Friday, 23 April

I’ve been thinking about the swallows.

As regular readers know, we displaced a large family of them when we began to convert a barn into living space last year out here in the Perche. Before the works started, while we were locked down last April, David opened a hay loft and stall for their use. His timing was impeccable: several swallows arrived that very day and made a home at Deux Champs for the spring and summer. We happily cohabitated with the darting, disputatious creatures until August 19th, the exact same date as the previous year, when they invited every swallow in the area to a crazy evening rave party and were gone the next morning.

We wanted a longer-term solution for their housing, however, and our green guru Claire put us in touch with the local ornithologist Valentin V. We considered a prefabricated structure specially designed for swallows, but there wasn’t an obvious place to put it and Valentin said they were not always to the birds' liking anyway. Instead we opted for improving the hayloft habitat. Swallows build their nests where there’s a right angle, so we got the carpenters who are fashioning our windows, doors and bookshelves to hammer overhanging boards onto the crossbeams in the hayloft, thus providing the optimal 90° nesting conditions. As for the barn owl who’d moved in, we hoped he had found other accommodations.

These last weeks we’ve been looking at the blue, blue sky but haven’t seen a single swallow. It’s possible we’ve been too distracted by what’s going on in their ur-home to pay proper attention. Though we have now completely moved into the former barn so that work on the main house can get started, the list of ‘final touches’ never seems to end. Currently the place has rather the same buzz it had when the swallows were in residence. Carpenters, plumbers and electricians swoop in and out from their vehicles in the courtyard, while David and I flit around trying to find a temporary perch. Perhaps it’s too much activity for the swallows as well.

Frosties

I’ve also wondered if weather conditions haven’t played a role. With temperatures freezing at night and chilly during the day, maybe the swallows haven’t made it this far north yet. Or maybe they have been deterred by the extreme dryness. Our only April shower was weeks ago, and the clay soil is by now cracked and oven-proof hard. How could a swallow make her mud nest with that?  

Swallow Art

Valentin says we shouldn’t give up hope. Swallows are persistent creatures and may put us on their house-hunting list again next year.

Meanwhile, having our nest under siege is a challenge I am not handling well. I walk here and there, mask on my face and computer and notebooks in hand, settling somewhere until the noise stifles all thought or a worker pops his head around the door. My squawking at this state of affairs once the workers have gone home beats the most exercised swallow's trill by several decibels. Of course as renovation veterans, we knew how it would be. That's why we'd intended to spend much of this phase in Paris. But Covid has botched yet another well-laid plan, and we are enduring Confinement, Season 3, where circulation is freer and germs are fewer than in the Capital.  

We would have missed a lot, too, had we gone urban.

For example:

1. The morning light at Deux Champs. Outside...

Saplings

2. ...and in.

Before the work begins

3. Claire and Estéban checking up on their work.  

Yes, the plessage and the trognes are doing nicely

4. Tala's tulips and lizard hunting.

5. The exuberant flowering of our quince, recently freed from the shackles of nettles and scrub

Quince Lib

6. Local environmentalists Estéban and Clara, François and Evelyne, Yvan but not Claire, who was in Paris, when they came to count the newts in our newly cleaned pond and the moths in our newly organic field.

7. An inspection of the construction site by a local grass snake.

Can't quite read his thoughts on the project

8. The beginning of the Deconstruction Period in the main house (more on that soon).

Looking for meaning

9.    The dusk light at Deux Champs.

10.   The view from the new window in David's office, where I am perched this early morning. As you can see, one member of the household has had no problem settling into a new nest.

La princesse, bien chez elle