I was watching the house martens gathering on the telephone line, chatting away. One came back from the wood, and there was a murmur through them. They all took off in a flock, darting, swooping, scything over the trees, even flying in under the leaves. It looked like the one was a scout, reporting back that the flies were particularly fat, juicy and plentiful in the wood. Too soon they gather on the wire for the last time, and are gone until the spring. The house is suddenly still, quieter, and the insects return, made bold now they are no longer being harvested to feed chicks. It’s an end of summer moment when they go.
During our recent visit to M. Cheesemonger’s hometown in Normandy, we were able to escape from his father’s Grande Fête preparations (more on that later) to visit some of the local cheese makers and farmers that make this region the dairy capital of France. Since I had been charged with organizing the Grande Fête cheese platter, our plan was to find some excellent local cheeses. The sun shone warmly and puffy clouds drifted overhead as we wound our way through the verdant countryside.
The rainy weather of June has everything growing, breeding, putting stores by for winter. The trees, fields & hedges are dripping with the heavy tresses of well-watered leaves, using July’s peak sunlight. Plenty is everywhere, including lots of insect life. I love watching the house martens ceaselessly combing the high air, the swifts scything across my path, inches above the ground, then swooping up. The birds keep us free of insects - the midges come out when the martens go to bed.
This article is part 3 of a series of articles about my recent visit to Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company in Point Reyes, California.
As Chief Marketing Officer Jill Basch Giacomini finished describing Pt. Reyes’ cheese production, we heard some sad mooing coming from the barn next door. That, Jill pointed out, was the hospital barn. With about 700 cows on the property, some animals are bound to have some medical issues at any given moment. We couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong with the two in the hospital barn, but I hope they recover soon!
How many greens can there be? The landscape changes every hour, fields and hedges and trees cloth themselves in more and more leaves. High spring springs forth everywhere. Daft baby rabbits tumble out of hedges, easy meat for hard pressed foxes, feeding an earth full of hungry cubs. Hen pheasants make nests too visibly in open hedges, and they and their eggs succumb too - the cock pheasants display to each other, with all the ladies gone, puffed up feathers and stiff legged stance.
Our beautiful farm is stepping into its most beautiful garb - light, lacy, luminescent leaves, newly unfurled on the trees. Spring blossom makes dark branches a graceful backdrop. You can see why the Japanese hold cherry blossom festival, and party as the petals drop on their picnics. The hedgerows explode with Queen Anne’s Lace, cow parsley, white umbrella flowers on long stalks that suddenly make the lanes very narrow. After it rains the heavy flowerheads lean in and brush your car, leaving petals on the side. The birds get busy nest building and egg laying: not the peregrine falcon that the pair of goshawks nesting over the hill devoured. The peregrine was being trained, but escaped from the next village, but got no further than here.
We had daffodils at New Year, grass growing, birds sounding spring-like. The winter has still got some bite, but every succeeding day has the sun higher, the day longer, driving winter down to the bottom of the year as we slowly and surely climb out. Tiny signs of growth peep out - snowdrops, so modest and quiet, little red female hazel flowers, and the lambs’ tails like male flowers that have been slowly developing and lengthening, suddenly bursting out. Oak flowers give a purple look to the woodland on the other side of the valley, darker and richer on the ends of the twigs. I saw a buzzard sit quietly on a post on a tree guard for some apple trees we planted. Suddenly he dropped heavily on a clump of grass only four feet below, then laboured away in his heavy flight with a little speck in his talons. One bird’s feast is one vole’s spring gone.
I always think of January as cold, wet and dark, the weary start of the hundred hungry days to Easter, when there is little keep for man or beast, and we all live off our reserves (or the shops, if you are human). Then you get one of those dazzling days of sunshine, low rays picking out every detail, bright yellow gorse with its coconut scent, bright red rosehips, a bright blue sky, warm in the sun out of the wind if you’ve enough layers on. Even on the coldest and wettest day, moths dance in torchlight in the woods. The little fallow hind I met in the road looked fat and prosperous after a kind autumn. I saw a raven delicately nibbling a crab apple, then flying off with it in its beak.
Such warm weather so late makes the cold weather seem colder when it comes. The autumn colour seems less bright, too - the leaves have just faded on the trees, rather than go through those startling colours. The fallow deer started their rut later - so are still roaring this month. It’s such hard work for the bucks, they seemed to delay, or maybe it was the does deciding they were hot and bothered not just hot. It won’t change the time they kid, as the does store the semen until it’s time to implant - how do they do that? I’ve heard they can even choose whether they produce males or females, depending on what the herd needs.
Autumn is really here. The high winds, residues of American hurricanes, have let us know summer has gone. Now the gathering dark in the mornings & evenings shows we are on the long switchback journey down to the shortest day. The consolation prize is those bright autumn days of colourful leaves vivid in the sunshine, every sunlit detail highlighted by the shadows as the sun gets lower in the sky.