Showing posts with label wintry weather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wintry weather. Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2013

Helico visit

In the early hours of the morning, when your house is lost in autumnal mists, and everything around you is so quiet and motionless that the landscape and its creatures (including humans) seem to have gone into hibernation, there’s nothing better than the low-altitude flight of a helicopter over your roof to jolt you back into reality.


I recognized immediately the blue aircraft used by electricity engineers to verify that recent snow has not brought down branches over their landlines. They swooped down low over Gamone to get a close look at the various lines, then they disappeared up over the slopes on the other side of Gamone Creek. Their visit lasted no more than half a minute: a short lapse of time during which Fitzroy and I—and no doubt the donkeys too—wondered whether we might be under air attack by the forces of a hostile village. Thankfully, our visitors did not stay for long. Helico fuel is expensive, and this is not the right time of the year for sightseeing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great weather for dogs and donkeys

This morning, Choranche received the first autumn snow. (Winter won’t start, of course, before a month’s time.)


And the view from my bathroom window proves that I’m unlikely to be dining outside on the front lawn in the near future.


Like last winter, I’ll soon be receiving a visit from Australian relatives who choose this time of the year to drop in on Europe. Inside the house, it’s not at all cold… and I haven’t even got around to lighting up my new wood stove that I’ve been installing over the last year. Outside, my dog Fitzroy adores this kind of weather, and he races around madly, burrowing into the snow whenever he halts. The donkeys, too, don’t seem to be troubled by the snow. Jackie and I had a look at them this morning, and put a small block of hay in one of my old animal shelters. But some of them preferred to stay outside, burrowing into weeds beneath the walnut trees.

The only way in which this kind of weather affects my daily existence is that it would be crazy to go out driving… supposing that I were able to get the car safely to the bottom of Gamone Road without sliding off into the creek. Between now and the arrival of my sister’s family (just before Xmas), I intend to get a set of four snow tyres installed on my car, to maximize the possibility that I’ll be able to collect them at the train station in Valence.

BREAKING NEWS: I've just received an e-mail with a warning for "level 2 snow" in our region.


Level 2 is an orange warning, one step below the red warning.

Click to enlarge

The weather folk explain that residents of an orange zone must be "very careful, because dangerous phenomena are likely". Do you find that clear? Me neither. So, I'll stay at home in front of the fireplace.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Biting off a bit of water

Over the last week, when the weather was bitterly cold, I allowed Fitzroy, exceptionally, to sleep in the kitchen with Sophia. Inside the house, however, Fitzroy becomes rapidly bored, because he's a hyperactive dog (that's the adjective used by French journalists to describe Nicolas Sarkozy) who needs to race around and jump in the air, scrambling up and down the slopes of Gamone, snapping at the donkeys' hind legs, racing after birds (who surely can't imagine how an earthbound animal such as a dog could ever hope to catch an aerial creature), or killing field mice. Yes, Fitzroy has a distinctly feline feature: he's a skilled mouse-killer. It's true that I train him in this art as often as possible. You see, inside the house, I use a couple of metallic cages as mousetraps.


When the door of the trap springs shut, the rodent is simply imprisoned, but otherwise unharmed. Then, with the generosity of a Nero, I give the captured mouse a fighting chance of survival in a confrontation with Fitzroy. The other evening, I organized such a combat in the dark, on the snow-covered roadway. I used an electric lamp to see where I was walking, and to open the cage enabling the mouse to dart out with the speed of an arrow (or almost), but Fitzroy relied solely upon his sense of smell to locate the escaping mouse in the dark, pounce upon it, scrape it up out of the snow and break its backbone. In the style of a cat, Fitzroy will then toss the mouse in the air a couple of times, to see how it reacts upon landing. I believe that this is not merely a cruel game, but rather a way of evaluating the physical state of the captured prey. In the case of a field mouse in the snow, in plain daylight, Fitzroy's skills are quite spectacular. He will pounce into a heap of snow—where there's no visible sign of life—and emerge instantly with a mouse clutched between his teeth.

Inside the warm kitchen, Fitzroy usually squats Sophia's big wicker basket. But Sophia is just as happy spread out on the tiled floor, which contains electric heating. The problem, alas, is that Fitzroy's boredom is often transformed into vandalism.


