Sunday, March 27, 2011

I have a farm with a lake that looks like Africa

2011-03-27 Lake and daisies

Brent came to my door today and said something about cows and grass and fences. I assume that’s what he was talking about since he looked excited, and that’s all he’s thinking about when he’s excited. It’s like Munson running in and woo-wooing me: I know that’ll be about walks and rabbits and scratch-my-back please.

I wasn’t quite ready for either Brent or Munson’s morning eagerness as I hadn’t put any caffeine-power into processing the daylight savings time change and was still dreaming hazy dreams in my dressing gown. Eventually I kicked into higher gear and went out to check all the new flowers that had been tickled into wakefulness by a little overnight rain.

P3272849   P3272852


From the top of the driveway I could see Brent’s pickup parked way down the driveway, and so with Munson dashing around trying to anticipate my trajectory, headed down through the daisy-scarred fields and vineyards to one of the lower lakes where Brent and Lucy were respectively fixing fences and sowing clover seed.

Munson took to the water, and then went off careening around the lake edges, a volley of frogs springing to safety from banks to water with the precision of Busby Berkeley choreography. I sat at the tip which seems like the southern end of Africa from a low angle, Munson whizzing past me repeatedly, his thick coat spraying a wake behind him.

I haz wet fur

When I got back to the relative sanity of my villa, I was prompted by an email to check a  YouTuber’s hilariously cryptic comment on a video I’d posted of Munson. There he’s swimming and madly running around on a Sydney beach when he was half his present age: not much has changed there.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Work (and cheese) is its own reward

2011-03-25 Terrace coffee

This week’s mild weather has been very conducive both to outdoor work and relaxing out on the terrace afterwards. A pile of dates and Spanish strawberries with some brie de brebis (ie made from sheep milk) more than compensates for all the stings and scratches garnered while duelling bramble thorns.

The far-side of our little lake has a long stretch of dilapidated shed, perhaps once used to shelter cattle at the water’s edge. Now the corrugated metal roofing is collapsing under the weight of tree debris, many of the wooden supports eaten by termites, all of it eventually to be consumed by tendrils of blackberry.

2011-03-24 Lake clearing - south side

I spent the best part of a day removing all the metal roofing, gagging under the deluge of dirt and dessicated willow that lay on it, once a suspended layer of topsoil, now collapsing to the parched clay beneath. Munson dodged these while attending to the bunny holes that I was backfilling with rubble and leaf litter. After banging my head against some of the cross-beams one too many times, I levered them off with a crow-bar and dispatched them to the firewood store. I haven’t made up my mind what to do with this stretch yet, but will get a better idea of the possibilities once the bramble is gone, and all the decaying timbers (constructed and natural) have been taken away.

I may leave the remaining timbers to support vegetable planters, and may even use them to frame a little greenhouse that can be watered straight from the lake. Another project may be to fence all the way around the lake, connecting up to the back of the villa. That will serve two needs – giving Munson an unsupervised romping zone safely away from the big cow-shaped dogs, and also keeping the young Munsoneers away from the water.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Daisy chien

King of the daisies


I’ve been chided for not putting up enough pictures of Munson, so I snapped off a few on our walk around the edge of the farm today.

It seems as if the bees have moved from the willow trees to the daisies as they blanket the fields in advance of the sunflowers which will cover the Gers in months to come. What we call daisies may refer to knee-high marguerites or little pâquerettes. Each day this week has brought out a couple more of the tulips I planted around the terrace in December.

Today’s been the first bad day for spring pollen, but I suspect it may be more trees to blame than the grasses and ground-cover. I was sneezing in Condom town this morning but not so much back on the farm, even sitting amongst les pâquerettes. Time, tears and tissues will tell!

Dozy daisy

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New neighbours

Munson watches the delivery

Just after 3pm a livestock transport turned up with some new neighbours. Joining the five Mirandaises (temporarily relocated to a newly-fenced paddock), we now have twenty Salers (Sal-airs). Most of them are heifers, along with a handful of mothers and a single male calf.

 Saler mother cow  Gordito the calf

Look at the horns on those mothers! Even peeking out from our more than safe terrace, Munson seemed a little scared by the new ladies. I know he’d still like to make friends, but between those horns and the protection afforded the calf, I don’t even want him licking them through the fence.


There’s more background on this herd here.

One of the mothers produces the most perfectly articulated “moo” sound I’ve ever heard. She’s also the voice of the herd, and I could hear her through the night, interspersed with a chorus of frogs from Lac Désolé. It makes me think I’m living in a Nickelodeon cartoon.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The boys watch the girls while the girls watch the boys who watch the girls go by

Eye to eye, they solemnly convene to make the scene…

I’m keeping Munson away from the cows for a while, but he still finds them fascinating from our terrace obliquely overlooking their corral. He doesn’t make any noise, but the curious Mirandaises still pick him out and stare back. Eye to eye, they solemnly convene to make the scene…

Scratching a living from the vines


I’ve alluded to the vineyards on the farm being closed down as the rights are being transferred elsewhere. The sequel to this is that the vines are torn out and burnt on site. This process is known as the arrachément des vignes where according to context,  arracher* means to tear out or to snatch. So you might you use it to describe pulling up weeds, tearing out your hair, snatching a handbag, or even scratching out someone’s eyes. However this is a nice blog, and we will confine ourselves to weeding and vine-removing.

vine-post jenga

The day for the arrachément is approaching, governed by weather and availability of someone to drive the tractor which tears out all the posts and vines, before rolling them up into a tangled mess of vines, wires and posts and setting fire to it all.





