Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rocky combat

In my article of 3 January 2008 entitled Fragile existence [display], I described a rock that had rolled down onto the road between Gamone and Pont-en-Royans. Shortly after, as indicated in my article of 12 January 2008 entitled Valley on the move [display], another rock rolled down onto that same stretch of road. And more recently, in my article of 27 March 2008 entitled Law of motion [display], I evoked an awesome stone column up on the slopes of Mount Baret, above that same road.

Over the last week, a small team of woodcutters, attached by ropes, has been cleaning up the area where the last rock fell, which lies directly beneath the above-mentioned stone pillar, and just a few meters above the roadway. By "cleaning up", I mean that they've removed trees and vegetation surrounding a pile of loose rocks.

The purpose of their intervention is to install heavy metal netting over these rocks, to prevent them from moving. I asked one of the workers why it wouldn't be preferable to dislodge the rocks so that they slide down onto the road, where they could be broken into small fragments and carted away. He replied in a sarcastic tone by a single word: "business"... meaning that such-and-such a company stood to make money by installing the metal netting.

Local folk with whom I've spoken, including our mayor, are highly critical of any technique that consists of destroying the vegetation that has been stabilizing the rocky slopes for so long. To fix the netting in place, holes have to be drilled in the rocks [at the places marked with orange paint], then metal rods are hammered into these holes. But everybody knows that these metal rods erode over time, allowing moisture to seep into the rocks. When this moisture freezes abruptly, the subsequent forces can split the rocks and cause them to budge, increasing the probability of the netting giving way. In the perpetual combat of man versus rocky slopes, there's no obvious winner.

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