Friday, 2 September
Most years, I watch the light in August with a tinge of regret, a pinch of anticipated nostalgia. The days are getting noticeably shorter. Evenings, out come the candles by supper's end. Mornings, I wake, make my coffee and get down to work in the dark. With summer on the wane, the rentrée stress of September, I know, lies just ahead.
But not this year. This year I have rejoiced at every nano-second of increased darkness. Or more accurately, decreased daylight, i.e., less time for the sun to beat down on the parched earth and heat the air to such a degree (regularly between 35-38C/95-100F) that our front door handle is too hot to touch. Less time for the sun to torture exhausted, extenuated trees that have shed leaves months in advance in order to conserve their already depleted energy...
...and to render indefatigable dogs phlegmatic (silver lining there)...
As for humans, indefatigable I may not be, but even a modicum of mental or physical energy was at times hard to summon.
France has been 2.3°C/6°F hotter than average (a metric that must mean less and less as one hot summer outdoes the last), and at least 25% drier, after a winter-spring that was 33% short on precipitation. Much of the rain that did fall came in violent storms that caused almost as much harm as relief.
Les Français have been so shocked by the unbearable heat, raging forest fires, depleted waterways and violent storms of the last three months that they now rank climate change number two on their list of worries. As regular readers already know, I would put it ahead of the current number one, purchasing power. In fact, the daily reminders of our increasingly inhospitable environment make it hard to write about much else.
Certainly my fixation this summer has been aggravated by the state of our garden.
Now, I know in my last posting I promised "(positive! upbeat!) news" on that front, but the long-delayed delivery of terrace stones meant landscaping (except for the odd patch, such as what Tasha has appropriated above) wasn't finished until late July, at which point it was too hot and dry to plant or seed. The raw earth around the house all too easily evoked a larger, planetary version of desolation.
At least, I learned last week from an article in Le Parisien, I am not alone. Enough other people suffer from similar episodes of climate change distress that there's now a term for it: eco-anxiety. Further internet research revealed a multitude of sites devoted to the subject. Wikipedia defines its victims as those for whom there is a "generalised sense that the ecological foundations of existence are in the process of collapse." That would be me.
This summer's treatment has included getting better acquainted with our local avian population. The pair of buzzards that live in the woods and call irascibly to one another from high in the sky. The two pheasants who do the same on ground level. The family of kestrels that live in the niche that used be the opening to be the pigeonnier in our house.
And the swallows! I don't know where they've been living since we kicked them out of the barn, but a host returned in August to swoop and feast on the bugs buzzing about our now organic fields. Then yesterday, as if they'd heard the Ministère de l'Education calling them back to school for la rentrée des classes, they were gone.
By my rant against the dry heat, I do not mean to dis the sun entirely. It has been behind some spectacular skies...
...and presented the ochre Perche stone in its best light...
It has ripened, albeit weeks too early, the delicious blackberries that have considerably slowed our recent morning walks...
Ecoanxiety.com also advises "spending time with other people", and we did just that, with new Perche pals and visits from old friends and family - not all of whom seemed bothered by the bare earth.
But the heat thrummed through the days and left a purgatorial sense of time standing still, of being stuck in an inescapable torpor. So when France returned to work on a cool Monday morning this week, it was like an injection of life serum. Rather than back-to-school angst, I felt recharged and renewed, edgier and lighter in mind and body.
All that was needed - rain - fell in benevolent abundance this morning.
Let the planting begin.