Friday, April 16, 2010

Visit of feral flock

Yesterday afternoon, since the weather was sunny, I decided to clean up my vegetable plot. Looking up towards the slopes behind my house, I was astonished to find that Gamone was being visited by the feral flock that some neighbors still refer to as "William's sheep".

Back in 2006 at Gamone, I had reduced my flock to three lambs, probably siblings. One day they strayed onto the property of my neighbor Gérard Magnat, and decided to stay there. So, those three lambs became the founders of the feral flock (ten animals at present) that has been roaming around at Gérard's place for the last three or four years. Today, I see that there's a splendid Merino ram with curled horns. I tried get close to them, but the donkeys suddenly raced up to see what was happening, and the sheep promptly took off back home. There was evidence of the places where they scramble through the barbed-wire fencing.

Upon reaching the crest of the hill that separates the valleys of Gamone and Sirouza (once called Chirouze), I looked down and discovered with surprise that the sheep had already arrived back at Gérard's place. They're familiar with the tracks, of course, but they must have done some rapid sprinting.

Since the weather was splendid, I decided to continue my excursion. It would take me twenty minutes or so to edge my way down the slopes, cross the steep and slippery banks of Sirouza Creek, and reach the old house. Taking a path that was slightly different to the one I usually follow, I came upon a fragment of an ancient stone wall that I had never noticed before (or maybe simply forgotten).

I gazed out over the precarious graveled slopes, on the far side of the valley, where I had once trudged wearily for hours, trying to locate my sheep, the first time they had escaped from Gamone.

Apparently the members of today's feral flock no longer venture up there. Gérard's brother explained to me that the animals have discovered that they've got everything a sheep needs down in the vicinity of the house: grass, creek water, hay in winter (intended primarily for Gérard's cattle) and shade in summer. I have the impression that Sirouza is indeed "better sheep country" than Gamone (for a tiny flock, of course), because there are stretches of more-or-less flat prairies where the animals can race around madly, which they seem to appreciate.

At the level of the house, I met up with Gérard's brother Jean Magnat. He told me that Gérard, now retired, had sold all his cattle. For me, it was strange that the old buildings were uncluttered by traces of agricultural activity. They seemed to be tidier, in a weird way, than I had ever seen them before... but it was undeniable that the property was moving already into the quiet and timeless state of an abandoned farm. The three women whom I used to encounter there regularly—Madame Magnat (the mother), her daughter, and Jean's wife—have died, and Sirouza is moving inexorably towards the end of an epoch.

On the way home, I noticed other sheep: four animals purchased a few months ago by Jacques, owner of the old water-mill on the Bourne, midway between Gamone and Pont-en-Royans.

I strolled alongside the stone quarry, which is still in exactly the same abandoned state as several years ago, when Tineke Bot and I devoted our energy to creating documents designed to prove that this quarry should not be reopened and enlarged. Clearly, I can conclude retrospectively that we won that tiny environmental battle.

When you turn around, so that your back faces the quarry, here's the view out over the Bourne towards the Circus of Choranche:

It's unbelievable that the ancestors of my former neighbor, the local political personality Bernard Pérazio, would have decided to set up a stone quarry at a place with a view like that! That was the way the world was, not so long ago.

Finally, I reached the simple rural signpost whose names read like the words of a magic poem that was written especially for me by a lovely muse of the mountains:

Gamone, Saint Estèphe, le Château, la Ranconnière, la Bournière, les Nugues, Campeloup, le Faucon, les Champs... What splendid old terms, evoking ancient times and places. Opposite, another signpost:

I'm almost home. From the road, there's a good view of the farms of my closest Châtelus neighbors, on the other side of the Bourne.

Finally, there's a signpost with a warning that this is not a road for heavy vehicles, and that the road can't really take you beyond Gamone (which is not exactly true).

On this sunny afternoon, the feral flock provided me with an excellent pretext for making a delightful excursion through places that I know fairly well... which doesn't prevent me from feeling that I rediscover them every time I go out on such a walk. And, talking about sheep, on my way back up towards the house (where I had imprisoned my dog Sophia, so that she wouldn't disturb the sheep), I passed alongside the place where it all started.

That sheep shed is surely one of my finest constructions at Gamone. It's a pity that the former occupants seem to have abandoned it forever.

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