I'm just watching a huge mature pine tree tumble outside my window. There - it's down. It's lying right across the dirt track which leads down to the village, barring the way for any vehicle that may turn up and need to pass.
On the other side of the dirt track, a friend's workman just moved his tractor forward a little to tug the tree away from the house as the tronconneuse or chainsaw severed its trunk.
Four tall pines will be chopped down today. I've been worrying about these trees for a few years now. On New Year's Day 2008 I woke up to find a massive pine had fallen across the driveway of the house. There'd been high winds in the night and I vaguely remembered stirring when I heard a loud thud. The pine could easily have hit the house but instead it lay dead on the gravel, inches away from my car - which it could easily have crushed - and completely barring my way off the property. Alone, with no chainsaw and no idea how to use one, I was pretty non-plussed. Luckily, a neighbour soon passed, on his way to his olive grove, and hopped out of his 4x4 with a chainsaw to hand. He buzzed the whole tree into firewood in about three minutes flat and asked for nothing more than a smile and a hug for his work.
After that, I began to worry from time to time about the trees around the house. Some are too young to pose a problem but a few are tall and mature and pose a threat. Several right outside my bedroom looked to me as if they could end up on my bed in a real storm. I got to the point where every time the mistral blew hard in the night I'd pick up my duvet and pillow and go and sleep on the sofa.
A couple of summers ago I asked my neighbour, Gregory, if he could chop them down. He has an elegage business which takes care of all the plane trees in town so he was equipped with all the necessary ropes, pulleys, machines, men and expertise - but he was too expensive. His quote for the work was over 1000 euros and I didn't have that to spare at the time.
So I carried on worrying and relocating to the living room during storms and high winds.
Today though, the work's finally being done. The men are sawing away as I write and although I dislike the idea of felling trees it's more disturbing to worry about them falling naturally and smashing through the roof...
There goes the second one. The first has already been sawn up and dragged aside. It'll make good firewood once it's seasoned, in the winter of 2012. When the men go this evening, I'll start to pile it up bit by bit, behind the winter 2011 pile. (Using properly seasoned wood is important - it gives out more heat and less smoke than wood that's unseasoned. And unseasoned wood, especially resinous wood like pine, creates sticky residue in the chimney. It's best to mix even well-seasoned pine with oak, beech, cherry and olive.)
Work stopped at midday, naturally, for lunch. We ate outside, just black olives from Nyons, bread, cheese, saucisson and red wine from Sablet. Eric, who's helping out, is from Frejus on the coast and told me how he regrets having to move inland. "For lunch I used to just catch a fish or baby squid" he said. "We'd eat outside all year round." It's February as I write and we're eating outside now but, for Eric, the cold months of November, December and January are hard to take. He left the Cote d'Azur because his wife wanted to live inland but they're now going through a divorce. He's about to take up a job looking after the animals in a large garden centre. "Cats" he said, "dogs. Fish, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs.." "No women?" my neighbour asked, jokingly. Eric shook his head vehemently. "I've had enough of women to last me a lifetime" he said. "I'd rather live with a bunch of tigers than a wife."
After eating, and drinking rather a lot of red wine (I was dubious about mixing alcohol with chainsaws but the men brushed that aside) the work started again. I'm now watching (and hearing - it's loud...) the two men sawing the third tree. My Siamese cat Coco has hopped onto the tractor seat and is looking at the men with disinterest. He loves vehicles of all kinds and always jumps onto or into any car, motorbike, van, tractor or trailer that arrives. The police called round a while ago to tell me my gipsy neighbours had been using my address as part of a tax dodge. I have no idea why they called really because they refused to give me any real information and left with a cheery au revoir, telling me not to worry. A minute after they drove off in their little van they returned to turf Coco out of the back seat. The same happened with the electrician who was halfway home when Coco stepped onto his shoulder from the backseat.
One or possibly two more pines to go and after that I'll be able to thumb my nose at high winds in the middle of the night. Well, I wouldn't do that - far too much respect for (or fear of) nature - but you know what I mean. I'll be able to sleep without being terrified of being crushed before dawn. The guys just gave me a thumbs up sign about the largest tree. They walked around it, had a bit of a confab, then attached ropes to it. Now the sawing is re-starting. Looks like the tree will soon be firewood.
Provence is like that very often. Locals take a problem, circle it, give it some thought and then put a rope round it and turn it to their advantage. 'That's not a tree waiting to smash through your roof' they'll say. 'That's a stock of firewood for winter.'
Not a bad approach.