March

I have spent so much time obsessively following every tortuous turn of the miserable Brexit saga that I have let March come and go without comment. I find it a truly magical month (unlike April, which should be so wonderful but so often disappoints with unseasonal rain or chilly spells).

At the start of March there are no leaves, just a hint of colour in the branches of trees and a few timid buds appearing. Then everything changes. Almost overnight you can see the buds turn into blossom and lovely, light young leaves unfurl. As I drive into le Vigan, there is one weeping willow in particular, whose transformation I have failed to capture (always too late for an appointment or too cold to stop). The sun shone all month and people walked around with a spring in their step and smile on their faces.

I have just put up an odd collection of photos to record this lovely month. The first two were taken on a crisp day at the start of March. Then a couple of pictures of the moon, as this year we have had spectacularly splendid full moons, with not a cloud to be seen. I thought I would pop in a picture of rush-hour traffic on my way home – this herd of sheep has a donkey as well as the usual dog to encourage it up the road to Mars.

The next photo is an old mill, taken with my drone. This is one of a group beside the river below Bréau which several of us want saving before it is too late. The picture afterwards is the old farmhouse near it which is too far gone to rescue.

The rest are the usual mixture of buds and flowers that everybody snaps on walks or in the garden.

Now we are into April. The weather has continued to be unseasonably cold, but a couple of days ago, the non-stop blue sunshine came to an end: we have just had 36 hours of heavy rain. Typically this was on Saturday, more or less washing out the weekly market. But as everybody was saying, since this is only the second time it has rained this year, we desperately need the water. It is good to once again hear the River Souls, in the valley below my house. It was more violent towards the coast, with hailstorms and ‘tornadoes’.

It is raining again now and more is forecast for the coming days. I want it to rain and rain – until next Saturday, when my daughter Jude and family arrive for an all too short week. At present it looks as if it will be cold and dry the first half and then warmer but wet thereafter. Lots of board games will be needed 🙁

Super moon

We continue to have this unreal weather: non-stop sunshine and warm afternoons (22 degrees today). Not necessarily a good thing for nature, but it enabled me to marvel again at the full moon two days ago.

Pity I didn’t look out of the window an hour earlier. It would have been a better photo as the moon appeared above the hill across the valley. Still, it was a wonderful sight – brighter than my photo, which I have darkened so you can see the moonscape. It has been lighting up the countryside all night for the past week.

Apparently they call this the Snow Moon because in February it often shines onto the snow. Little chance of that this year! Instead, everything is sprouting, even in my garden where neglect and ignorance attempt to reign.

February

Yes, we are still in winter: yesterday it was -1 degrees when I went to the baker in Bréau (though by the afternoon we are often sitting outside).

But February is a strange month; nature is never really dormant. The hazelnut trees have had catkins for several weeks now and suddenly crocuses and other small flowers have sprung open. The tits are suddenly tweeting away and last week I even heard a nightingale – just briefly.

Jacques, the local onion farmer, is busy ploughing in preparation his ever expanding number of fields (he has been quietly being buying up parcels over the last ten years).

We have had very little rain since November (when we had a lot) and – a reminder that summers seem to be drier too – Jacques’ brother Eric has been installing what seems a huge pipe system to irrigate the lower fields.

Weather-obsessed

My daughters think I am obsessed by the weather. They are right. If you live in the country you are so much more aware of the effect of weather changes, particularly when we have more and more extremes.

Last week we had snow, and for a day I did not venture out of the house. Then we had some magnificent mists. I was visiting Dessa at La Rouvierette on Friday and up there we looked over a lunar landscape of mist and clouds.

Then at the weekend we had unspeakable weather: icy cold gale winds which howled remorselessly. The snow descended down from the mountains, but stopped just above our level (I am 400 metres above sea level).

Last night the wind calmed at last and I watched the stars return to the sky. This morning, walking with Poppy up the valley from my house, the scene was once again bright, crisp blue sky. With no horrible wind, it felt so much warmer.

Nevertheless, up above us, on Mont Aigoual and neighbouring peaks, the snow is still there. I could see it when shopping at the supermarket this morning. And on the way home I saw the sign on the ‘main road’ up the mountains had not only its seasonal symbols that snow chains or winter tyres were obligatory, but an additional sign saying the roads were closed completely, even the one to the ski station. I guess this might date from yesterday when the winds would have made the icy roads even more dangerous.

Postscript

And now – – we have just had several glorious days of non-stop sun and temperatures which actually hit 20 degrees on the way back from Montpellier on Monday!

Snow

The snowflakes started to fall while I was playing music in le Vigan. I rushed home, keen to negotiate the steep hairpin approaching my house before it came impassable.

It snowed through the evening, but then during the night we had another strong wind, and this morning, although the landscape was white, the snow had been blown off the trees. I reckon that was it: it has been cold today, but little signs of further snow.

Nevertheless I decided not to set foot outside this morning. When I remember how what we were young I thought nothing of trudging through the snow to school or work, I am sad to think that now prudence now dominates.

