New Arrivals

The first snow of winter, marching towards us across the Jura.

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura. All photos: PKR

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura.
All mountain photos: PKR

The sun was shining in a final burst before a major storm that was due to hit overnight, and I had to go for a final autumn run in the last bits of warmth, even as I could see winter’s approach.photo 1-6

No images here of the white carpet that greeted us the following morning, it all started melting soon after sun-up.

But in celebration of winter’s greeting card, we tried the Suntory produced Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master’s Select blended whisky I mentioned in a recent post, a foray into mostly unexplored territory for single malt fans such as ourselves.

According to Master of Malt, “Hibiki Japanese Harmony is made with malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The whiskies are drawn from 5 different types of cask, including American white oak casks, Sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks.” The blend includes ten different malt and grain whiskies.

photo 4-3

For me, this is limited edition blend is a curious mixture of tart, oaky acidity with round apple sweetness and not much in between, a double-edged sword that I’m not sure I love, but which I definitely enjoy. It’s like one of those candies which you might not like at first taste, but which you can’t seem to stop yourself from eating.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

I do, however, think the bottle, with its 24 facets and matching stopper, is very lovely. The 24 facets are meant to represent the two dozen Japanese seasons, and I’ll be the first to admit that although I lived in Japan, I didn’t realize just how many seasons I was experiencing over the course of a year.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

What I do know is that a new season is upon us. It’s cold outside.

Yes, winter is not only coming – it is already here.

That doesn’t have to be all bad.

Going, Gone

Just a short time ago, I posted some images of the prolonged and glorious autumn we’ve been enjoying here in eastern France. A time to revel in the moment, because it passes all too quickly.

My favorite old oak tree. Photos: PKR

My favorite old oak tree, last week.
Photos: PKR

And see, that suspension of the seasonal march is coming to an end, the first snows are anticipated for the end of the week.

Time to bring in any last stragglers from the garden, cover sensitive bushes and trees in a winter coat, give the lawn a final once over and wait for the freeze.

My favorite old oak tree, this week.

My favorite old oak tree, this week.

The good news is, with every turn of the screw, no matter how much beauty seems to be scattered on the ground, no matter how cold and bitter it may seem, there is always a promise at the end of another spring.

 

Sparse Harvest

 

Here’s the bounty from the garden fig tree this year:

 

The thumb-sized fig. Photos: PKR

The grape-sized fig.
Photos: PKR

Granted, it’s not from the generous old tree we had for fifteen years, the one that didn’t make it through a transplant followed by a harsh cold snap a couple of years ago.

The fig newbie managed a decent harvest last year; probably the long heatwave and lack of water are to blame for this season’s fig dearth.

There are a few little fig buds that tried to grow once the weather cooled in September, but it’s a case of too little water, too late.

Better luck next year.

Autumn vine on a nearby wall.

Autumn vine on a nearby wall.

 

Autumn Palette

Mont Blanc at sunset. All photos: PKR

Mont Blanc at sunset.
All photos: PKR

Completing my regular running loop these days takes forever.

Why? Because it’s so breathtakingly beautiful. I have to stop every now and then just to take it all in.

Fallen leaves under a village streetlamp.

Fallen leaves under a village streetlamp at the end of an evening run.

 

The bourbon-sweet scent of fallen leaves and late crops, the soft snik-snik-snik of leaves falling on other leaves, falling to the ground like a gentle dry rain, the intoxicating tapestry of yellows, reds, oranges and browns.

photo 4-2

 

My mood is made even brighter by a lovely autumnal palette of blended whiskies, a wedding anniversary gift given to celebrate more than two decades of blended lives.

Look at all those lovely hues.

photo 1-5

What a treat.

Some of them I know, some of them I don’t. The Johnnie Walker Blue Label turns out to be like a soft puff of sweet smoke, a perfect complement to the seasonal change outside.

I’ll update on the others as we try them.

Who says autumn is the melancholy season?

Not me.photo 2-5

An update on the Hibiki whisky here.

Furrows of Unseen New

The cold weather is settling in these days, and no matter how long or hot the summer was, it looks like we will still get a real winter as its counterbalance.

The lush leaves of summer are falling on empty fields and it’s that season of bleak acceptance that it will be a while before it gets truly warm again.

It’ll get darker before it gets lighter again.

There was the news this week that follows on something I’ve written about before, the epic sea chase of one of the sea’s most notorious illegal fishing boats, the Nigerian-registered Thunder, by the environmental activist vessel, the Sea Shepherd.

Fallen leaves on bare furrows. All photos: PKR

Fallen leaves on bare furrows.
All photos: PKR

The world’s longest recorded pursuit on the high seas ended in July, after 110 days and 10,000 nautical miles, with the captain of the Thunder deliberately sinking his own ship and the entire cargo to prevent any evidence that could incriminate them.

Who rescued the crew? Why, the Sea Shepherd, of course – but not before boarding the sinking ship and retrieving some of the frozen, and pirated, Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean sea bass) at the heart of the whole chase.