The farm across the road is going through this effort now so we wandered over to watch how it’s done and to get some tips on how to better extract the posts without disturbing the process. There really doesn’t seem a best way to do this in concert with the tractor, unless you have enough manpower to separate  posts from wires and drag them out of the tractor path.


While this winter’s firewood needs are largely over, there is such a large store of posts in the not-for-long vineyards here, that it’s foolish to ignore the resource for future winters. So on days when the weather is right I still head out with Munson to manually weed the posts and also collect any old vine trunks that have fallen over, these being great for aromatic BBQ logs. An hour or two in the open air,snipping wires and wrestling posts out of the ground is tremendous exercise and I listen to the radio while Munson attempts to arraché a rabbit from a hole in my immediate vicinity. I don’t know if Munson has ever managed to get within a whisker of catching a rabbit** -  but this exercise is as good at keeping him healthy as his lake runs while he heads towards his third birthday.

* An English word cousin of  arracher, which demonstrates the Latin root more visibly, is to eradicate. I wondered if it was related to harrass which does have French ancestry but the etymology is muddled.

** Brent said he found the back half of a rabbit (which is obviously called a bit) perhaps the victim of a fox or bird of prey

Friday, March 04, 2011

The cow-poo/coypu exchange

2011-03-04 Lake

One of the wee disadvantages of having a dog that likes to romp with cows, is the territory that he romps over tends to be rather pungent. A late afternoon romp is particularly unfortunate as it doesn’t give time for him to romp all that muck off in field and lake.

I don’t have a convenient outdoor hose or wet-room to clean Munson down easily so a trip to one of the farm’s closer lakes was the obvious solution. The one right in our backyard is still a bit too mucky for this, but there’s a decent one five minutes down the hill behind one of the vineyards.

P3042601 P3042618

Just as we approached this lake, I heard two splashes and saw two distinct rings of ripples as some animals disappeared beneath the surface.  What we have here are coypu – otherwise known as a nutria, ragondin or swamp beaver – a South American rodent pest introduced by fur ranchers to several new continents. Their burrowing has damaged some of the lake levee walls on the farm, so Munson is very welcome to scare them off.

Munson swam around a bit and inspected the banks from above and below without them visibly surfacing  - or perhaps they’d entered a burrow. At last he was de-pooed after all the scrambling in and out of the water, and so as the air quickly cooled with sunset we set off back up the hill for a clean evening indoors, leaving the water beasts to recoypurate.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Kissing cousins

2011-03-02 Munson cow sniffing

Munson just can’t get enough of his cow girl-friends in the corral next door. He’s been trading a few licks with the girls as if he were greeting new dogs to a public park. The important thing to know is that these new girls have horns and powerful hooves.

Munson in his office

For the most part, I am happier when Munson heads to his office to deal with any fresh news of rabbit scent that has crossed his desk.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Swimmer

2011-03-01 Munson the swimmer

The Swimmer is a 1968 film (based on a John Cheever short story) starring Burt Lancaster where the title character swims across the countryside by visiting a chain of backyard swimming pools. Munson’s version of this is to race between the many little lakes on the farm, swimming a length or two  and then dashing off to the next one. He’s a very fit young canine.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011



Until a couple of weeks ago Brent and Jean had – even with dog, cat and a couple of chickens – less tonnage of livestock than I do with Munson. That all changed with the arrival of five pretty young heifers or génisses, each of whom would have been Munson’s current weight in their first week. Four of the five are of a similar age to Munson, approaching three years, the fifth being a year younger. They are all of  a rather rare breed known as Mirandaise. The name comes from the town of Mirande, about an hour south of here, home to Europe’s first and largest country music festival. It in turn is only 30 minutes from Marciac which has an internationally famous jazz festival.  As far as I know there are no Marciacaise cattle around: jazz hands and cow hands just don’t mix.

Munson’s gone into the cowhaus a few times for some vocal jam sessions which remind me a bit of the long modulated wooing conversations he’d have with Bondi on my office floor in Sydney. He’s intensely curious about the new additions but respectful of the heifers’ size (backed up by hooves and horns). They reciprocate this curiosity if not the respect, but seem not at all skittish about the similarly-coloured young man who comes visiting.


I am still mindful that Munson should mingle with any livestock quietly, if at all. He’s not paid much attention to the newly expanded chicken run next door, and ideally we’d like to progress to the point where the poultry can roam freely without interference from either dog.

Pigs, cats and more cows and poultry are on the near horizon so there will be plenty of work, and plenty to report.

Too good to last

The last Iced VoVo