonbury, here's our Countdown to the Best Sounds Around

10. Cry of a buzzard, circling in the warm thermals overhead.
 9. Thrumm of the Kingfisher's wings as he darts across the lake.
 8. Rustling and bustling of lizards in the leaves.
 7. The throaty chorusing frogs
 6. Sploop - a carp jumping out of the water
 5. Drrrrrrrrrr - the woodpecker busy at work
 4. Cuckoo - heard but never seen.
 3. Buzz of the bees, doing bee business
 2. Twitter of the local tit families
 1. The distant hum of some poor soul mowing whilst I'm in the hammock!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hunters and Gatherers

Sometimes, on a chilly Autumnal Sunday, I will resist the siren call of the Eastenders Omnibus and we'll head off down to the cabin.  We get a fire going and put the kettle on then potter about in the woods, looking for mushrooms or other things of interest.  Sometimes our wanderings are curtailed because the Hunt will be there.  There are no glamourous horses and scarlet clad toffs, just a group of men, and occasionally women, toting shotguns.  They have invested heavily in camouflage gear which they then incongruously top with high vis jackets.  I think the idea is to surround an area, send in their dogs, then shoot at anything that the dogs flush out.  This strategy sometimes leads to them shooting each other.  One day, I was just commenting to Bob that I'd never actually seen them kill anything when out of the woods came two hunters with a dead deer strung on a pole between them.  I should not tempt fate by saying such things. Poor deer.  But that's the way of things round here, usually, they don't stay long and as the sound of the dog's bells tinkles away in the distance it's safe to go back into the forest for a forage.  Ceps (or what the Italians call Porcini) are distinctive and if we're lucky we'll get enough for a mushroom supper.  Our neighbour is often seen emerging from the woods with carrier bags full of these beauties.  We don't seem to find that many,  (probably because the neighbour has already made a sweep of our woods before we've even got out of bed) which makes the ones we do find all the more precious.  Yum.

There are myriads of other, non edible, more sinister looking Fungi,  a fascinating range of shapes and colours.  One, with scarlet tendrils that we call 'devil's fingers' is native to Austrailia.  It's spores were apparently transported over in fleeces under the saddles of Austrailian mounted soldiers during the first world war! I also like to see the classic fairytale style toadstools, red with white spots and the 'purple sickener' not because it's an impressive looking thing but just because I like it's name. 
By this time, the cabin will be toasty warm and so I might scoop up a few chestnuts to roast on the woodburner and head back.  Perfect!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Splendid Fellow

One day I had a call from Jo , at the Moulin de Grolhier "Are you having  this duck then, or what?'  she asked.  The duck in question was 'Pekka'.  His featherbrained parents had conceived him at the wrong time of year and so Jo had taken him in as a hatchling as she feared he wouldn't survive the winter.  He had been raised in their home, at times sleeping in Ted's slipper and although still young had already begun to display his characterful personality.  The other ducks at the Moulin had no time for his histrionics and so he was looking to be rehomed.  I had no recollection of agreeing to take the duck, it may have happened after a glass or two of red, but I liked the idea so a date was set for his arrival and I charged Bob with making a duckhouse.  This would be placed on the island at the lake which was to become his new realm.  At this stage, he was still fluffy yellow, his sexuality had not been confirmed, so we took him to see the old crone who sells ducklings at the market.  I wanted to buy him some companions but didn't want to be overrun with new ducks so I was thinking a same sex group would be good.  The Crone confirmed he was a female.  Jo looked sceptical - he already had a huge 'alpha male' attitude but this woman sexed ducks all day for a living so we re-christened him Pekkarina, bought two female ducklings and thought all was well.  Pekka and the ladies were moved into their new home and that, we thought, was that.  You know what's coming.  The muscovy ducks are strange looking beasts, half duck, half pterydactyl with a warty red head.  The males are much larger that the females and it was soon obvious from his behaviour that Pekka was indeed a boy.  Those poor girls!

I wouldn't say he was tame exactly, but he definitely liked being around people. Although he didn't seem to be too keen on men he liked kids and was quite happy to spend time with them out on the raft.  Sometimes his hissing antics would get too much and he'd have to be coralled into the privvy with a paddle to shut him up.  Other times he'd sit quite contentedly and liked to be stroked.  He could fly, but he never really mastered the art of landing and would roar into the shore too fast, make a pig's ear of the touchdown and then waddle about as though he meant to do it that way.  He was a just a crazy, mixed up duck.

Sadly, one winter, the lake froze over and so when foxy came a-calling they had nowhere to run.  Three piles of feathers were all that remained.  I felt so guilty that I'd not protected them, I just didn't think and anyway he seemed so formidable.  We still miss him.  I don't know how many ducks get remembered, but we all remember Pekka.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

What lies beneath?

Shortly after we'd purchased the lake 'Mountain Man' turned up.   He has a most alarming appearance - big bushy black beard, black stumps where his teeth should be....he looks like, well, like he lives rough on a mountain, part man, part grizzly, hence his name.  He swept into the house in a haze of Gauloise and over a pint of Pastis advised us that we should now empty the lake.  At first, I thought this was one of his hilarious 'blagues'. Why would you want to empty a lake?  But it transpired that this was a common occurance round these parts.  People empty their lake, sort out the fish, get rid of any nasty predators and then fill it up again. Our lake had not been emptied for many years, there was much talk of a great catfish lurking in the depths, and I suppose we were curious to see what we'd bought.  MM would make all the necessary arrangements and a date was set.  We were to provide a 'casse croute' for the men and lots of red wine.  Bob and MM were to be in the vanguard and set off early in the morning to commence the emptying.  Most lakes around here are manmade.  There's a big dam with a pipe at the bottom which is covered.  You remover the cover and the water is forced out - simple.  MM heaved the cover away and Bob was on the other side waiting for the gush.  Nothing happened.  There was consternation from above, much banging and cursing, still no water.  After a minute or two Bob heard some gurgling and then, POW! a Coypu shot out at huge velocity, followed by another and then a bolt of water.  The poor things must have been living in the pipe quite happily until their watery world was turned upsidedown! 

More men arrived and the fish were sorted into sizes, there was a high consumption of alcohol.  I'd be lying if I said that alcohol has never passed my lips before noon (but it would have been a long time ago in a desperate, hair of the dog, kind of way) the idea of red wine for breakfast was very unappealing to me.  However, a mixture of nerves, excitement and a 'when in Rome' mentality took over and I did have a glass or two. It was strangely pleasant. Cognac in the coffee, why not?  Several hours later, the fish had been sorted.  Then they were put back in.  Sadly, the mythical monster catfish was not found.  I'm still trying to work out what the point of it all was.