July on the run
July has been one of those months when, as they say, I hit the ground running. I am not sure that I have ever actually used that expression before, certainly not in connection with my own life, but it seems fitting this time.
On 5th July, I arrived into Cork just before the start of the West Cork Literary Festival. I hired a car and in the company of my 89-year-old mother we set off to discover, or rediscover, a few highlights of the lower section of the Wild Atlantic Way, visiting Kinsale and the Old Head of Kinsale, Skibbereen, Mizen Head and on to Bantry. On free afternoons from my workshop at the festival, we sauntered north, although not very far. To Ballylickey for leisurely lunches and on to Glengarriff hugging the winding scenic route.
I would say that I know Ireland fairly well, or parts of it, given that I have more Irish than English blood flowing through my veins, but even I was blown away by the natural beauty of the land and seascape. If you have never been, then I highly recommend a visit. We were very fortunate with the weather too, which is not always guaranteed but this year the sun shone down on us. We spent a day along the Sheep’s Head, which is a tranquil peninsula a half hour’s drive from Bantry town. It sits close to the Gulf Stream so is known for its mild climate, although it can be pretty stormy there too. If you are a walker, there are few better places to stride out. I was very sad to leave Ireland this time and have promised myself that when I win the lottery (which I don’t even play!) or am blessed by some unexpected financial good fortune, I will return to buy myself a sea-facing cottage and there I will hide away and write.
We flew to Nice from Cork, arriving very late on a hot summer’s evening where my husband, Michel, was waiting to whisk us back to the Olive Farm and a midnight chilled glass of wine to greet us.
Preparations stepped up then for my mother’s ninetieth birthday to be held in the garden. A few friends and family members flew in to celebrate with her. It was a wonderful occasion and those present thoroughly enjoyed themselves. As did Phyllis, my mother, who seems to look younger with each passing year. Long may it continue. Here’s a photo of her, looking tanned and happy under the Magnolia grandiflora tree at ninety years and three days old!
Into this blissful sojourn came a downbeat discovery. I was walking on the land examining the apples and the fast-fattening avocados and I paid a visit to the beehives where I discovered what looked like a swarm of bees hanging from the entrance to one of the hives. I was puzzled. It is late in the year for a swarm, but I did not want to venture too close in my shorts and sleeveless T-shirt. I went in search of Michel and we decided that it would be best to call our beekeeper to come and take a look. I was keeping my fingers crossed that he and his wife had not yet left for their summer home in the mountains. (Many of the Cannois locals have holiday homes inland where they escape to when the heat and tourists arrive). Claude called me back directly. He and his wife were leaving late that very evening but he promised to drop by immediately. The news was not good. The insects I had spotted clinging to the hives en masse were Asian hornets. The Asian hornet is the largest hornet in the world. These flying insects are not at all indigenous to Europe but have arrived here about a decade ago, possibly in fruit crates. Until last year, they had not been spotted in south-eastern France and then only a few. This year, it seems, they are much in evidence and Claude, our beekeeper, believes from the quantity we found that they might be nesting on our estate. They are hard to spot because they frequently make their nests high in the canopies of trees. So, they are possibly comfortably ensconced up in our pine forest. An immediate decision was taken. The six hives we have remaining would travel inland with Claude and be placed in the lower Alps until the autumn when the hornets die off. Late September, early October the bees will return to winter with us and unless the hornet situation has been resolved, they will again go higher inland for next summer. This is the tradition of transhumance which has been practiced for millennia around the Mediterranean and other parts of the world with sheep and other livestock.
Claude hurried home to arrange the final details for his vacation and returned with his wife at close to ten pm while we were having dinner outside by starlight. They were wearing their white bee protection suits and they had red night lights attached to their sleeves. These help calm the bees and aided our apiarists in finding their way across the land in the dark. My mother who had not been party to the news about the bees (because I did not want to upset her) suddenly announced, when she spotted the white-clad pair crossing the terraces, “there are two ghosts walking in the garden”. To allay her fears, I explained about the hornet attack and she seemed satisfied with the explanation although, like me, saddened that the bees were being removed. I took the photo below of the beekeepers, the “ghosts”, wheeling the hives away, one by one. Indeed, Spectres of the Night seems a fitting description, although they left with a small goody bag of food I had made up for them for their journey and I am not sure that ghosts eat slabs of creamy chocolate birthday cake!
We have gathered in all our soft fruits including the plums, peaches, nectarines and we are now enjoying a surfeit of the most delicious tomatoes and salads. The olives are fattening up. Sardines in bottles are hanging from the trees and are, hopefully, repulsing the predatory olive fly. (No chemicals or pesticides here). Friends are volunteering for the harvest, which we intend to try and complete by late October. It has been a stormy summer. Very turbulent weather, changing on the spin of a coin from days of heart-stopping heat to louring black clouds accompanied by short bursts of lashing rain. I have never known a Côte d’Azur summer like it, almost tropical I could say.
Our planet is changing. Predators arrive on continents where they don’t belong and the seasons we have grown to expect are being disrupted. The world is reeling from the appalling acts of violence that are being reported on an hourly basis. I feel impotent. I continue to write, to care for my loved ones and the creatures who are living their lives on our land. Our protection of them is taken for granted. Sheep, dogs, bees, olive trees, older relatives and younger ones. Two family parties this month – my mother’s birthday and a gathering from my husband’s side of the family – remind me that love is everything. In the light of all that is taking place, out there in the world and beyond my control, I have made a small pact with myself: I am searching out the positive acts, the expressions of humanity no matter how tiny, the gestures of healing, of apology, of respect… and these I forward to others or post on my Facebook page. Our passage on this Earth is so short. Let us be caretakers of what is around us, not annihilators.
Thank you for dropping by here.
Be at peace,