Sunday mornings

The sheep head off into the mountains behind the farm nearly every morning. But on Sundays they graze in pastures next to our house

So I have the pleasure of waking up to the gentle sound of bells….

And that sure beats the alarm clock.

Happy Sunday everybody!

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Bees and lavender

I’ve always had a penchant for bees…..

..and lavender is one of my favourite plants.

And luckily there are plenty of both here at the moment.

And the good thing about bees, is that they wait quite patiently while you line them up for a photo.

Or they are do most of the time anyway…

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Close encounters of the wild boar kind

The crashing in the undergrowth was accompanied by a lot snorting, squealing and excited barking. I’d already taken cover behind the biggest tree I could find at such short notice, but it had the diameter of a saucer and  I now rotated around it like a terrified pole dancer as I tried to work out where the wild boar were going to come from.

The sound of branches snapping and big animals running was all around us now. Our gentle and usually unadventurous sheep dogs had decided that a bit of excitement was in order for our afternoon stroll. When they had picked up the scent of the wild boar they had raced after them in a frenzy of yapping and were now driving them towards us.

My husband bent down and picked up a large stone. For some reason I didn’t feel very comforted. He’d never done that before and we encountered the odd wild boar fairly regularly. It was going to be close.

They burst out of the bushes twenty yards away with the dogs right behind them. I counted Six. Six! Their russet coloured fur showed that they were still young and probably only thigh-high, but as they charged towards me they seemed to take on buffalo proportions. My husband uttered a guttural yell that would have made Tarzan proud and threw his stone at the first ones which by now were at spitting distance.

He missed, but the animals did an about-turn and for a moment there was a mêlée of dogs and wild boar, as each tried to escape the other. Then the boar took off after the dogs and the woods became quiet again.

I let go of the tree, realizing only then that I’d been hugging it so hard that the pattern from the bark was probably printed on my cheek.

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Extremely rare flowers in the Alps?

The other morning, I decided to take some macro photos of the tiny Alpine flowers that seem to be growing everywhere at the moment. But when I got back to the house and looked through my photos, I discovered that all I had in my collection was:

One picture of your commoner garden clover (half-dead):

A photo of (some not particularly Alpine-ish) wild thyme:

A photo of a pretty blue-flowered weed which probably grows in fields the world over:

And this yellow flower, which I don’t know the name of, but which I’m sure is a species so rare that it can only be found growing in the meadows on our farm:

Or that’s what I like to tell myself anyway!

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My other life

By day, I’m an office manager. By night…

…when no-one else is around to do it, I pick up my shepherd’s crook and do my best to bring this lot back to the sheep barn.

My first difficulty is actually finding the sheep to begin with. Their enclosure is spread over a couple of miles of pines and bushes and they can be hidden anywhere.

When I do spot them, I call, cajole and threaten them until they group togther and I can check that the flock hasn’t split into two parts. Do I have all 280? Or are 20 or 30 ewes grazing elsewhere? It’s hard to tell!

The last part of the trip back is dusty, steep and it’s usually almost dark by the time I get there. I try and avoid slipping on my way down as I have visions of being trampled before I can get up again!

By 10 pm we’re usually back at the sheep barn and if I can just get them into it, then I’m home and dry. Relieved but elated…

… and that sure beats the day job.

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How (not) to photograph butterflies

Stage 1 : Follow butterfly 300 yards backwards and forwards across field. Climb over electric fence to next field avoiding electrocution if possible. Clamber back over fence when butterfly decides the grass is greener in first field.

Stage 2: When butterfly alights on flower, throw yourself down onto your belly* and crawl commando style until you are 3 cms in front of it.

*Note: If field is full of thistles and stinging nettles, choose the nettles (less long-term damage to aforementioned belly).

Stage 3: Aim, compose, focus and press the shutter in the 1.5 seconds you have left before butterfly takes off again.

Stage 4: Check camera to see if butterfly is in photo

Stage 5: Repeat all morning if necessary.

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When Little Bo Peep (almost) lost her sheep

“Rrrrrrrr tay” I trilled, trying to copy the way that French shepherds rolled their r’s in a sort of high-pitched Spanish accent when they called their sheep. “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” The sheep stayed imobile at the edge of the field poised to bolt into the woods bordering it. “Rrrrrrrrrr tay” I called again in desperation  as I headed towards them in a last ditch attempt to bring them back to the barn. The sheep barn was only a couple of hundred yards away, but for all the success I was having, it might as well have been a mile.

It had all started off well enough. My husband was going baling and had dropped me off at the top of the hill where the sheep were grazing. I had both sheepdogs with me and had made it all the way down to the field by the barn without incident. The sheep weren’t far behind me as I ran down the steep slope to the barn congratulating myself on my obvious talant as a shepherdess.

I opened the doors and moved quickly out of the way, knowing that there would be a crush once the sheep arrived. Except that this time there was no crush. In fact, as I realized after a few seconds, there were no sheep.

I legged it back up to the field in time to see our young border collie hurtling round the flock like an olympic runner on her tenth lap. The ewes, thoroughly confused, were now heading back up the way they’d come. “Elfie!” I yelled, forgetting the golden rule of shepherding, which is to stay calm under all circumstances. I ran towards her, cursing and waving my shepherd’s stick. The dog stopped running. The sheep didn’t. At the sight of me, they belted towards the pine trees. “Oh no” I groaned. If they went in there I would never get them out again.

“Pas de stress” I thought to myself, remebering the only piece of advice my husband had given me before I left. I walked up to the flock and was greeted by the back ends of 280 sheep. The first ewes started to wander under the trees. I called them again, gently this time, not wanting to startle them and afraid that all the “rrrrrr-ing” in the world wouldn’t bring them back out again if I did.

Then heads started to turn towards me, then bodies and then suddenly I was slipping and sliding down the slope trying to avoid being trampled as the whole flock shot down into the barn.

I closed the doors and leant against them. No wonder they’d waited so long before letting me loose on the sheep by myself I thought.

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