The Cournouze is like an old lady (or a young lady, for that matter) who has wrapped her shoulders in a white woolen shawl.
Click to enlarge
This is the first time this winter that a little snow has settled onto the slopes of our Bourne valley.
Anecdote. I was amused to discover, this morning, that my external surveillance camera looks upon every falling snowdrop as a potentially undesirable intruder. That’s to say, during the early hours of the morning, the camera emailed me a pile of uninteresting warning snapshots composed of big white blobs.
Yesterday afternoon, I had made plans with Serge Bellier to drive to a hardware store in St-Marcellin, today, to pick up an Invicta Bradford cast-iron wood stove:
When I awoke this morning, however, a thin layer of snow covered the ground, and it soon started to fall quite heavily. Within a couple of hours, a thick blanket of snow covered the road up to Gamone. So, we had to postpone our project of picking up the stove. Meanwhile, I was amazed to learn that the Monte-Carlo Rally had been set in action in nearby Valence.
In a press interview, Sébastien Loeb appeared to be a little daunted by the idea of racing along mountainous slopes in such conditions. Friday morning, they'll be leaving St-Jean-en-Royans for the final day of driving that takes them down to Monaco. I would like to go along to watch the departure, but we're all likely to be snowed under.
Snow hit us massively during the night. Nobody can say we weren't warned. TV weather reports have become amazingly precise.
Yesterday, the visiting goldfinches were basking in the sun on the tiled roof of the bird house. Today, they would need to wear snowshoes.
In the middle of the morning, just after the passage of the municipal snow plow, I ran into my neighbor Jackie walking down the road on his way to Pont-en-Royans.
In fact, I had already discovered why Jackie was unlikely to do much driving, today, on the slopes of Choranche. Early this morning, I was taking my dogs out so that Sophia could "do her business". She only defecates at a fixed place, a hundred meters up above the house, and prefers to be accompanied for the occasion.
Continuing up the road a little, I was alarmed to find Jackie's little white vehicle in the middle of a snow-covered field.
I was relieved to find footprints leading from the stranded vehicle back up to Jackie's house. So I rushed up there to find out what had happened. Jackie told me that he had an appointment this morning with his GP up in Grenoble. Having heard that driving conditions might be difficult, he decided to set out early, at 6 am, in the dark. But, before he had done 50 meters, his journey ended abruptly. The vehicle started to slide on the very first slope, and refused to stay on the road. It continued to slide in a straight line, and that line lead into the field, where the vehicle only stopped sliding because of a conveniently-placed big bump in the grassy ground.
He was lucky in that the rough terrain prevented the vehicle from gathering speed, overturning and sliding into Gamone Creek.
As for me, I simply rule out any attempt whatsoever at using my old automobile whenever Gamone is covered in ice or snow.
Innocent frozen French citizens are asking: "Is all that talk about global warming really serious? Aren't we rather experiencing the beginning of a return of the ice ages?" Here, for example, is a current image of the bookstalls alongside the Seine in Paris:
And here's a nice shot of the Pont des Arts, running into the Louvre:
A French humorist once said (more or less): "The Parisians love to go out on excursions into the surrounding countryside. To make life easier for them, let's import the countryside into Paris." You can't deny that it sounds like a Very Good Idea. Thanks to global warming, we're moving rapidly into a situation of that kind. Up until now, only wealthy people such as retired bank managers could afford to go on winter vacations up into the polar regions. These days, as a consequence of global warming, it's the Arctic that's moving down to places such as Paris. And Parisians no longer need to call upon a tourist agency to book an expensive Arctic voyage. They can merely step outside in the bleak air and try to get to their work location, then back home at the end of the day.
Meteorologists are explaining that the cold conditions in Paris and elsewhere are a direct consequence of the accelerated melting of the polar icecap. The term albedo designates the respective proportions of incident sunlight that are either reflected or absorbed at any geographical point. Since the volume of the polar icecap is shrinking, less sunlight gets reflected. Consequently, the sea waters are absorbing increasing quantities of sunlight, which means that they're warming up. The outcome of this polar phenomenon is the creation of high-pressure systems that end up pushing more and more cold polar air down towards lands such as France. And this process is unlikely to wane.
Paris has always had an excellent public-transport system. First, there were charming old buses with an open rear platform to jump on and off, dangerously. Then there was the celebrated métro. These days, there's the excellent self-service bicycle network called Vélib. And soon there'll be tiny electric automobiles in a system to be called Autolib.
In the future, there should be good commercial openings, particularly in the Paris suburbs, for an efficient system of Arctic transport.
I'm presently looking into the idea of moving back up there with my donkeys Moshé and Fanette (and my dogs, of course), in the hope of setting up a small suburban transport system that should normally make me a millionaire in the near future.
Winter has hit us earlier than usual in France (the winter solstice only arrives on Tuesday), and we've had exceptionally big snowfalls. At Gamone, I'm reassured to have a good supply of hay for the two donkeys. They only need this fodder, of course, when the snow prevents them from getting at the grass.
I've adopted the convenient solution of storing the hay in dry conditions at a spot (50 meters up beyond the house) that's out-of-bounds for the donkeys. Twice a day, I put a small heap of hay onto a tarpaulin and drag this light load down the road to the donkeys' paddock.
In that way, we waste as little as possible of the precious fodder. Whenever I smell the wonderful aroma of this top-quality hay (which was mowed last spring up on the Vercors plateau near Vassieux), I'm reminded of my childhood days on the farm of my Walker uncles on the outskirts of South Grafton. They used to do their mowing using a pair of draft horses, and the hay was piled up in a single giant heap inside a wooden barn. For hens, the hay stack was a favorite spot for laying eggs. I don't think my uncles were in dire need of winter fodder for their herd of dairy cows, who could generally find enough grass to eat all year round. Maybe it was useful to have this stock of hay in the case of an exceptionally dry spell.
