Monday, 16 September 2013

Peyresq and a little bit more

Not quite Latvia! The view from our lecture room on
my course
Well what can I say about the last two weeks? It was good! Very good! It started off with a fleeting visit by some friends from Fort Collins in Colorado, where we lived for two years. Unfortunately we couldn't manage more than a couple of days between us and all too soon we were waving them goodbye at the airport, only it was me leaving by plane and not them. They went on to meet other friends in Riga. One of our friends helped me pick tomatoes and I managed to process some of them for the freezer, but not all of them, the rest was left for Ian to continue, along with a whole list of other jobs I left him with. At least they got to see our home and where we live now and we had a chance to talk - nothing new there then, there is always time to talk. I am sad to hear, though, that while I was away that Fort Collins and places further afield - places we visited like Boulder and Estes Park, have been hit by flooding. Some of those canyons that looked remarkably like places I visited this last week have been deluged with life-threatening storm surges of water racing down the canyons. It always amazed me to see the signs "In case of flood, climb!" I used to wonder how on earth anyone could climb out of those canyons in a hurry. Those signs were obviously designed for times like  now.

My morning walk to breakfast
It was all too early in the morning as we set off to the airport a week and half ago and so soon after the drinks were served on the flight I fell asleep. I woke up to see a cloudy scene with some small wispy bits of cloud above the main body of cloud. Well that's what I thought at first, then I realised they weren't wispy bits of cloud but mountains covered in snow sticking up above the clouds. I had reached the alps. We flew in to Nice from over the sea and it was obvious why the coastline is called Cote d'Azur, the sea indeed was a beautiful azure blue and quite breathtaking from the air, so was the airport and not for its beauty. The airport is situated on a spit of land in the sea, come in too early and you would be in the sea, go too far and you would be in the sea also. Well that is what it looked like as we flew in, but it was bigger than it looked from the air - thank goodness!
Or maybe this way instead
But not always easy to walk on

Peyresq, perched in the mountains
I arrived a good hour before the bus to my final destination, but I soon spotted a someone who looked like they maybe heading for the same place I was. It is not every day you see someone in the airport with a cardboard tube and a backpack, sure enough it was a young lass from Poland attending the same course I was on. It was a good job really as I would have looked a bit silly introducing myself. By the time the bus arrived, there was quite a group of us who had gathered, all except me I think was carrying either a cardboard tube or a plastic poster holder. My poster was in my suitcase, the largest suitcase we had, as I didn't have a cardboard tube, as I mentioned last week and it was the only suitcase big enough to hold the poster (birthday/christmas hint here, as I am sure it won't be the last time I carry a poster on a trip). I felt rather silly with such a large suitcase and I was rueing the decision when we got to the village, which was going to be home for the next 10 days. Not only was my room nearly at the top of the house, it was up a rocky steep path and I had to carry that enormous suitcase up it all. Fortunately someone helped me with my rucksack that I was also carrying. It didn't help that Peyresq is situated at 1500m and so I was also a little breathless. It was a good job that I was shifting hay bales earlier on in the year, in obvious preparation for the task.
A steep gorge in the Alps. Those cliffs are
vertical

Pituresque windows 
I was a little worried about the course, as I knew I would be far older than most of the other students, but fortunately for me there were a few others who were older than my children. The younger ones were very gracious though as they accepted us all regardless of age. The only time that age was anything of an issue was when I sensed a need to urge on the younger generation. They will have far more time than I have to make a difference in this world and I am sure that many of them there will go on to do that. They had such a passion for this world and the living things on it, as you would expect of ecologists and conservationists, but also a passion for people that was a refreshing mix. Too often I see scant regard for this living planet, which I believe was created by God and as such believe that we have no right to decide that a species doesn't matter. If it was created by God then save it, if at all possible. I don't think it is an issue either that justice for people trumps these issues, as often the race for profit impacts indigenous groups and the poor, just as much as other living creatures. What was also refreshing was seeing scientists getting all touchy, feely instead of just objective as they have been taught to be. Scientists have feelings too and often they are deeply saddened by the impacts mankind are making on this planet and rightly so. Well rant over, I shall move on.

It was not all sunshine! Honest! Someone stole the mountains
The little church in Peyresq
I think the best thing to do would be to highlight some of the snippets of my time in Peyresq, a little village perched on the rocks in the Southern French Alps. On the first day I was rather amused by God's sense of humour that meant that the "random" piece of paper I was given with a statement on, was Genesis 1:28, but written in old English. We were meant to decide whether the statement was more about society or about nature and more about man's domination of nature or nature's domination of man. Well in the old version, words like "man having dominion over nature" meant the meaning was quite clear, but it is not a view I take due to the context of other verses, where man is supposed to care for nature and I said as such. When asked if I was a Christian, of course I replied yes, as did the other guy who got the same statement. Coincidence! Methinks not and I'm sure I heard a snigger from my Father in Heaven.