The story of the Thunder makes for grim reading – besides the industrial-scale poaching, the flouting of international laws and including a side story of alleged human trafficking victims that made up the Indonesian deck crew – there is a silver lining.

Because this week, a court in São Tomé and Príncipe, the island nation off the west coast of Africa where the Thunder crew was taken after rescue, convicted the captain and two senior crew of multiple charges linked to illegal fishing, including forgery, pollution, and damage to the environment. photo 2-3

Lacking jurisdiction to prosecute illegal fishing in the Antarctic, the courts nonetheless found charges they could make stick – the Nigerian flag under which the Thunder had been operating had been rescinded by the Nigerian government because the company that allegedly owned the Thunder didn’t exist; the Chilean government had stripped the Chilean-born captain, Luis Alfonso Rubio Cataldo, of his fishing license in 2014.

The three convicted Thunder crew have each been sentenced to almost three years in prison and collectively fined $17 million – which I’m assuming their yet-to-be identified employers (some Spanish fishing companies are under investigation) won’t pay, so unless these guys actually kept bank accounts somewhere for all those fishing profits, it’s a symbolic fine to indicate the magnitude of the crime.photo 1-3Pulling back to focus on the larger picture, this latest and very rare conviction is a step forward, perhaps one that provides more of a template than more direct approach of Palau to fighting illegal fishing – the Pacific island nation has started seizing boats suspected of illegal fishing and burning them to the water line.

Here in France, there’s seed out in the garden birdfeeders for migrating birds on their way south, and for the hardy little souls that remain here over the winter, so that they can find spring again and reproduce.

The bulbs are going into the chilling earth to get the shiver they require to germinate next year. The winter wheat is being seeded out under circles of falling hedgerow leaves.

In seasons and in the fight against illegal fishing, some endings beget other beginnings, even if we can’t quite see them yet.

Valentine Cartography

You can email individual trees now in Melbourne, and thousands of people are doing just that from around the world. Not that the trees can read the emails, since as far as I know they have not yet been equipped with technology that translates into Tree.

The Melbourne city council initially started a project to help identify trees so that they could receive better protection and care – 70,000 trees were assigned individual email accounts so that citizens could report incidents of fallen branches, or vandalism.

Ferchensee, Mittenwald, Germany. All photos: PKR

Wetterstein mountain, Mittenwald, Germany.
All photos: PKR

Undoubtedly, some of the email correspondence actually concerns trees in trouble.

But as it turned out, what people really wanted to write about was the trees themselves. Thousands of odes to particular trees began to pour in.

Maybe the trees can sense the good intentions, even if they can’t read the emails.

You might have noticed that none of the images here have to do with Melbourne’s trees.

I was on a run a couple of days ago in Mittenwald in southern Germany that turned into a walk due to all the excellent scenery, but also due to the multitudes of butterflies around the path.photo 1

I had to zig and zag to avoid bumping into them as they bobbed back and forth between favorite flowers.photo 5

There were bouquets of them in some small fields, and the air was alive with the sound of bees.photo 5

But there was one particular plant that must have had a particularly appealing scent – scruffy, rangy, it had two wilting blossoms, yet was covered with butterflies and bees pushing at each other to feed there. photo 4

Unfortunately, the image I took came out blurred, and I didn’t want to disturb the insects so I didn’t stick around to retake it several times. There are eight butterflies, bees and other insects on these two blossoms.photo 2

I found the same plant on the return trip thirty minutes later, still dishing up whatever righteous nectar it had on tap. If there were a single pollinator-friendly plant to be cloned along this path, I guess this would be the one.

But this one must be pretty tasty, as well.photo 4

So as it turns out, Melbourne’s Urban Forest Visual is a cartography of affection.

An excerpt from Melbourne's Urban Forest Visual interactive map. Source: City of Melbourne

An excerpt from Melbourne’s Urban Forest Visual interactive map.
Source: City of Melbourne

I have a small map of love that runs along a small stretch of forest, right here near Ferchensee.

Ferchensee, Mittenwald.

Ferchensee, Mittenwald.

If the Mittenwald brooks, lake, trees, mountains, plants and wildlife had email addresses where I could send my affections, I would do it. Instead, I’m doing it here.

 

*Thanks so much Rob Cairns for sending me the article on Melbourne’s trees.

Dog Days

We’re in the middle of a significant heat wave here in eastern France – the French call it la canicule, a word which has at its root a reference to a celestial body other than the sun.

Between July 3 and August 11, the star Sirius rises almost in conjunction with the sun – and Sirius is the brightest star in the Canis Major, the Greater Dog constellation. Actually, the term goes all the way back to the Egyptians, who began their New Year with the return of Sirius.

For centuries it was thought that the star brought with it the heat of summer.

Hence, the ‘dog days’ of summer.

Sirius in Canis Major Source: Space.com

Sirius in Canis Major
Source: Space.com

I was out early this morning – as I am every morning these days – trying to save some of the garden plants from withering under the blazing sun.

