The Autumn Equinox is upon us already; the year seems to have reached this point too fast, don’t you agree? Yesterday morning, I stood on the terrace looking out to sea, inhaling that wonderful sense of tranquillity I feel when contemplating the water. Suddenly, I was aware that there was a very distinctive squeaking sound coming from the treetops. I didn’t recognise it as any bird’s call. A friend from our village told me that the cry was from ‘kittens’. Not cats, but baby red squirrels. I was amazed. We hear eagles calling, gulls mewling, owls hooting; many species of birds visit the land, but it had never occurred to me that squirrels make any sound at all, never mind such a vocal one. Their nests or dreys would have been built six or more weeks ago and their young possibly hatched two or three weeks later, my friend informed me. These would be the second squirrel brood of the year.
The red squirrels here don’t hibernate. I catch sight of them all year round. Sometimes, towards the winter months, I spot them with black tails, which I had always believed was their pre-hibernation coat. In fact, I was wrong again. Their colours can include a black stripe in summer and their coats can vary from red to brown to black.
Above is a pic I took off the internet of a French red squirrel. Sincere apologies if I am infringing on a copyright.
It has been quite a week of discoveries for me. We had a lovely English couple staying in our holiday cottage last week. She works for the British Bat Conservation Trust and said she was looking forward to recording some of our French bats. She had brought two small instruments with her for that very purpose. Naturally, I was keen to get in on the action so she and her husband came up to share a bottle of rosé with me and we sat under the Magnolia grandiflora by starlight and candlelight, listening for bats. Our human ear cannot pick up their utrasonic sounds, produced in their throat and then projected forward. We hear sounds up to 16KHz, about 16,000 cycles per second, whereas bats emit their echolocation calls at a pitch two or even three times higher. Hence the instruments, both for recording and transmitting their calls.
It was astounding to listen in the darkness to creatures I could neither see nor hear, but which were all around me. Coincidentally, I had found a little pipistrelle earlier in the week in my library, clinging on between two hardbacks. When I lifted out one of the books, it dropped to the floor. Clearly, it had been dead for some time, but I was was able to get a close look at it before burying it. So, bats were on my mind. As evening falls we can spot them zipping to and fro above the swimming pool, catching insects. I belive they eat more than their own body weight in mosquitos so I am deeply grateful to them!
Europe claims to have forty-one bat species and thirty-four of them are here in France.
This week we opened up our Olive Farm for the very first ‘Introduction to the Olive Farm with Olive Oil Tasting’. It was huge fun. The guests – brought to us by an international travel company – were , on this inaugural visit, from the States. We had a ball. It meant though that I have been exceedingly busy over these last two weeks, organising olive oils from various Mediterranean countries – all from small independent, organic farms we are now working with. I talked about the history of the olive culture around the Med, how we found the farm and about the work involved in farming and pressing the olives into oil. Our guests were fascinated. Each left with a small bottle of olive oil to take home. I hope it will bring back memories of a very entertaining day.
In spite of my other commitments, I seem to have bookwormed my way through quite a few novels this month including another that was Booker longlisted (see last month’s choice of Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry). This one though has now been short-listed for the prestigious award; it is the book on everyone’s lips, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. I have been reading it through the nights as I had such a full-on week. Haunting nights. It is years since I read The Handmaid’s Tale – I still have my first edition hardback – but I can remember even now my reaction when I finished it: as though someone had punched me in the stomach. This new one reads like a brilliant YA novel and is fast-paced, particularly in the second half. The character of Aunt Lydia, the only character from the original, is richly rounded, cruel and yet full of empathy. It’s a remarkable read. And is still haunting me.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
My next event will be in Scotland
at the Wigtown Literary Festival in two weeks time. It’s ages since I have
visited Scotland so I am quite excited. Here are the details again with the
link to buy tickets. It would be fab if you could come along to say hello. I
will be talking about and reading from THE
HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF.
6pm Saturday 5th October 2019
Festival Marquee £9.00
One last wildlife thought: If you’ve been saddened by this week’s news about the decline of nearly 3 billion birds since 1970—take heart. We all hold the power to help #BringBirdsBack by taking these 7 Simple Actions to Help Birds: http://bit.ly/2M2M5Y5 Please share this list to help get the word out!
Have wonderful days until next month. Thank you for popping by and reading this