The Nature Of Things

As we sit in the garden during the early evening, we sip our wine, recline in our Adirondack chairs, tip our heads back to take in the still high-in-the-sky sun and breathe…. It’s so peaceful. No traffic noise, no clicking of golf clubs, whining of golf carts, music from neighboring lanais… just quiet… But wait! I hear something.  In fact, I hear a lot of things.

I open my eyes and skyward I see at least 12 vapor trails from planes crisscrossing the skies, taking travelers to and from their destinations. I hear the ones that come directly overhead, a low rumble of engines and I wonder where they are coming from and going to, and who the people on board are, holidaymakers, business people, people visiting family?

Across the valley I hear the thrum of an engine and a rattle of metal and see a farmer on his tractor, still working the hay fields, taking advantage of the long, warm days, the hay baling machine behind him, spitting out a round hay bale, every few minutes.  We’ve passed these farmers on the narrow roads going into town and some of their equipment looks quite vicious. Some have large stabbing prongs, others round metal discs ready to slice and decapitate and many that scoop, mash and shred, and then spit out bundles at the other end. Needless to say, don’t tangle with the farm equipment.

The air is full of life, birds, bees, flies, beetles and all manner of pollen, seeds and dust float by. Birds whistle and warble, flies buzz around our ears, and bees are gorging on the pollen in the flower beds close by. There are so many types of bees. Large yellow and black bumble bees, small waspy types and large deep blue ones, some of which look like they are having trouble flying with all the pollen they have collected. As they all whizz by, just above our heads, each on their own flight paths, we are reminded of a lovely animated film we watched with our, then three-year-old, granddaughter. We were looking for something different for her to watch other than another Disney princess movie and fell upon ‘Minuscule’. It sounded nice and innocent, bugs, nature and it was animated. As we started to watch, the credits came up at the beginning and most of the names were in French so we thought it was probably in the French language. We waited until the film started and were pleasantly surprised to realize that there were no spoken words in the film at all – just the buzzing, clicking, squeaking and hooting of the insects. We weren’t sure that this would hold the attention of a toddler, but the story was captivating, and she was glued to the screen – she watched, understood and even anticipated the ending. I highly recommend it, entertaining for children and adults alike. I see there is a sequel now too!

The loud buzzing of bees was a constant noise when we first arrived. Whole trees would hum while the workers collected their bounty. We encountered bees in another context, not watching them gather their gold on the flowers, but swarming in the kitchen of the main house. One day while the owners were away on vacation, the cleaner and a handyman happened to be in the main house working when they were disturbed by a large thud. They followed the sound and on entering the kitchen were greeted by a swarm of bees. There was hive in the chimney which had become so heavy that it had fallen to the ground. They duly called the owners who advised they would call someone in. Marcel and I stayed out of the kitchen and brought the dogs down to sleep in the cottage, until the bees could be attended to. The next day, we were happy to see someone arrive at the main house. I walked towards him and he greeted me explaining in French that he was here to ‘regarder’ something. I didn’t quite understand what he was saying but he made a gesture with his hands that took the shape of a beehive, so I told him I would get the key and let him in. He looked a little puzzled that I needed a key but waited for me anyway. Marcel joined us and we all walked up to the house, the kitchen window now open in the hope that the bees would find their way out. He mentioned that there were bees and I said yes, they were in the kitchen and directed him in front of me towards the kitchen door.  He looked at me in horror and started waving a paper around in front of my face, which I took and Marcel looked at. Ha, he wasn’t here for the beehive, but to assess a hole in the wall of the barn for insurance purposes! Ooops, I wondered why he had no ‘bee’ equipment… Marcel knew about the hole, and he duly showed him where it was, the guy muttering under his breath all the way down the garden. The bee man arrived two days later, but the bees had all died by then. So sorry that had to be the outcome.

As well as the bees and flies which are a constant, we have had encounters with stag beetles, which are huge, have large pincers that hurt, as Marcel experienced… and they fly in a strange way, almost upright, with their very square shape they are not so aerodynamic, and with heavy shells and small wings, flying really looks laborious. We have seen humming moths, a moth the size of a hummingbird, all kinds of butterflies, lizards the size of small snakes, which Sapphire, one of the dogs loves to chase. There are voles, moles and mice in the fields, with one currently in residence at our cottage. We’ve seen snakes, hares, deer, foxes, hawks, falcons and kites. Otter type animals swim in the lake at the bottom of the field and we have encountered stray sheep on the road, and I swear the cows here are twice the size that I ever remember back in the UK or US. Wild boar are common too, but we haven’t come across those yet, although I think we may have heard them. A young deer came into the garden, within a few feet of us. It was very pretty, but Sapphire saw it off before we could get closer or even take a picture. We see the deer running across the fields in the early morning, and in the late evenings.

On our walks, before the fields were cut, we enjoyed the wild meadow flowers. Each day it seemed there were new ones springing up. First white daisy-like flowers, then purply crocus types, yellow fuzzy ones, then the beautiful blue cornflowers, alongside the bright yellow dandelions that turned into downy fuzz balls after going to seed. Poppies and sunflowers are in abundance and now that the fields are cut for hay, the flowers are gone. But in their place, we now have heavily laden fruit trees. As we walk around the fields, we find cherry trees, groaning with red, yellow and deep purple cherries. There are elderberry bushes ready to burst with fruit, and thousands of blackberry bushes that have flowered and are now full of fruit, ready to be ripened and picked. We will definitely be fighting the brambles to get to them in a couple of weeks. Other bushes are abundant with berries, but we are not sure if they are edible, but certainly we have our ‘cherry’ fix before breakfast every morning.  There are plum trees in the yard, a peach tree, and fig trees all full of fruit which will hopefully ripen before we leave.

The cottage garden and the garden at the main house are filled with rose bushes that have bloomed constantly since we have been here. Some have a great perfume; others are ramblers and all are gorgeous to look at. Deadheading is a daily ritual as is weeding in some of the beds. I’m not a great gardener, always wanting to tidy up mother nature, she is too messy for me sometimes, so as I’m tugging at thistles, nettles and other greenery, I hope and pray that they are all weeds and not some sentimental bush, planted to commemorate some long lost relative!  The grass has slowed it’s growth so mowing takes up less time now and we can enjoy the surroundings a little more without constant maintenance.

The tranquility of sitting in the open countryside surrounded by nature is peaceful and relaxing, but don’t be fooled that nothing is happening… if you care to watch and listen you will realize that there is so much going on, and also realize how little any one of us knows of the creatures, plants and insects that surround us. Makes me feel …. Miniscule.

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