In France, we've inherited a marvelous old recipe from the ancient Gauls: filet mignon of pork roasted slowly on a bed of hay, which adds flavor to the meat. The pork is served up on its steamy wad of hay, accompanied by wild mushrooms, but the hay is not to be eaten.
Moshé and Fanette are now covered in thick fur, like a pair of baby mammoths. They stay out in the open, no matter what the weather's like. There's a shed in which they could be protected from falling snow, rain and sleet, but they never use it.
I intend to construct a small system for holding the hay up off the ground, with a roof. I ordered the four posts of Douglas pine a week or so ago, and they're waiting to be picked up at the sawmill (as soon as the snow disappears, and I can drive into town).
Talking about feeding the animals, I've run into an unexpected hitch. To feed the wild birds, I put sunflower seeds inside the bird house for the tits [mésanges], and I throw other assorted seeds on the ground for the finches [pinsons].
I've been amazed to discover that my dog Fitzroy, who consumes huge quantities of the finest dog foods (pasta and croquettes for pups), likes to round off his meals with bird seeds. He doesn't digest them, since the seeds reappear all over the surface of Fitzroy's turds, which look a little like Oriental pastries covered in sesame seeds.
I've had an outage of the Internet and my house telephone for the last couple of days. Funnily, I don't think this breakdown had anything to do with the violent winter weather that hit us at the same time. It's more likely due to a mishap brought about by the armada of earth-moving engines that are working nonstop, down on the road below Gamone, installing a new sewage system for the entire district. These huge renovations (which will prevent us from driving through the main street of Pont-en-Royans for another month) don't concern me personally, because my house was renovated according to the new sanitation legislation in vigor in 1993, and I have an excellent ecological system of sewage disposal—inspected annually by the competent authorities— installed underground on the slopes below my house.
Meanwhile, Fitzroy has had his first in-depth contact with snow… and he loves it.
That's to say, he sees it as a marvelous soft support for his never-ending jousts with Sophia.
The little donkey Fanette has also experienced, for the first time, the slight discomfort brought about by the disappearance of the greenery (grass and weeds) under a 25cm-thick blanket of snow.
I prefer to speak of "slight discomfort" rather than of hunger, because the two donkeys are obscenely fat, after dining regularly on apples and walnuts over the last month or so.
As for the mésanges (wild birds, known in English as tits, which spend the winter months at Gamone), they've been happy to discover a big stock of sunflower seeds in the bird-house, and they swarm around it as a throng of a couple of dozen tiny black-and-gold creatures.
As of this morning, the sun is shining, the snow is melting, the road has been cleared by Frédéric Bourne in his tractor equipped with a giant steel blade… and my Internet is up and running. All is well at Gamone.
Last night, Tineke and Serge invited me along to their place for New Year's champagne and dinner: a delicious Alsatian sauerkraut prepared with the artistic skills of an extraordinary sculptress. When I left to drive home, shortly after midnight, snow was starting to fall. This morning, Gamone was once again all white... and Sophia was back in her natural element, as happy as a skier out on the Alpine slopes.
After burrowing into the snow with her snout, and rolling on her back, she shot off like a husky.
Admire the aerodynamic form of her ears, like the stabilizing fins of a Formula-1 racing car. Once she got up speed, she started to circle the yard like a greyhound in a racing stadium.
I have the impression that much of the pleasure, for Sophia, comes from the soft texture of the snow beneath her paws. At the seaside, too, she's thrilled by the possibility of racing across sandy beaches. The snow universe has the magical characteristic of wrapping itself softly around her paws, her snout and her body.
You know how we often wonder whether the red color that one person sees is the same as another person's sense of redness. Maybe your red is what I call green or yellow, and vice versa. I often imagine that Sophia sees a field of snow as a great expanse of blue sky. For me, the thing called "warmth" is what I obtain through wriggling my bare toes in front of the fireplace on chilly evenings. In the mind of Sophia, on the other hand, I've always been convinced that "warmth" is that marvelous sensation she experiences through her contact with snow.
The municipal snow plow cleared the road to Gamone in the middle of the morning, and Martine had no trouble in driving up here with the mail... including a huge cardboard box containing the hardware for a new Internet-based satellite TV connection.
The presence of the snow seems to augment the sense of isolation brought about by the fallen rocks and the blocked road to Pont-en-Royans. Martine—who knows everything that's happening in the neighborhood—tells me that the authorities will probably be opening up the road during the day, as of tomorrow, primarily so that the school bus can get through. Apparently, there are still quite a few rocks up on the slopes of the Baret that could come crashing down at any instant of the day or night. A few individuals (including our mayor, Bernard Bourne) are in favor of a so-called purge operation, which could even involve the use of explosives put in place by a helicopter. But that would be a highly delicate approach, which could even go completely wrong. (For example, an attempted purge might cause several rocks to pile up dangerously further down the slopes.) So, the preferred solution would consist of installing bigger and stronger nets, of the sturdy kind used in the vicinity of seaports to block enemy submarines. What an exotic idea: We're at war with the mountain!
This weekend, after rubble from the demolished rock at Choranche was cleared away [display], the road leading up to the Vercors plateau was finally opened. My daughter and I drove up to Saint-Julien-en-Vercors on Sunday, and gave Sophia her first taste of snow this winter.
My dog's Labrador genes went into action instantly, as it were, in the sense that Sophia was inebriated by the presence of the nice soft snow. She started off by rolling on her back in the snow, and then she got around to making sprints over a distance of fifty meters or so, as if the snow had transformed her into a high-speed husky. As I often say, a wonderful way of attaining happiness, at least for a few precious minutes, consists simply of watching a happy dog.