Happy Solstice 2014: Newsletter from the rocks

Dear Guests – past, potential and future!

The first heat wave came early this year, we’ve just had two weeks pushing 40 during the day, blazing sun, blue sky, and 25 at night – that’s more than 100F and late 70s at night. Normally only July challenges the faint-hearted to such degree. sunny-summer-flowerNot a wind. The hardened, sun-loving local vegetation (thyme, sage, rosemary and so on) has responded vigorously, while much else has given up the ghost. Summer has come, which means feral mulberries everywhere and we’ve been munching away for weeks; especially the on-tree sundried ones are a concentrated treat for the palate. Once upon a time a major industry, silk production has withered, but the mulberry trees on which the silk worm caterpillar feeds exclusively remain scattered along roads, fields and paths, as well as in a little patch grown by the council to feed the caterpillars of the Lagorce silk museum.

mulberryIt was a very dry spring, unusually and devastatingly so, had it not been for the wettest winter in living memory. It’s not just the times that are a-changing.

Tidying up last night, I grabbed a bathroom mat that had been basking in the sun in the window sill, partly shaded by one of the hackberry trees (celtis autralis, with lovely, medicinal date-tasting berries) that occasionally, courtesy of the wind, sticks its leaves into the house.

Illustration_Celtis_australis0There’s an even bigger hackberry outside the Eastern facing panorama window that serves these little “dates” right on our dinner table throughout autumn and early winter. It’s from that window that we can see, in the distance, the construction site of the huge Grotte Chauvet replica set to open Spring 2015. Grotte Chauvet is one of the world’s greatest remaining traces of a highly artistically advanced paleolithic culture in existence almost 40.000 years ago.

The construction site seen from our window

The construction site seen from our window

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, it is summer and hiding under the bathroom mat in the window sill I found a little serpent friend…

Not a venemous creature – one can tell that around here by the absence of vertical, slit pupils, characteristic of the vipers that can inflict serious pain, but are not generally lethal – and I take it as a good omen, although we have yet to properly identify it (probably a “smooth snake” / Coronella): nature embracing us on all sides, this part of the village is embedded in the wild. Last night watching the stars I met a little hedgehog out on the path, rummaging about.

My rosemary project is a year old today, happy solstice! They have grown well and I think they are ready to fly from the nest soon, some of them. Five or six will join some (domesticated) wild oregano – a fantastic antibacterial herb, as medicine or in food – and some lavender and various calamints to form a hedge at the southern border of our little allotment by the church down in the village, where a majestic mugwort has introduced itself in the golden mean. Another five or six will remain on the terrace and the last 10-15 will be distributed around the house. Things are moving along slowly, but safely in the vegetative dimension. In addition to helping along the local wildlife, bringing in herbs from the valley and the garrigue and accepting newcomers, we’ve also guerilla gardened a tiny wilderness on the western side of the house, higher up in the cliffs, using rotten wood and lush soil from the Ardeche river bank mixed with our own kitchen compost.

Cranberry, red gooseberry and purple hazel, joined by anarchist Cucurbita

Cranberry, red gooseberry and purple hazel, joined by anarchist Cucurbita

It looks quite nice, but we might have to remove at least some of the random Cucurbita (squash, pumpkin etc, family) that has sprung from the compost used in the bed. One day we will hopefully gather cranberries, red gooseberries and purple hazel nuts a few feet above our front door, where they are shaded by the neighbours’ very big hackberry tree that also covers their lovely terrace. Our neighbours are Nina’s mum and her partner. They retreat to the city in the winter, as the old stone house gets rather cold and requires substantial amounts of wood burning. In winter, then, although it was rather costly, we greatly appreciate our eco hemp insulation, while in the current heat it keeps us (relatively) cool.

That’s it for now and we hope that you have a nice Saturday Summer Solstice night and that we’ll see you soon! Take care.

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