Friday, February 29, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

Just so you don't think ill of me, I did indeed take pictures of Callie during our last sunny day walk last weekend. Here she is hamming it up among the vines.

Callie among the vines.

She's really into moving sticks and twigs around the vineyard. They just seem to need to be moved. It's great having a working dog. I need to learn how to channel that desire to work into something constructive, like : bring me my slippers (without chewing them to shreds). I'll work on that...

On Thursday I actually left the house for a few hours. I went into "town" and got a haircut. Then I drove over to Bléré (on the other side of Chenonceau from us) to search for several necessary items. Among them : dog treats, sticky anti-weevil glue for the hazelnut trees, tomato paste, coffee, beef for bourguignon, a bottle of vieux marc, and a few other mundane things. I was less successful than I wanted to be, but I got what we needed.

Instead of vieux marc, we will drink calvados on Ken's birthday. Marc is a specialty of Burgundy; it's the liquor distilled from the leavings of grape skins and seeds after the juice is pressed for wine. Since we don't live in Burgundy, it's hard to find. But we like it, so I tried.

I didn't buy the weevil glue because it was too expensive at the garden shops I went to. There are a few more stores that I can check out in the area. I think I need to go somewhere that caters more to agriculturalists than to home gardeners.

The store was out of the coffee we like, so we will get it at the store closer to us next week. No big deal.

Can you believe that February is over?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

That Certain Air Of Savoir Faire

This may not be the Merry Old Land of Oz, but watching the vine pruning process makes me realize that these people know a lot more about vines than those of us who simply drink the juice of their labors.

Another pine cone.

There's a couple, a man and a woman, who work for the people that own most of the vineyards behind our house. In fact, we don't know if they're actually a "couple" or whether they just work together. We always wave, exchange bonjours, and sometimes talk about the weather. They try to get Callie to come close to them, but she just runs around them.

Other-worldly lichens on a red brick.

The couple are out there nearly every day this time of year. They prune the thousands of vines back to one or two canes, one at a time, by hand, over the course of winter. They work in the cold rain; they work in the warm sunshine. They line the clippings up between the rows and will eventually use a tractor to pull a mulcher that grinds them up. Other pruners in neighboring vineyards burn the clippings as they go.

A broken tile, MADE IN FR...

Little by little the scraggly vineyard transforms into neat, clean rows. Some of the vines are pruned to a single long cane, others down to two or three short stubs. I have no idea why some vines are done one way while the others are different. In a few weeks the job will be done. Shortly after that we will start to see a slight green tint edge out the drab brown of the winter vineyard as the leaves emerge on the vines. Then we'll know that spring is really here.

Pruned and ready for leaves.

"We get up at twelve and start to work at one, take an hour for lunch and then at two we're done. Jolly good fun!"

Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekend Sunshine

Saturday afternoon proved to be another (relatively) warm one. Sunday was even nicer. We had just over 16ºC, about 60ºF, and that's the warmest we've had all season. It's likely to get cold again, but we're enjoying the sun and dry weather for the time being.

One of our neighbors burned some yard waste Saturday afternoon.

It was my afternoon to take Callie out. I've been trying to make her wait until after 5:30 to take advantage of the lengthening days. We can't go out between 4:00 and 5:30 because Lily and her human are out there and we don't like getting tangled up with them.

These buds remind me of pussy willows.

It was so nice at the height of the afternoon on Saturday, though, that we went at 3:00. It was terrific! No Lily, in fact, there was nobody but us out there. I can't wait for spring.

A single hanging pine cone.

While walking, we saw (and heard) a couple pairs of hawks "making lazy circles in the sky" above our heads. I assumed they were hunting for mice and other critters in the vineyard, but I never saw one of them swoop down.

This is as close as I could get to the gliding hawk with my zoom lens.

I wonder if they were courting or something. Or they were just out enjoying the warm sunny day like I was.

**Weather update: It's raining on Monday morning.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More From The Back Yard

This is one of the braces (brackets?) on the shutters that cover the window in the garden shed out back. The shutters and the window are in need of some maintenance, but their state of disrepair gives them a bit of character.

They work just fine, so there's no urgency to fixing them up. They stand open most of the year, unless we're expecting a storm and I remember to go out and close them, and they stay closed through the winter.

Here's a photo of the shed itself from back in 2005 - springtime. Pretty soon the yard will look like this again!

Spring 2005.

When we moved here in 2003, the shed had no door. It was boarded shut, and when I finally pried the wood away I found a treasure trove of junk. The shed was chock full of stuff - wood, boards, stakes, flower pots, concrete blocks, old rusty tools, bottles of insecticides and fertilizers, and more.