Jacquot, my charming electrician, made it to the house to fix some lights in the bedroom. But together we watched while a van negotiated the road outside my house, with a dozen attempts before he made it up a few metres.

It rained today

Yes, that is news here.  It has not rained since before Christmas.  Somebody said today that it had not rained since the start of December.

What is certain is we now lurch from periods of extreme rain as in November to complete drought as in January.  The local farmer, Jacques, has been watering his onion seeds, and gardeners more knowledgeable and diligent than me have been watering their flowers.

Now that I have finally got somebody who is re-doing the terrace outside my bedroom, it looks of course as if we are to have some rain and even perhaps snow.

I have to excuse my usual obsession with the weather, but it takes my mind off the nightmarish theatre in Westminster, which could potentially ruin my life in France. Even if my carte de séjour finally arrives,  no-deal Brexit would mean no certitude that my health costs in France would continue to be covered, let alone whether I could continue to live here if the exchange rate goes down again.

Give me one reason why we should be optimistic about the future in this world.  One reason to take my mind off Brexit, Trump, South America, the Middle East, the destruction of the planet … …

postscript on Monday

After another night of violent winds, the surrounding hills were covered in snow this morning..

Lunar eclipse

I only learnt yesterday evening that there was going to be a lunar eclipse this morning. I did a trial photo in the evening, just after the moon had risen.

Then I was up again at 4am, feverishly reading up at the last moment how you take photos at night, before dressing up for the cold night.

It was a magnificent full ‘red’ moon, hanging out of the lightly clouded sky, above the dip in the hills called le Col de Mouzoules. It appeared to have its own brilliant white halo. The eclipse was to happen around six, but already by 4.30 the moon was taking on a strange aspect

I rushed to get my camera and tripod and went out into the sub-zero night.  What a pity it was so cold; the clouds had disappeared and the whole sky was a carpet of twinkling stars, though the moon had lost its halo.

Slowly, over the next hour, you could see the shadow caused by Earth gradually moving over the moon. Difficult to describe but the effect was magical. Even more difficult to photograph without experience and lacking an appropriate telephoto lens. I popped outside several times to have a try. I got some shots before the eclipse became total – but then I could no longer see where the moon was through my camera lens. (My efforts were not helped by having an extremely dirty lens, as I discovered later!)

Meanwhile my friend Dessa was doing the same thing, a few kilometres away – with an iPhone!  Here is her take on the full eclipse.

Oh well, I have another three years in which to master the art of lunar photography before the next total eclipse.

Cold – and my cold

Just a footnote to the earlier post about the amazing January weather.  It has still not rained since before Christmas, the sun is still shining, but we had a relentless icy cold northerly wind for a week – so violent that once again my eucalyptus, where Chris’s ashes lie, lost three branches again.

Today we were back to sun with no wind. A glorious day – except   I have got my first cold for several years!   Sat up most of last night and feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Sunny and cold

I came back from England to find that I had been missing a prolonged period of glorious weather: sunny days with that very special bright sharp winter light, cold nights.

Luckily this lovely weather looks like staying with us for some time. Because it is a dry cold, it is really exhilarating to go for a walk, and in the sunshine midday temperatures rise to the mid-teens. But the cold nights mean that my bassin remains frozen over.

J’en ai marre

Those are not my words; it is what pretty well every French person I meet is saying – I’m fed up with it. They are referring, of course, to the weather.

Nobody can remember so much rain falling as this autumn.  It is not so much the statistics, as often we get torrential rainstorms which push the rain count up.  It is rather the relentless, day after day of rain. People here are just not used to this.  I’m getting a bit bored of people saying it must remind me of London.  No, I say, London is having better weather!

Today was another washout.   I forced myself to take Poppy for a walk.  As soon as she had done her business, she looked at me and turned back towards the house. The Saturday market scarcely existed.

I braved the elements to attend an interesting session by our local professional violinist, Francois Gilles, on Bach’s Partitas. We were in one of the wonderfully elegant salons in the beautiful Chateau d’Assas, very appropriate as Francois Gilles took us through the history of- and played extracts from – the dance movements which form the basis of so much of Bach’s work.

Afterwards I took refuge in my favourite eating place, Chez Fatou, and enjoyed a delicious fish dish and the shared conversation of all.  Somebody mentioned today’s road blockages by ‘les jaunes’ – the people protesting against the rise in fuel prices. Fatou rose to her full height, elegant today in a Chinese embroidered top, and declared: ” They are mad.  We are destroying our planet and they want to encourage us to do so.”

Then back out into rain.  Actually, I have to admit, it is not non-stop.  Yesterday there was a brief respite, and as I walked up to Serres, I was able to admire the autumn colours, which have not yet fully reached the hills behind.

When I got to Serres and looked down at these trees, I reflected that the rain has stolen our usual long enjoyment of such colours.  And the cold forecast for next week (temperatures dropping from mid-teens to near zero) will end any hope of my planned expeditions to take autumn photos.

Update next day

Wonders… I woke to see the sky had cleared and it has not rained all day. And it is colder.