Earthy greens mellow,
and mossy smells rise,
carried on warm winds,
that caress my skin,
indian summer blessing,
before bite of winter,
follows migrating Crane.
A hamlet sleeps under an obscure night sky. The moon plays hide and seek through sombre clouds. Forest and field lay in shadow, while houses slumber, as those within. A shaft of moonbeam catches movement, reflects on metal. Something, or someone creeps with ominous stealth. Suddenly an alarmed gutteral sound comes out of the silence, then another, and another, until a multitude of tumultuous bird cries ring. And air stirs as a hurricane, when wings take flight. A window illuminates , a door opens, a second, a third. Men run out wielding weapons of poor folk, to aspy thiefs turning their heels in fright, back into darkened forest. Laughing, yet thankful, folk return to their beds. “Oyer! Oyer!” (hear ye), a legend is born, a hamlet renamed ‘Pellegrue’.
Pellegrue or Pelagrua.
In the local “gascon” dialect, ‘Pela’ translates to hill, and ‘Grua‘ to Crane.
The growing, and harvesting season has come to an end. It is October, and time to take repose. Traditionally men come together, and enter the forest to hunt Polombe, the wild pigeon, that migrates this month. In pockets of forest around us, there are Polombiéres, hidden among the trees, their hides and cabins disguised with ferns. But strings are everywhere, strung vertical and horizontal, through the branches. The hunters employ many tricks to attract the Polombes to their place, where they can have a good eyeview to shoot.
This year, we were warmly invited to visit a Polombiére in a nearby forest, by two retired men who have used this hide for many years. They could not tell us how old the hide was, but more than fifty years anyway. Through October, they arrive at the hide at six in the morning, with two gallons of water, their nutritional needs, their guns, and stay until six in the evenings, every day. But they have been back and fore during the weeks leading up, to tidy the cabin, clear the overgrowth, and make sure their apparatus is functioning.
All around the hide, strings travel from hide to tree, to treetop branches. On ground level there are empty perches suspended on string, and weighted with stones. They bob in the breeze. Another string is pulled, and a domestic pigeon descends from the high branches. He is tied to a perch, which is attached to a string, travelling back to the hide. When the Polombes fly over, the string is pulled, the perch jerks, and the pigeon flaps his wings. This draws the attention of the Polombes, and when they come close, the hunters take their aims. These domestic pigeons are kept at home, all year round, especially for this moment.
Inside, the cabin it is very cosy, with a wood stove burning, a pan of near boiling water on top, a wood pile alongside. There is a table in the centre, chairs around, and cinema seats against the wall. Linoleum covers the floor, there are cupboards, sink and worktop, and a shelf lined with bottles of alcohol. Immediately up two steps we are in the hide itself. We are hidden under camouflage, but have a clear view over pruned treetops. Several metres before us are three tall trees, and perched in their tops are three pigeons. We see the mechanics of the string pulleys, we hold the gun in our hands, and look through the sights, we drink le Pinot des Charentes apperitif, but we see no Polombes in the short time that we are here.
I ask if their wives ever visit. One wife comes regularly, but the other never. This is mainly a mans world. They are keen to tell us that they are not trigger happy, that they enjoy all aspects of the shoot, but especially they enjoy getting away from civilisation, and coming close to nature again. At the end of the day, their pleasure is to hunt for their food, gather mushrooms from the forest floor, and share their supper in male companionship.
A personal perspective
I wish to point out that I come from a time and place, that is not as close to the hunter-gatherer culture, as these men. I have no desire to kill animals to eat. I am vegetarian. However, I can objectively appreciate the traditions, and cultures of others, provided it is done well. I realise too, that we need to keep this knowledge, and these skills because we cannot be sure when we might need them again.
On every hilltop stands a windmill, bringing a bygone age to the present..
Just as every other day, the miller hitched his donkey to the tail pole, and together they walked a quarter circle around the base of the towermill, and in doing so, the whole roof, or cap of the towermill rotated. Soon the sails caught the wind, the wood creaked, and grated, then slowly the sail frames started to move. Their speed increased, and the miller was happy to see the regular, swiftly turning sails. Today would be a good day.
He untied his donkey, led her to open grassland, and let her graze. Turning back, he entered the mill, humped a sack of wheat grain onto his shoulder, and climbed the narrow, steep steps up to the trestle. Here, he slit open the sack, and poured grain into the hopper, where it would be gently shaken down the funnel into the centre hole of two great, heavy stone grinders. Above him the wooden gears turned the stones, as they were also turned by the windshaft that exited the cap, and attached to the sails, transmitted their power back to the gears.
And so the day moved as though by clockwork. The sails rhythmically whooshed outside, the gears groaned, and grain transformed into flour, trickling down into hessian sacks on the floor below.
A little history
It is believed that the first european windmill was constructed in the north of France, in 12th century, probably introduced by crusaders who had seen the invention in the Orient, having been used there since 9th century. The first mills were simple gears balanced on a post, but by 14th century, there was a new design, the tower mill, that incorporated a solid building around the mill post, and a cap (roof) that could be rotated, enabling the sails to catch the wind in every direction, thus being much more efficient. This was a popular source of power up until the 19th century.
Judging by the numerous ancient windmills in L’Entre Deux Mers, the winds are constant, and I am reminded of the beauty, and grace of wind energy.
References: Wikipedia and L’Office de Tourism de L’Entre Deux Mers.