It took me several days to empty it all out, sort through it, and several trips to the dump to dispose of most of it. I never finished with the disposal and some of the junk is still sitting outside the shed under a tarp. Maybe this year.

Now the shed is home to the lawnmower, the rototiller, the weed whacker, wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, flower pots, stakes, etc. Much of the same crap that was there before. It's just newer, more organized crap.

We also had a new lockable door installed on the shed a few years back.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Birthday Dog

Today is Callie's first birthday! You can tell how excited she is:

Birthday schmirthday.

Just for fun, here she is at about four weeks:

I was such a cute pup!

Compare and contrast.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


The other day I mentioned that we had crocuses in the yard. They seem to be popping up in places where we haven't noticed them before. I didn't have a photo then, but I've since gone out and taken a few.

A back yard crocus.

I don't know if the plants produce seeds that are spread by birds, or what. I do know that you typically divide the corms to propagate crocuses. But since I haven't done that with these volunteers, I have no idea how they're spreading.

Another variety of crocus in the yard.

Of course, one explanation (most likely) is that they were planted right where they are and I've just never noticed them among the primroses and cyclamen.

Ah, nature!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lierre Grimpant

Our yard is full of these vines. I think they were planted as a ground cover beneath a big pine tree at one point, but they've migrated to different parts of the yard. And the problem we have with them is that they climb up our trees.

Lierre grimpant, or climbing English ivy, on a birch tree.

Every spring now we have to go around and try to cut them off at ground level so that they don't get too far up the tree trunks. They really get a hold on the bark of the apples and birches and they're a pain to pull off.

The French Wikipedia site notes two common names for hedera helix: herbe de saint Jean (St. John's herb) and bourreau des arbres (tree executioner). Yikes!

With a name like that second one, I'm pretty sure it would not be good to let them cover the trees, so off they must come!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pinces A Linge

A sunny afternoon leads one outdoors to take pictures of ordinary things. So does a desire to experiment with a couple of settings on the camera.

Pinces à linge (clothespins).

I'm trying to get a better handle on exposure control with the digital camera, so I'm trying the exposure compensation feature. I'm wondering how much it differs from the standard aperture priority mode, where you set the f-stop and let the camera pick the shutter speed.

I'm afraid I'm not all that together to mess with full manual mode. Maybe one day.

Monday, February 18, 2008


The name of this Rhône Valley town means Pope's Newcastle in English. It's within sight of Avignon, seat of the popes after their exile from Rome in the 14th Century. There is very little remaining of the old "new" castle - just part of the donjon walls and some foundations. It's a small town of about 2,000 Castels-Papals.

Steps lined with wine lead up to the ruined castle.

Aside from that, the town is best known for its wine. Thirteen varietals are authorized to make the various wines in this AOC: syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault, cournoise, muscardin, picpoul, grenache, bourboulenc, clairette, roussane, vaccarèse, picardan, and terret noir. Grenache is the predominant varietal in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and ninety-nine percent of the production is red.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Seen In Gordes

Gordes is a very popular stop on the tourist circuit in Provence. It's the quintessential hilltop town (one of hundreds of quintessential hilltop towns in France) with great views, picturesque architecture, and plenty of shops and eateries to take your euros.

A front porch on a back street.

Add to that hundreds of people with cameras and not a few tour buses. If you've seen one of these places, you've seen them all. Well, not exactly. But pretty much.

Still, you gotta go, right?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Cyber Dog!

Callie is fascinated by movement on the laptop screen - any movement, whether it's a video, an animation, or even the cursor. She actually tries to nip at the cursor as it moves around the screen!

The laptop is in the living room on the coffee table. Just the right height for optimal puppy viewing. If there were such a thing as doggy e-mail, her address would be

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fleurs En Février

Wild spring cyclamens are popping up in the yard right now.

It's that time of year again. Time for February flowers. The little primevères, common primroses in English (primula vulgaris), and cyclamens (cyclamen persicum) in the yard are starting their pre-spring bloom.

Cyclamens and primroses, side by side.

So pardon me for the repetition, but I just have to post a bunch of photos I took yesterday morning (Tuesday). To see last spring's crop, click here. The cyclamens are all purple, but the primroses appear in many different shades.

Snowdrops, or perce-neiges, are new to our yard this year.

This year we have two newcomers: perce-neiges, snowdrops in English (galanthus nivalis), and crocus (crocus vernus). I've been wanting to snatch some snowdrops from a friend's house or the woods out back for a while, but these just showed up in the yard this year. Must be the birds!

