Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Traces of the past

As a child, I often used to accompany my father, of a weekend, to his bush paddock near South Grafton, at a place called Deep Creek, where Dad would leave the Jeep and wander around on foot, inspecting the cattle. Although it was not a particularly wild or remote setting, I always liked to nurture the absurd thought that we were surely the first human beings, since the dawn of Creation, to stroll over this virgin land. It was fairly easy to cling to this illusion, in spite of the fact that this land had no doubt been exploited by previous proprietors for beef grazing. Except for my father's barbed-wire fences, there were no visible traces of human intervention in that dull environment.

Here at Gamone, the situation is totally different. I often have the impression that I'm a usurper on a territory that belongs to hordes of more or less ancient phantoms. Yesterday, Natacha sent me a paper written at the end of World War I concerning agricultural activity in the Bourne Valley. The author points out, not surprisingly, that the male work force was decimated, here as elsewhere in France, by the ravages of war. But he adds: "From Rencurel to Pont, no land is abandoned. Women, old people and children make sure of that." That's where Choranche is located: between Rencurel and Pont-en-Royans. Today, alas, there is no longer much agricultural activity here. In emptying the French countryside of its rural families, the economic attraction of urban areas has been even more effective than warfare.

The soil nevertheless remains a vast storage house full of traces of the past. After reading Natacha's paper, I was out in the yard digging up a plot of earth to plant tomatoes, and my hoe unearthed this curious iron object (which I've cleaned up and painted with anti-rust liquid).

It's a bullock shoe, which must be quite old. I would imagine that a Gamone farmer once used a pair of bullocks to drag a plow on the slopes. When I think of the effort involved in planting a tiny plot of tomatoes, I realize that it must have been incredibly difficult for these individuals to survive in such a place. In any case, I look upon trivial traces of the past such as this old piece of metal as small treasures. I have a tremendous respect for the hordes of phantoms.


  1. Hello William,

    Love your blog ....am sending an email. Glad to know someone so far away is still showing their feelings Grafton!! -Georgie L