Spot the shepherds hut
My roommate was a lovely lass, but she was a little concerned for me after the first couple of days when it became obvious that we weren't heading for our room around the same time at night and so she organised to go to a separate room and that meant I had the room to myself. I was also blessed by the care and concern of many on our downward decent from a long walk in the mountains to visit a shepherd who lives on the mountains with the sheep in summer (although the one we met was a stand in, I think the other shepherd was sick). My knee started to act up about half way down and folks were rather worried about me when I had to stop to stretch muscles. One of the leaders fortunately had a spare walking stick with him and so he lent me his and I therefore made it down fine after that, I even carried on carrying my rucksack despite the offer from one gentleman to carry it for me. I have felt rather spoilt at times this last week, especially with the food. The food was very good, although I really appreciated the term demitarian by the end of the week. A demitarian is someone who eats less meat and more vegetables, a state that is a mystery to someone from the Provence so we were told.

I love old doors! There would have been more
but my camera batteries died
I didn't just get to spend the week with a highly intelligent bunch of people, they were also great fun to be with and incredibly creative. We were often entertained by one guy playing the piano and sometimes a lass joined him and they ad libbed the music, others joined in with tambourines, shakers and guitar. On the last day the students put on a play to encapsulate what they would recommend to people in the region where we were studying, based on some of the things we had learnt along the way. Unfortunately I missed actually being in it due to a miscommunication, but it meant I got to watch the whole thing and it was great. The best part for me was when a guy playing Jesus, told everyone what a mess they were making of the world and gave them a second chance. Brilliant! Now what would we do differently if we were given that chance? Well in the play, the ageing farmers weren't the only ones cultivating the land the younger ones were also there and developing plenty of local products to sell to ecologically aware tourists who respected the farmers and their farming ways. They utilised other forms of energy, such as wind and solar - of course! The flocks of sheep were kept in smaller herds and had more people looking after them to give more employment and meant they didn't over graze the mountains and so on. As I said, brilliant!

Lavendin field
We also got to go on a day long tour of the area errrr I mean field study trip of course. This meant visiting the lavender farms or lavendin farms as we found out. Lavender grows wild up in the mountains but the big farms utilise a more productive hybrid of lavender. The soil is so rocky though that the fields there are not as lush and green as fields around us here in Latvia, but then again we don't grow hectare after hectare of sunflowers and lavendin. We didn't go at the most beautiful time of the year when the lavendin blooms, they had already been cut when we got there. That was maybe a good thing as the scent of lavender was heavy in the air without the blooms, goodness only knows what it must smell like with the flowers in bloom. The sunflowers also looked rather sad, with their heads hanging low. They must have been close to being cut as they also looked rather dry. We visited a goat farmer who told us how they took the goats up the mountains to feed amongst the trees of the mountain slopes. The trees were planted to stop soil erosion after problems in the 18th century due to the forest all being cut down. The farmer was paid to graze her herds of goats by the State so that it reduced the risk of forest fires. The only problem now though is that wolves are moving into the area and her herd has been attacked a few times now. The goats are now accompanied by someone, but of course it is  getting scary. We wended our way along canyons and through pretty villages also clinging to rocky outcrops like Peyresq and along the valley bottoms populated by people now that villages don't have to cling to rocky outcrops for protection from raiders. We visited a lake that was created by a hydroelectric dam, providing water for two cities as well as electric, but in the process flooding productive agricultural land and places where 4 tonnes of truffles were collected annually and bringing in a revenue of millions in the process. Progress? Difficult one that as the lake also provides flood protection, except one year when the normal rate of 30m3 per second was increased to 1400m3 per second.
The lake, under which used to be the truffles
the farms and a village. Now clean drinking
water for cities
The goat farmer also had pigs. These pigs are taking
advantage of the acorns from the oak trees
Well those are a few of my highlights from the last two weeks. Of course there is more to say and maybe some of my new friends will add their favourites, but for now that will do from me. If you want to know more, then you will just have to come and visit and spend a few hours chatting. I will finish though with this story of my trip home. I've been talking about the wild boar and the problems they cause a lot over the past week and on the way home we nearly collided with a whole family of them. I've seen family groups a couple of times before but never so many, it was obviously a good breeding year for them. Hmmm!
Clinging to the gorge walls

A small French village in the Verdon region

A view of a valley in the Verdon region

2 comments:

karen said...

well....isn't it exciting to go on your travels with you. I can't keep up, you're wearing me out!! It's all so exciting and you have shared some amazing images. Thank you!
http://karenannruane.typepad.com/karen_ruane/

Joanna said...

Wearing you out. I'm off again this weekend. Just a quick trip this time though. Glad you're enjoying the travels though and the pictures. I have new batteries for my camera, so I can continue to take some more