Neighbours 5

Question for today: What do mushroom filaments (mycelium) have in common with prosperity? Examining our grapes at harvest time, yes we think about mycelium and soil health.  But end of September also brings the end of al fresco, safely-distanced gatherings with friends.  So I am thinking about mycelium and neighbours.  When we moved to this hilltop vineyard we left behind extended family and close friends in far off cities.    By some happy twist of fate our children came to join us.  But actually, we hardly knew anyone.  On our first Christmas Eve I remembered the words of a local wood […]

Quarantine Revisited – March 2020 5

Much as life in the time of Covid-19 is a chapter I would like to omit, a valid chronicle doesn’t leave out the hard parts. A few notes for “Grapes and Old Stones”:  Early March 2020.   After a woefully diluvian winter, the first days of Spring.  Delirious, we shed our rubber boots and venture barefoot over the paquerettes and dandelions.  The baby eats the dandelion stems and we smile at his herbalist wisdom.  We carry platters outside for the first family lunch in the sunshine.  Carry tea and cake outside for the first little gathering of friends to shake away the […]

Longest Night of the Year 4

Years ago when the children were little, we bundled them up against the cold and rode our bicycles to the banks of the Thames.    It was the darkest, longest night of the year.  We brought hot chocolate, brandy, candles.   I wrote a poem for the occasion.  We stood in a circle, the river rushing below.    In their shining, fresh innocence the children were completely present and sincere.    If we believed, so did they.   We lit a candle as each read his or her verse; our own private stage, actor and audience,  creators of our own moment. Then […]

The Next Generation 6

Each September, the same struggles:  make Time stop, bottle the end of summer light.   This year I’m holding back the flow just long enough to chronicle a new undercurrent. Baby in the house.      It has been a summer of babies.   And youth who were once babies – we knew them fondly – passing under this roof, through the Taverne, in the vines…  adding their stories of life journeys to my memory bank.   They return to this place altered by their trajectories, and I try to map their seedling selves to the adults before me.    […]

Winter Work 4

“Grapes and Old Stones” is a chronicle of our new life, sometimes lived an old way.   Only 80 years ago this farm functioned without electricity and running water.    Today fireplaces still need wood.   The outhouse needs cleaning.   Big old trees need haircuts.   Vegetable and flower gardens need woodchips.     Now we get help from as much machinery as we can afford.    No nostalgia for filling thousands of wine bottles by hand, but still, very dependent on muscle power.  Some nights they traipse in, muddy boots shedding all over my clean kitchen floor, work clothes scented with compost and […]

Season’s End 9

Season’s end. John’s hands are stained from pumpovers and “brassage des lies.”   Fermentation finished.  A relief – fermentation is finicky business.   And now we see the extra work in the vineyard paid off; the vintage shows promise.  A few worries ticked off the list. October mornings:  newly crisp air and fog wisps above the valley.  Afternoons:   cold water swim and last caress of summer sun.   Night fall: early. John on the tanks – brassage des lies Season’s end brings changes to our nightly walk.   First the winery, to bed down the wine.   Embrace each tank, […]

Lavender Meditation – July 2018 10

It’s high summer.   The time of first fruits from the garden, long sunny days, kayaks on the water, cool starry nights, village fêtes, music rising from parties all along the river… Lavender time. When we planted the first row several years ago, I didn’t fully realize that lavender is much more than a flower.    We knew of the medicinal properties against insect stings, and also hoped to deter some mosquitoes.   But now, several plantings later, the spectacle of evening lavender has become central to the setting of high summer. Just before sunset is best.    I sit on a broken old […]

The Off Season 10

My Farmer’s Almanac has advice for every season.  From a winter to do list with things like “sort your seeds” and “clean your tools,”  I latched on to this tidbit:  “Take time to REST – in two months it all starts up again!” Around here most local, small-scale farmers slow down a bit in winter:  all the potatoes and kiwis are in their cellars; you can’t make cheese since the goats aren’t producing milk, etc.  Except farmer-heroes like Didier: he raises ducks as well as crops, does agricultural research, makes his famous foie gras in his own laboratory, and sells […]

