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Hunting Season in France

I took a walk this unusually beautiful Sunday afternoon down the lane which skirts the corn field. The upright cornstalks tower over your head and the slight wind rustles their drying leaves – the only noise to be heard in this quiet haven away from the urban crush.  Until a huge bang changed all that and my heart nearly sprung out of my chest.  Then a bird fell from the sky.  The hunters were hiding in there, waving their guns: this was a post prandial shoot, a post Sunday lunch jamboree and how could I know what they’d been drinking? … I turned for home.  Then, when I got in I heard on the news that yesterday a British mountain biker was accidentally shot dead by a hunter in the French Alps.

In the last month, since the opening of the hunting season, 4 people have already been shot dead in France. I could have been number 5 – or rather number 6, since I presume that tragedy hasn’t yet got into the statistics.

Last August, French President Macron, with a nod to the hunting lobby, reduced the price of a hunting permit from 400 to 200 euros per year.  This provoked a dramatic reaction from the former charismatic French environment minister Nicolas Hulot who criticised the growing power of lobbyists in general in the government.  For him it was the last straw and he subsequently resigned from government (now replaced by François de Rugy, a one-time member of the Greens Europe Ecologie-Les Verts). 

The President also approved in August the fusion of the two national bodies: the French Biodiversity Agency/AFB* and the National Office for Hunting and for Wild Animals/ONFCS**.  He did this mostly in order to pool resources for environmental policing, much to the dismay of the the French National Hunters’ Federation.***

During the season 2016-2017, according to the ONCFS there were 143 accidents (less than the previous season) with 18 people killed. The main cause (50%) of accidental deaths was the non-respect of the 30 degree angle at which the gun should be held. No non-hunter was killed.

The ONCFS is responsible for delivering hunting permits: in 2017-2018 it validated 1,100, 000 permits.

Whereas it was reported in 2014  that the number of hunters in France were in decline, apparently due to the older generation dying off, the cost of ammunition, equipment, hunting dogs and… the high cost of permits, figures now show that the number has stabilised.

A survey undertaken in December last year by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and reported in Le Monde revealed that 84 % of those questioned were against hunting with hounds, and 71 % felt insecure taking a walk in the country.  You bet.

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See also :  October: The Hunt.   La Chasse.

*Agence française pour la biodiversité/AFB

** Office national de la chasse et de la faune sauvage/ONCFS

***Fédération Nationale des Chasseurs/FNC

 

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The Harvest Ball

There was a little girl who wore oak leaves in her hair
red berries round her milk-white neck, and a crazy stare.

Her dress was made of lace which hung like mist around her feet
and round her wrists an amethyst as purple as her blood.

Her mother gave her silver charms, fox robes with silken hems
led her to the harvest ball and pushed her to the men.

The first young suitor held her hand, breathed on her milk-white chest
stroked her brow and nipped her ear and squeezed her sapling wrist.

The next one stroked her apple breasts, undid her tangled hair
undid ever knot and leaf, then threw her in the air.

A gentleman from London town strung opals round her neck
the opal beads shone ghostly blue, he fled the tears she shed.

Another took her for a ride along an oak-lined street,
strung her up and made her swing then left her in retreat.

‘You’ll find one soon,’ her mother said, ‘you never should give up,’
and gave her diamonds faceted to blind men into shape.

The diamond edges spread her image splintered round the walls
and no man dared approach her as she flashed her muted calls.

So this was Woman, this was Man: she killed her dreams of love,
bit her lip and swallowed hard and donned her kid-skin gloves.

Still she wears the amethyst, the fox fur robes and lace
still she lines the ballroom walls, a blood-red stare, with grace.

Now she flings the hawthorn berries tight around her neck
thorns facing outwards to keep the men in check.

Still she flashes amethyst against the harvest sun
silver round her see-through skin and diamonds in her tongue.

For no-one told her, no-one warned, that men come and go
love a little, lick you clean, take away your glow.

 

 

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MAIZE

Guns to the sky, musket-ears,

jackets blazing, husky limbs,

scarlet epaulettes set in tiers,

amber buttons ready to burst.

On your marks, in formation, maize stands erect

like upright soldiers, drilled to give their best.

