Friday, July 08, 2011

Gascon golf with thistlehound

2011-07-08 Thistle whacking

Since the vineyards got torn up in recent weeks, my new heavy-duty exercise has been to spend an energetic hour in the fields whacking at the thistle plants that thrive and multiply in the dry weather. It’s not only good exercise for me – and for Munson who sniffs out bunnies and lizards – it’s insurance against future months when the dry crumbling heads of these thistles start becoming embedded in Munson’s fur. An hour of clearing them out of the way is much easier than spending at least as long tearing up my hands as I extract them from his fur each evening.

I’m using a long-handled mattock to take out the plants, swinging from overhead to get enough momentum to sever the large root-balls of the more established specimens. Sometimes it takes 5 or 6 whacks to get enough of the root out to ensure there won’t be a return visit this season. It reminds me of my younger brother’s first game of golf around age 11 which would have been more effective if he’d gotten on his hands and knees to use a billiard cue to shoot his ball around the course. A degree of technique is required for a good round of thistling – I try to keep my arms a bit loose as the mattock strikes the ground so that the shock doesn’t hit my wrists and elbows. Good gloves are essential to reduce blisters on the hands.

There’s a great feeling of satisfaction after clearing a field, although it sometimes feels like a Sisyphean task as new ones start popping up in some fields within a day. I just concentrate on the exercise, venting a bit of steam and enjoying the outdoors.

2011-07-20 thistles

Inspecting the vegetation each day gives me a good insight into the patterns of life in the meadow. There’s about six very distinct varieties of thistle here, some of which grow in pairs, while others dominate a field to the exclusion of any other variety.  In some cases wiping out one variety simply opens up a niche for another to sweep across the same area within a matter of days. There’s the “classic” purple-headed variety which grows very tall, another which looks like a Xmas tree with spiky fur, a low lying cactus-like plant which throws up green spiny heads and a very prickly one that starts off looking like a daisy plant but becomes a spreading bush with many sharp yellow flowers. Most of them are about a “par 3” for removal, so when I manage to connect in the sweet spot to remove in one hack, it’s very pleasing. When the bushy ones mass so that you can’t see the base, it becomes rather tedious – much like hacking around in a golfing sand trap. A breezy day is good for working at them as the waving branches let you guess where the plant meets the ground without searching around.

My first priority is to take out those which have begun flowering so that I can minimise further spread. I also work the fence boundaries so they’re not shorting out the electrical wires when the field is holding cattle.  The plants tend to spread out from a central locus, so spiralling in from the perimeter is a useful way of curtailing their growth when you are working a single field over the course of multiple days. It’s the sort of activity which I would never seek to be employed to do, but when it’s a healthy option on my door-step you think back to all those paid gym memberships and laugh that you could instead be doing something useful for free.

France-Sweden-UKIt’s getting close to when Munson and I take off on our road-trip. The outdoor gruntwork is being focussed on those areas which can use the most help from weed-removal, grass mowing or fertilisation before a month-long absence.

Arran Island has been cut from the itinerary so we’re off to Sweden first. I could probably get there in two days of driving but I’m spreading it out over four. First a stop in the Loire with fellow bloggers Walt and Ken, and then on to Cologne in Germany. We’ll rest there for a day and then continue to Malmö.

In the second week of August we’ll turn westwards to the UK for our assault on the Offa’s Dyke walking trail (E-F on the map). That will take about two weeks and with other visits in the area we should then be back home by the start of September.

Munson at LupiacAfter thwacking thistles there’s nothing like a swim at the lake to relax. With the car back, this is the first time I’ve been able to take Munson to Lupiac in months, and he was so so so happy to be in the water. He almost couldn’t believe his luck.

The cafe by the lake is open and not only serves snacks but also full meals and a licensed bar. A very civilised way to chill out in the middle of the countryside.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to your visit. We have thistles, too. ;)

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