Thursday, February 1, 2007

Rural problem solving

As a kid, I was amused by the trivial ambiguity of the expression "pretty little man". Normally, "pretty" is used as a grammatical submodifier meaning "rather" or "fairly", which means simply that a pretty little man is rather small. But there's also a comical interpretation: a little man who's pretty. Today's title is similarly ambiguous. Am I referring to the solution of rural problems, or rather a rural fashion of solving problems? In fact, both...

We neo-rural people (as newcomers such as me are sometimes designated) have a typical problem that consists of keeping the weeds down. At Gamone, from the beginning, I chose a sheep-donkey-goat solution. Such animals create, however, as many problems as they solve, because they have to be fenced in, and this can be a difficult challenge for a land-owner on rocky slopes such as those of Gamone. I've often wondered how my ancestor Charles Walker [1807-1860] fenced in his sheep on his property at the Irish Corner near Braidwood. Maybe he didn't. A well-trained dog [an epithet that cannot be applied to my dear Sophia... nor even to her daughter Gamone, whose departed dad Louky—whom I knew quite well—was a collie professional in this domain] is just as effective as wire fences. I realize retrospectively that I should have adopted such a solution at Gamone long ago...

An even better solution consists of simply letting the weeds grow profusely, under the sole constraints of Nature. You can't beat Nature. It's like Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides, I've recently discovered a host of wonderful scientifically-inspired people, known as ROC, who are attempting to take back French landscapes from mindless hunters.

In evoking the idea of a rural fashion of solving problems, I would like to translate the everyday French word "paysans" (people of the earth) by "peasants", and evoke the perfectly honorable concept of "peasant thinking". But the English language adds an undesirable slant to this lovely term.

My friend Pierrot, the communal employee (who knows everything that's happening at Choranche), informed me this afternoon that my four stray sheep have reappeared at the summit of the Gamone/Sirouza valley, and that they might venture dangerously [for human travelers] onto the mountainous road that descends from Presles to Choranche and Pont-en-Royans. In other words, I can no longer simply ignore the fact that four sheep, of which I would appear to be the owner, are henceforth gallivanting around this dangerous zone. For example, if a driver or cyclist were to crash into one of my stray animals, I could be accused of criminal negligence. To appreciate the sense of the following exchange, you need to know that Pierrot happens to be an official sheep grazier.

Pierrot: It would be easy to use croquettes to coax them into an enclosure.

William: I can't drive up there, several times a day, and try to persuade my four sheep to eat my croquettes. Besides, what would I do if they did so?

Pierrot: They need to be captured. It's easy.

William: Captured? Dead or alive? Should I move up there with my shotgun and kill them, one by one? I can't stand the risk of leaving them move around on the slopes, with the risk of their straying onto the road and provoking accidents.

Pierrot: (shocked): No, they can be captured.

William: Could you capture them?

Pierrot:: Yes, with croquettes... slowly but surely.

William: Would it be worthwhile capturing them? Would you be interested in such animals?

Pierrot:: Yes. I need to replace animals devoured by wolves.

William: Pierrot, if you capture my sheep, I don't want them. They're yours. Would that suit you?

Pierrot:: Sure. I'll see what I can do...

That, my friends, is a pure example of subtle Choranche peasant-talk. As a naive unskilled observer and participant, I needed time to discover that my wayward animals might interest a helpful neighbor such as Pierrot. The local folk state that, for a newcomer, things start to fall into place within the context of a tiny community such as Choranche once you can boast of the presence of three or four generations of ancestors in the local cemetery. In that perspective, I've got a little time on my hands... and my stray sheep will find their way to Pierrot.

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