They bend to orders when the south wind blows,

defy whatever weed or worm

challenges their strength and their will to serve.

Equipped and alert to feed the hungry

battle-weary world in waiting

while their ladies stand behind the lines

wave in the wind while they bide their time.

 

 

Lady’s Lace flower (also known as Queen Anne’s Lace; L. Ammi majus) growing next to Maize.

Maize, also known as corn, (L. Zea mays) was first domesticated in Southern Mexico 4,000 years ago.  Research has shown it is highly adaptable, and thus capable of dealing with climate change. It was brought over to Europe between 1750-1850 and became the staple diet of peasants in Mediterranean countries. However, maize lacks lysine and tryptophan – amino acids –  needed to produce proteins, and its niacin (vitamin B3) is coated in an indigestible complex.  To break down this complex, the Mayans and Aztecs boiled maize in alkaline limewater to release the niacin, but this practice wasn’t continued by the settlers in the New World, nor by those in Europe (the ‘Old World’), resulting in epidemics of Pellagra as of the 16th century onwards.

Life threatening diseases such as Kwashiorkor (signs:rotting – and loss of – teeth, dermatitis, depigmentation, thinning hair, swollen abdomen, enlarged liver), are unfortunately still present in poorer, under-developed countries.

The Cherokee and Mohegan tribes in North America used corn as a salve for skin problems.  The Navajos used it as a treatment for sore throats, and the leaves were used in a mixture for the Night Chant medicine. The Tewa also used it to treat glandular swelling in the neck, and mixed blue cornmeal and water for palpitations and chest pains; black corn with red streaks served as gynaecological aids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Song Thrush, Normandy

Beneath this cloud-spread sky you sing head high
for some lost mate, or for the joy to thrive
through storms, and glide through orchards ripe with apples,
cherries, berries, pears and leaves all dappled
with the shy sun’s rays.  Your quiet flight
a modest pageant: speckled breast, polka dotted chest,
feathers brushed buff-red that catch the light,
jacket dusky brown, the clear-cut vest
a lining laid in grey along your wings
as you carve your kingly way to topmost things.
Your song, suspended in the branches, waits
for wind, sent by a distant promise to celebrate,
awake a dormant hope hidden in the brume,
clear the clouds to welcome in the blue.
Your notes, released, then soar towards the sky
fill the air with nature’s pure delight
a song to lift us all from earthly strife
forget our woes for just one transient moment of
eternity.

 

The Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos, La Grive musicienne) has long wings enabling it to migrate over very long distances.  Their strong, rapid wing beats allow them to soar high and maintain an easy cruising speed.  During migration they fly mostly at night.  In the morning, those that come to land catapult in at high speed to woody areas to ensure their safety. However, many Song thrushes in Britain and France are ‘sedentary’, i.e. are resident year round and do not migrate. Check out his song here.

And check out  Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Song Thrush’:  this extract is taken from the French organist’s famous work  “little bird sketches”, written in 1985 and dedicated to his wife Yvonne Loriod who gave the first performance in 1987: 

starting at 7’04

Photograph: Song Thrush (Turdus Philomelos), Taco Meeuwsen, Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands.

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Flax

Alone against the storm she fights while others

bow and wait, hide and bend for cover,

dares show her face, however shy the smile

sky-blue, a rare appearance, mixed with guile

she braves the skittering wind, stays upright in the gale

and won’t give up, while those around her fall.

However fine her petals, they draw the light

and nourish stems and roots, fight off the blight

so we can share with her her seed, her fibre

and her firm resolve,

weave her linen flax around our limbs, be bold

and brave the storm which comes to shake the fields,

stand upright, sure and smiling as it wields

that flash of slaying hand we will abate,

like her, with full determined grace.

 

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This poem was written following the knife attacks in Paris and London and a terrific wind storm in Normandy, after which I found a lone flax flower still standing in a partially devastated field.

The north part of Normandy, thanks to the humid climate and silt in the soil which retains the humidity, is one of the regions of France best suited for flax growing. Half of European linen grows in Normandy; France cultivates 76% of European linen. France is the first producer of linen in the world, ahead of China and Russia.  China produces linen of lower quality; it buys scutched linen from France which is then spun and woven in China.