He dissects minutely everything he can find. Let us not forget that, over a year ago, Fitzroy was no more than a pup when he destroyed my thick hessian and rubber doormat by tearing it into smaller and smaller fragments. Fitzroy is fond of applying this fragmentation process to smaller objects such as supermarket cheese trays, yoghurt containers and Kleenexes (preferably used). Since I'm rarely on the spot at the moment when the damage is being done, I can't really adopt a negative attitude that might inform Fitzroy that his vandalism pisses me off. So, I merely chase him out of the house and clean up the mess. If there's one word that Fitzroy does understand perfectly, it's the command "Out!". For him, it's an invitation to return to his normal pleasant outdoors environment.

Incidentally, talking about the dogs' environment, I'm always happy to rediscover that both Sophia and Fitzroy are resolutely winter animals, indeed snow creatures. Whenever they've got something on their mind such as the investigation of an unidentified external presence or odor or noise, they immediately ignore the fact that a Siberian snow blizzard might be sweeping across the slopes of Gamone. Finally, it's only when they've got nothing better to think about that they get around to thinking that life might be more pleasant indoors.

Yesterday afternoon, I was relieved to find that the temperature had become quite mild and the sun was shining. I took a few gardening tools up the road, to break up the thick layer of ice (a driving hazard for my neighbor) that had formed just below my spring.


A steady stream of water continues to emerge from a hose attached to my spring. Since this running water is a few degrees warmer than the frozen surroundings, it can actually be used to melt the ice. Now, Fitzroy has a theory about water streaming from a hose. It's cool and tasty, and Fitzroy reckons that a smart dog should be able to bite off a bit, to grasp between his teeth, as if it were an agonizing field mouse.


He jumps ceaselessly at the nozzle of the hose, with constant determination, trying to get his teeth firmly around the stream of icy water. There again, as in the case of Fitzroy's vandalism, I can't find the right words to communicate effectively with my dear dog. To be perfectly truthful, I don't wish to exclude totally the possibility that Fitzroy might come running towards me proudly, one of these days, with a short fragment of still-running water clenched in his mouth. That would merely make him a quantum-theory dog... which wouldn't amaze me unduly. Anything's possible...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Winter images

There's a magic morning moment when the sun is about to creep out from behind the Cournouze, to the right, and strike the frozen landscape with its warm rays.

Meanwhile, the thick blanket of snow on the slopes behind the house indicates that a lot of warming will be needed to make it disappear.

Clearly, the snow will still be present at the end of the day, but the blanket will have been worn much thinner. It's the vegetation, seen at close range, that best reveals the melting power of the solar warming.

Branches that were once drooping under the weight of the snow suddenly spring back into their natural upright stance. Lumps start to appear in the thick layer of snow covering the flower beds, revealing the presence of hidden bushes and clumps of vegetation.

Seen up close, the snow is no longer uniformly smooth and white. It starts to reveal shades of subtle hues and shadows. It now has texture.

But the global aspect of the valley is not going to evolve greatly for many hours to come.

It's a winter morning at Gamone. And winter is never in a hurry to disappear.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autumn weather and colors

It's cold and damp at Gamone, and the sky is gray. During the night, France will be changing to daylight saving time. The view of the slopes on the far side of Gamone Creek is (to employ an unusual but lovely English adjective) autumnal.

The donkeys are getting along fine together. Sylvie phoned, and we agreed that they should remain at Gamone for another week.

Besides, Fitzroy seems to be getting bored with barking at them, because he realizes that the donkeys are taking no notice of him whatsoever… which must be demoralizing for a little Border Collie whose mother plays a professional role in the midst of cattle and sheep.

I glimpsed Moshé seated on his backside with the females standing on either side, as if they were posing for a group photo. By the time I got my camera out, they had ceased posing.

There's a log fire blazing in my living room. This evening, exceptionally, the TV programs are all uninteresting. So, I think I'll simply curl up in front of the fire with my iPad, in the semi-darkness, to start reading (at last) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams... who was one of the greatest friends of Richard Dawkins.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow gauge

My marble-topped café tables make a perfect snow gauge for Gamone.

The thickness of the snow layer, this afternoon, was 30 centimeters.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lower snow line

Here's another photo of the Cournouze, taken today:

If you compare this image with the one displayed in my recent article entitled Sisyphus road act [display], you'll notice that the snow line at Châtelus—the lowest level at which snow has fallen—has descended over a vertical distance of a couple of hundred meters. What this meant at Gamone is that, when I drove out yesterday to buy a bag of food for Sophia (fearing that we might be cut off from civilization for a few days), the road was covered in snow for the first hundred meters, and then it was suddenly as dry as a bone. In other words, the snow line actually passed midway through my property. You can get a feeling for the situation from the following photo of Mount Baret, taken this afternoon from my bedroom window:

Although the sun has been warming us well since eight o'clock this morning, the rocky bald summit of the mountain is still flecked with patches of snow, whereas the slopes of Gamone are now fairly free of snow... except for that curious patch that remains on the lawn just outside my bedroom.