Winter Solstice 2016 – Tuning the Radio 2

At first we were just ruminating and tinkering.  How to entice beneficial micro critters into the soil; how to prepare potions from the “weeds” in the prairies… At first it was mostly amusing.  Stumbling on Henri’s odorific jars of fermented vegetables in my linen closet (sauerkraut and the like for healthy gut flora); trolling a pasture for fresh cow patties to fashion a “praline” dip for fragile tree roots. Just trying things out, trying to find our north. In our ramblings, we sought out the rural elders. They proudly hobble around their havens of pre 50’s bio diversity, amidst beehives […]

The Summer of So Much 8

A chapter ends. A chapter with an arched eyebrow – enough rich desserts for awhile.  These past months, one wave after another, richness after richness. How often I wanted to shout, hey stop there just a second.  When will we savour and assimilate?  I need to pause and capture before the next wave comes.  But the best you can do is try to let go, so you’re supple enough to take it all in. Letting go.  Letting go of the illusion of permanence.  Trying to let go of the illusion of control.  Trying to balance between willful action to create […]

Reinforcements 10

When we sent our children across the ocean to finish their education, we didn’t consider they might never return. But as the nest went empty, we changed course.  Sold the city apartment, acquired land. We told the children this farmer’s folly was not to be confused with that burdensome genre of family legacy laced with bad drama for future generations.   Sell it all when we die if you wish.  No ties.  Lead your lives, fly we said. So they did.  Of course we delighted in their discoveries and cheered their adventures.   Secretly we mourned to see them so rarely.   Sometimes […]

Parallel Lives 5

Crisscrossing the land on this hilltop are several roads to nowhere.  They are the vestiges of old rural lanes that once connected farms and hamlets to villages.  A few of these paths still lead from one place to another, but most of them were chopped up a century ago and have fallen into abandon. My favorite path has an intersection at our front gate.  Like the scarecrow’s choice, from this point you can meander south along the ridge, east down to the stream, or north to the river.  Or rather, one could a hundred years ago.  You wouldn’t know you’re […]

Going underground 4

There was a time I thought it strange and frightening to bury our loved ones in the earth.  So much dark and heavy.  So much mystery.  So unfriendly. I should have remembered my own first plunge into deep earth.  Four years old, imploding with confused fury after an act of injustice, running away blind.  Searing indignation, prickling hot tears, and then a fall into a deep hole.  Later my family found me asleep, wrapped around the trunk and roots of an old oak tree. Of course my older brothers teased me for decades, via their scathingly pejorative epithet – tree hugger. […]

For the Friction 3

When we renovated the kitchen of this old farmhouse we installed two sinks because generous guests are forever asking, “what can I do to help?” So all through this glorious month of bounty – fruit, vegetables and convivial gatherings – cheery teams have put those workstations to good use. The teams migrate as projects are conceived. One morning someone wakes up and says, “let’s build an extension to the deck.” And out come the power drills. On the hottest afternoon of the year our neighbors Nikky and David * arrive with expertise and physical prowess to help move the huge […]

Summer Linen 9

Nothing makes me feel as safe and secure as the ritual of summer linen. Even the word linen calms my breath, conjuring up a daily life when real linen was a household staple for everyday use; an era when things moved more slowly. Linen is heavy and wrinkles terribly and must be ironed to regain its wonderful skin-caressing, cool smoothness. To care for linen, one must have time. Today I’m preparing summer linen for the arrival of family and guests. I recall what my friend Helen said the first time she visited: “I fell into bed last night and thought – […]

Summer Solstice 1

Millions of years ago the Dordogne carved a series of caves into the rock cliff under our house.  The village historian told me they were the site of Druidic rituals, later appropriated by the Romans for their own gods. Since it’s the Summer Solstice, I took myself down to the caves this morning looking for the wisp of a Druid or two. The spot is somewhat difficult to access, and hidden most of the year by the shadows of thickets and tress.   But in late June at sunrise, the caves present several niches of warm and inviting nooks.   […]

