Last week, at the start of March 2010, I lay out for a couple of hours on the bain de soleil warming myself for the first time after a long cold winter. Everyone round here agrees that France had its coldest winter for decades in 2009. Finally the sun seemed to be making a comeback.
Till the 7th of March. And then, wham, a thick rug of snow hit rapidly in the afternoon, turning my car into something that looked like an igloo and the logpile into a huge snow-hump. This was not the last gentle snow shower of the year - it was a serious, unwelcome return to winter.
I visited a friend in St Remy last week, who has hundreds of olive trees on her land right at the foot of the Alpilles. When I arrived I immediately noticed branches lying beside all the trees and wondered why she'd had them pruned at the start of March instead of later in the spring as usual. "They haven't been pruned" she said. "It's all snow damage." They had 40 centimetres of snow in and around Les Baux and St Remy not long before and the branches simply broke under the weight.
I went out this morning into ankle deep snow and looked at the land. Already the thaw had begun. Large chunks of snow were thudding to the ground from the roof and the pine trees. There were deer tracks in the snow bordering the forest. A guy from the village went by on his lovely black horse, bareback. The forest was silent apart from the occasional whooshing of snow falling. The small songbirds which have arrived in recent weeks are not singing, huddled presumably in snowy nests.
The snow's a bit of a pain for the flowers and buds that were coming out. It'll hang around for a day or two. But it's also beautiful and all the more so because it's relatively rare. I just hope it hasn't destroyed the first tender shoots of asperge sauvage which should be making their appearance any time soon.
Pruning and Training Systems for Modern Olive Growing
A Taste of Provence
Holiday Walks in Provence