You may have noticed, in the previous paragraph, that I indicated the precise time at which the sun rose this morning. That's because, for this final fortnight of winter, the sun behaves in a funny fashion at Gamone. The following photo shows you what happens:

First of all, I hasten to point out that the "sun" in this image is in fact a fake yellow Photoshop blob... because I don't wish to melt the electronic innards of my Nikon by trying to take photos of the real sun. Besides, you will have guessed that there's no way in the world that the real sun could ever get down to a cozy little spot in the sky between the top of the Cournouze and the cloud bank in the background. [The great English seascape painter J M W Turner once tried to get away with a lunar situation of that kind in his Fishermen at sea.]

During the long winter months, the sun rises behind the Cournouze, and I don't see it until late in the morning. Then, all of a sudden, as the location of the sun's initial appearance moves towards the left (the north), I'm woken up by an unusually early but short-lived beam of light as the sun pokes its nose above the horizon to the left of the Cournouze. At the present period of the year, the sun rises early, at around eight o'clock, then it is "eclipsed" for a while by a corner of the Cournouze before reappearing and moving freely towards its winter zenith in the sky. So, you might say that, within a span of a couple of hours, I'm treated to two successive sunrises. That, of course, is simply yet another of the many simple charms of my home in the mountains.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cool spell

There's no doubt about it. The weather has been very cool throughout France over the last few days.

In the capital, to my mind, a man would have to be totally crazy to sit around with a bare bum in the mist and snow. But Paris, as we all know, is full of crazy folk...

I became aware that the global situation in France was particularly catastrophic when Natacha phoned me up, a few days ago, to say that she couldn't even go to work, alongside the splendid ecclesiastic citadel of the Bonne Mère, because Marseille was covered in snow.

I've been watching the slopes of Gamone from my bedroom window, wondering how long it might take for the snow to disappear.

My donkeys Moshé and Mandrin, protected by thick layers of fat and fur, have not been particularly troubled by the current conditions. The last few millennia of evolution have resulted in their using their front legs to claw at the icy snow and get through to grass. As for my beloved billy-goat Gavroche, he dines delicately in an Epicurean manner on weeds whose tiny heads emerge from the blanket of snow.

Meanwhile, from my bedroom window, I look down upon the rough stone wall built by François and me, and I watch the big blobs of snow melting, and losing their grip.

Of a morning, there's a marvelous moment when the sun's rays creep out from behind my magic mountain, the Cournouze, and impact the frozen landscape, transforming it into a blinding white mirror. At that instant, the grand old Sun seems to admonish the steamy slopes of Gamone: "Get thee back to Siberia where you belong!"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Approaching weather seen from a distance

Not long ago, this was the splendid vision from my bedroom window:

This afternoon, the situation at the far end of the Bourne Valley [also known as the Cirque de Choranche] was somewhat different:

The furthest slopes, covered in pine trees, are only 8 kilometers to the east of Gamone, and one has the impression that they're at more or less the same level as my house. But they rise, in fact, to over 1,000 meters, whereas the altitude here at Gamone is only about 350 m. Consequently, it can be snowing at the far end of the valley at the same time that my house is bathed in sunshine. Often, for me, the conditions observed from my bedroom window are a little like watching tomorrow's weather prognostics on TV. So, there's a fair chance that a bit of snow might be falling here in the next day or so. In any case, the temperatures have dropped considerably over the last few days, and I keep a log fire burning constantly in my living room.

Fortunately, there's some excellent TV these days, including a lavish four-part production of Tolstoy's War and Peace [budget of 28 million euros, 15,000 extras, 1,800 stunts, 1,500 horses, 105 shooting locations, 2,400 costumes, etc], a rerun of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon [trailer] and a couple of fine documentaries on the epoch of Charles de Gaulle. This evening, while toasting my feet, I'm looking forward to watching a recent French documentary about a great kitsch tenor whom I used to hear on the radio when I was a kid in South Grafton: Mario Lanza. Tears of nostalgia guaranteed!