Witch Doctors 2

The image of the wild man or woman living in the woods, stirring up cauldrons of potions for ailments, seems to have been filed away into the long-ago-and-far-away category. A mostly irrelevant archetype unless you’re reading tarot cards. We might ask how mankind ever survived without modern pharmaceuticals. Right up until the 1950’s, our parents lived and breathed customs and know-how that changed radically when industrial agriculture was introduced post WW2. Something as modest as the omnipresent hedge – with varying plants to attract beneficial insects and creatures, provided wind breakers that protected crops during storms, and valuable, earth-nourishing root […]

Away With the Dead Wood 2

I suppose everyone has their own version of dead wood.   Stuff accumulates, it’s probably part of the law of Inertia. Not too consequential if you’re just clearing out a junky closet.  But when the inertia has descended onto several acres over 40 years, it gives one pause. The hilltop across the valley has been an eyesore for longer than we care to remember. The real shame of it is that the grove of acacia trees – so valuable for their hard wood, intoxicating perfume, and bee-attracting flowers – has been devastated by the fatal appetites of mistletoe and thorn bushes. […]

Epiphany 5

Dark of winter. Dark when you rise, dark when you come in from chores. I ran into a neighboring farmer this week. He works with his mother now because as a family of two they can do the work of five paid employees. It’s how many small producers survive. He lamented his divorce: “In family agriculture we live by a different rhythm from the rest of society.  By the seasons, by the sun, moon, the sap rising or falling, the needs of the animals. Income is a worry, but at least we believe in our work. Sometimes this is impossible […]

Our Move to the Farm 3

It has taken three years and we’re far from finished.  But lock, stock and barrels, we have now officially moved to the farm. A hundred years ago John’s great-uncle bought this land on a hilltop, with its enchanting chateau on the river below.  It was handed down to successive generations, and during the lifetime of his parents, family life in the big house made sense.  When they died that logic seemed to evaporate. Some of the current descendents are separated by an ocean and the joint maintenance of a far-away petit chateau turned out to be more than blood alone […]

Farewell Fair Lady 9

We always called her the Big House.  The locals called it Le Chateau.  As of this week it is the house that belongs to that nice family with two cute little boys. So I’ve taken my last look from the window. The children have walked the creaky floorboards, breathed in the reassuring aroma of our old room, closed up the iconic red portail for the last time.  We’ve bid farewell to the fair lady. And tried to come to closure. It’s one thing to say goodbye to the stones and mortar one has loved and lived.  Parting with the ephemera […]

In the Midst of Everything – Tartes! 5

“Everything” now is about preparation for harvest.  Parcel inspections, maturity tests, last minute trimming… cleaning vats and tubes, dry runs of pumps and cooling systems, organizing equipment and helpers… In the midst of “everything” it is an astounding fruit year.  We’ve been blessed by an extraordinary season’s end: sunny, warm, dry, breezy – perfect. And thus, more everything just came in around the harvest moon: wild peaches, figs, hazelnuts, pears, some of the apples… Even the oaks could be heard in the night silence, releasing their acorns like pensive, fertile drops of rain. Time of abundance.   We have to […]

A Golden Thread 3

The English cousin called it a golden thread.  The filament that brings them all back each year, to this place, to each other. They’ve known each other since they were toddlers.  Our children, the neighbors from Carbonneau, scattered friends, the English cousins… They’ve been playing Marco Polo in the deep end of the pool since they could swim.  Years of kayak rides down the Dordogne, croquet in the afternoons, “Deux-Cent-Un” around the old trees at dusk… Now in their twenties, they bring along girlfriends and boyfriends to play, toasting après-game with a glass of wine on the terrace. All year long […]

Key to the Farm 4

Friday I handed over the apartment keys, last vestige of city life, and boarded the train out of Paris.  The end of four decades as city dwellers: living, loving and leaving a succession of homes in Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Brussels, London and Paris. In some ways we’ve “bet the farm” to get here.  But more accurately, we’re betting on the farm to get us somewhere else.  Sometimes places turn out to be vehicles that help us experience something we need to live.  It now appears we need to live the farm.  Of course there’s a pretty side to […]