A yellow-white primrose.

The daffodils and hyacinths are coming along, too. And the buds on the forsythia are getting fatter and fatter.

A soft-violet primrose.

A deep purple primrose.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Church Tops 2

Just thought I'd throw a second one in, since I have a slide of it. It's not as nice a photo as the first one was, but it illustrates another style of bell cage.

This one's also in Provence.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Church Tops

I guess you'd call them bell towers, but I'm not sure. I don't know what they're called in French, either (do you know?). But you see them all over, especially in smaller towns.

A bell tower somewhere in Provence.

I wonder if these were built because the towns couldn't afford to complete their towers in stone, or if these iron armatures are just more stable than a higher stone construction.

At any rate, these bell cages can get pretty elaborate and they're really beautiful. This one's in Provence.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Periodic Puppy Pics

Can you stand it, or what? She's too cute. Callie will be a year old in two weeks.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Les Noisetiers

We're having nice sunny days from now through Sunday, according to the weather forecasters. And the temperatures are supposed to get up to around 12ºC. The mornings still hover just above freezing.

A sunny Friday morning in the garden.

The longer we go without rain the drier it will get outside. This water needs to drain, dry, evaporate, and otherwise go away so we can be out there without getting covered in mud. And, I want to do some pruning in the yard.

Four hazelnuts cleaned of suckers.

The main task right now is pruning the suckers (drageons) out from under the hazelnut trees (les noisetiers). I did four out of our twelve a couple of weeks ago. Eight more to go. Then we have to find some treatment for them to keep the hazelnut weevils (balanin des noisettes - curculio nucum) from climbing up in the spring to eat the leaves and lay their eggs.

Suckers poking up around the base of a hazelnut tree.

The weevils emerge from the ground in May and climb up the trunks at the precise moment that the nut is forming. They bore into the immature nut and lay an egg. When it hatches, the larva devours the nut as it grows safely inside the shell. What you're left with is a shell with a neat little hole and a rotten nut.

The hazelnut trees are flowering now.

There is supposedly some kind of gluey paper that you can put around the bases of the trees to trap the weevils. A good, environmentally friendly way to go, if the dog doesn't decide to lick the glue. Otherwise, there are sprays, I think, but they may only be available to commercial growers. We'll go to a garden center to inquire before too long.

For now, I've got to get the pruning done. Last fall I was able to prune a lot of the dead wood out of the trees.

I also removed two of the trees that had died (and we burned them in the fireplace during the fall and winter).

I'm hoping that this work will pay off by letting more light and air into the trees so more nuts can form.

The hazlenut flowers, called catkins (chatons), are appearing even now. At left is a close-up of the catkins on one of our trees.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Blue Doors In Provence

I took these pictures in 2001 when we rented a house in Cavaillon, near the Rhône and the Luberon mountain. We were there in September and watched the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on French television. It was a surreal experience.

A garage door on the house we rented in Cavaillon.

To top it all off, Ken was sick most of the time and spent many days on the couch in front of the t.v. Our friend Sue was with us, and Sue and I drove around sightseeing while Ken tried to recuperate.

Somewhere in Provence.

The older, restored house we rented was on the edge of town adjacent to an abandoned orchard. We deduced that it wouldn't be long before the land was subdivided since development was occurring all around the property. Still, it was nice, private, and comfortable.

And the Mistral blew.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


This image is a close-up taken from one of the pictures I posted yesterday. And it's been "photoshopped" a bit.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Le Ciel D'Hiver

Our place seen from the vineyard, looking northeast.

The winter sky. I took these photos on my Sunday afternoon walk with Callie. It was a pleasant day, with a good deal of sunshine. I don't think that's supposed to last, though.

Looking north.

Looking west.

Looking northeasterly.

Looking northwesterly.

No commentary, just pictures. I'm feeling lazy this morning. ;)

I'm also trying not to hear or see any news about who won the Super Bowl. I'm going to watch the game later this morning - a re-broadcast on NASN. So don't tell me who won.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Photo De Dimanche : Les Cygnes

Swans ply the waters of the Yonne River at Auxerre (2001).

Friday, February 01, 2008


This tiny town on the Lot River is very close to the place we rented when we stayed there in 1995. It's amazing, if not a little boring. There's really nothing going on there, except for the lives of the people who live there. And that's probably enough.

Puy L'Evêque on the Lot.

There's a bridge, a pretty modern one, across the Lot at Puy-L'Evêque. It's from the bridge that I took these photos. We crossed the bridge a lot while we were there. A lot. Le Lot. Hehehehe.

A close-up of town.

Ain't it purdy?