We lost some beautiful trees in the deadly canicule of 2003. While I can’t save all the leafy friends, I have been trying to keep a couple of the more fragile ones from drying out, including a gnarled apple tree and a small Japanese maple.

Our garden is an old one – it’s been worked in one form or another for hundreds of years. When we arrived here twenty years ago, the small enclosed space was home to twelve flower beds and nine fruit trees scattered across a mosaic lawn. photo 1(4)

We re-planted the garden a few years ago to be much less water dependent and pollinator-friendly. We reduced the size of the lawn by around half, laid pebble paths through the shady areas, built raised beds,  put in lavender rows and planted grasses that fend well for themselves.

One of the trees that doesn’t seem to need much help is our mirabelle tree – sure, the harvest will be a fraction of what it was last year, but the tree is flourishing and content.photo 1(5)

We have large trays of water out for birds and insects.

The lawn – which I just reseeded this spring – is a loss. It crunches underfoot, but I don’t see the point in watering it. I’ll take the long view and replant in autumn for next year.

photo 3(3)

As I was watering a small fig tree I planted against a stone wall, a small bird emerged from beneath the hosta leaves that line one of the paths. It was looking at me, and looking at the spray of water, then back at me – so I inched the water a bit closer to the bird, and before I knew it, another bird had joined the first and they were chirping like mad as they enjoyed the short shower.

You can just see the two bathing birds on the pebble path. I had to be stealthy with my camera in order not to frighten them.

You can just see the two bathing birds on the pebble path. I had to be stealthy with my camera in order not to frighten them.

If this is the shape of summers to come, I guess I’ll be reducing the lawn even further, and gardening for heat resistance.

In the meantime, with no end to the heat in sight, I’ll just do what humans have been doing in this situation for the entire length of history – try to take it easy, and pray for rain. If I can rely on the tradition of dog days and Sirius setting in early August, I shouldn’t have much longer to wait.

Suffering through a 19th century canicule in France. Source: France Pittoresque

Suffering through a 19th century canicule in France.
Source: France Pittoresque

Field Clocks

Excerpt from the Crescenzi calendar (c. 1306) via Wikimedia by Pietro de' Crescenzi

Excerpt from the Crescenzi calendar (c. 1306)
by Pietro de’ Crescenzi via Wikimedia

There’s something reassuring in the routine of sowing and harvest. It’s not just the crucial aspect of food security.

It’s one way we, as humans, keep time. A vast clock that we make every year anew.

A nearby field, ready for final clearing. All photos: PKR

A nearby field, ready for final clearing.
All photos: PKR

It’s blazing hot here, and as I wrote yesterday, the local farmers are using the heatwave to cut, dry and bale the early wheat crop. The air is thick with the sweet scent of cut grain.

Prickly wheat heads try and hitch a ride on my socks as I run past. Even though they’ve been processed and sown and harvested, hitching a ride is just what seeds do.

The same field, less than 24 hours later.

The same field, less than 24 hours later.

In the pre-industrial era, how long would it have taken to work one complete grain cycle on this field? It would certainly have required a vast collective effort.

Even today, most of the large machinery is shared between local farmers. But a harvest like this only takes a day or so from start to finish, and the same machines can be seen rotating around the village this week, cutting and baling one field after another.

Ready for the next crop.

Ready for the next crop.

Locals tell me that sometime in the middle of the last century, fields were mandated to lay ‘outside’ the village so it could develop into a more ‘residential’ locale – but it’s only recently in the last 15 years that this tiny village of 700 inhabitants started really growing. Even when we moved here back in the 1990s, it was mostly families who had been here for generations, most of them with small farms that encircle the village like a moat.

Now, with new apartment developments springing up faster than summer corn, and the farmer families selling their land and moving away, the harvest is seeming more and more like a clock that is slowly winding down.

The Harvesters (1565) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Wikipedia

The Harvesters (1565)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Wikipedia

Sky, Painted or Clear

I don’t have much to say today. It’s been a week of uplifting news, it’s been a week of bad news.

Like most weeks, I guess.

We are settling into our first major heat wave of summer here.

Moonrise (fuzzy!), France All photos: PKR

Moonrise (fuzzy!), France
All photos: PKR

Temperatures pushed the planned evening walk later and later until we only left once the sun had set and it had cooled a bit. Farmers were out in force, cutting the early wheat under watercolor skies and moonlight.photo 2(1)

The air and land was alive with insect life, most of it noisy, but it was too dark to take any decent shots of our traveling companions.photo 3(1)

Except for this big guy, who was in a fighting mood.photo 1(2)

I went for a morning run today – too late, as it turned out, to beat the heat – and found a cloudless sky, quiet and scorching over ordered fields.

Mount Blanc in the distance.

Mount Blanc in the distance.

 

Summer’s Begun

I always greet this day with a bit of wistfulness. It’s the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year, and it also rings in the season of days that grow ever shorter.

It seems like a good day from which to look at the year thus far, and the rest of the year ahead.

Happy solstice!

The solstice running path.