Planting tiny oaks, tending olive trees, reading and writing, novelist Carol Drinkwater describes a “spooky bliss”…
Never has spring proved such a blessing as this year. When the sun shines, as it is doing right now all the length of the Côte d’Azur, it appeases the horror that is keeping us all in “confinement”. In spite of the virus, there are positives to be found during these days. My husband, Michel, and I count ourselves fortunate to be here at our Olive Farm together with our three dogs.
We drove from our Paris offices on Monday March 16, leaving at 3pm, arriving here at 2am. There was a star-speckled sky to greet us. The ‘confinement’ went into effect at midday on that Tuesday, Saint Patrick’s Day back home. We had a few hours to do a spot of shopping and prepare ourselves for what lay ahead.
We have ten acres overlooking the Bay of Cannes. We farm close to 350 olive trees, some gnarled creatures that date back several centuries and others we have planted over the 34 years we have called this home. Home is bliss at the best of times: the sweeping views to the sea, commanding vegetation, the perfumes, florescence. Now, it is a weird kind of spooky bliss. Between us and the coastline of the Côte d’Azur lies a motorway which normally hums a little irritatingly in the distance. These days, it is silent. Nice airport also closed. We can eavesdrop every conversation between every bird species between here and the village!
So, as instructed, we are closed in, keeping our distance, living our lives alone on this hill. By order, our gardener is not allowed to leave his home to lend us a hand. It is sad because it is the season for planting trees. In fact, the season is almost over. During the winter months, we cleared two terraces in preparation for twelve new fruit trees. I doubt the nurseries will re-open before the opportunity to plant this year has passed us by. The seasons are not hanging back for us!
Instead, we are occupying ourselves with the planting of an oak forest – a very long-term project. We have three varieties of oak growing here: the European oak, the Cork and the Holm. I spend hours grubbing about the land looking for half-buried acorns or acorns that have already begun to sprout and are hiding deep beneath last autumn’s fallen foliage. Michel pots them in our greenhouse. And they seem to be taking. Dozens of miniscule trees. I love the long-range thinking that comes of planting for the future. It helps give me perspective on this time. Have you read Jean Giono’s magnificent novel,The Man Who Planted Trees I highly recommend it. Perfect for these scary days.
I sweep terraces – we have several. I water the flower beds and fruit trees. Because we don’t have an automatic system, the irrigation takes a couple of hours out of most days. Menial but essential tasks. Michel does most of the cooking, goes to the supermarché once a week wearing one of my scarves over his face so he looks like a bandit. In the afternoons, he toils the land, sawing trees that keeled over in the heavy winter winds. Such furious tempests are new to us on the French Riviera. Winters were famously mild here. However now, with the more serious effects of climate change, wild winter storms occasionally hit, causing flooding and pockets of decimation in our pine forest on the hill’s summit.
I am taking from this that life is precious, I am learning to respect its fleetingness, its beauty, its power.
Working out of doors in this glorious weather with blossoms abounding, the ambrosial scents of orange, cherry and jasmine are uplifting. The physical work is hard on my ageing bones, but I am mighty grateful for it. I see it as an investment in the future of this plot. An act of healing and humility. We have been organic here for years now. Our olive oil is sublime and I can offer it to others confident that no pesticides sully it.
The bees, butterflies and birds visit in throngs, since we stopped spraying with chemicals. The colours, the warmth, the sense that everything around us is growing, is producing food for later other seasons, lifts my spirits.
I am reading and writing, of course. The writing involves editorial notes for my recently completed novel, as well as drafting ideas – scenes, characters – for the next one. I am enjoying both worlds. They transport me for a few hours away from the devastation this virus is reeking.
Earlier this year, I was one of two adjudicators for the Listowel Writers Week Novel of the Year Award. I had 40 Irish novels to read. I, along with my fellow adjudicator, Ian McGuire, chose our shortlist and winner, and submitted them. A couple of days later the festival was cancelled. As was the West Cork Literary Festival. So disappointing.
I am attempting to read in French Correspondance 1944 – 1959. Letters between Albert Camus and the Spanish-born actress, Maria Casarès. 1300 pages. It will be one of my Lockdown Marathons. Like the oak forest, it is a long-term challenge. The hard physical work, the daily literary endeavours, help set my sights towards a time, not too distant, I pray, when we will be through this nightmare.
Meanwhile, I am taking from this that Life is precious, I am learning to respect its fleetingness, its beauty, its power.
Be safe. Take good care of yourselves.
Carol has written three books about life on her Olive Farm in the hills above Cannes – Olive Farm, Olive Harvest and Olive Route. Carol’s latest novel, The House on the Edge of the Cliff, is an epic story of enduring love and betrayal, from Paris in the 1960s, to the present day. Buy it on easons.com for €11.20.
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