Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn in Provence: Fatal Mushrooms and Playing Squirrels

The seasons here turn like clockwork. First of September and there's a change in temperature signalling that summer's over.

Not quite, of course, because there are still many hot days but there's also an underlying change which is unmistakeably autumn.

As an example, I was lying out in the hammock this afternoon watching a red squirrel skip through the trees to a water bowl left out for his convenience, when I spotted a brilliant white speck yards away in the undergrowth.

Going over to have a look at it, I saw it was the first plump ammonite phalloide of the autumn. Pushing up through the forest floor, it was round, compact and flawless. Soon, it will flatten out into a large white mushroom as wide as your hand. These tantalisingly perfect, toxic snow-white mushrooms are fatal if you're foolish or ignorant enough to eat them. But they're beautiful in a spine-chilling way. It's only too easy to imagine an innocent person grilling them and eating them without a care in the world. The sequel is up to two weeks of slow death as the ammonite systematically destroys your liver. There is apparently no cure although a friend of mine from the nearby village of Le Thor says huge doses of vitamin C have been known to save ammonite victims.

Still - there it was - a sign that autumn arrives in Provence even while the September temperature is still in the high 20s in the middle of the day.

The other current sign of autumn is that the red squirrels are playing wildly in the pine trees. I haven't been able to establish why they do this, but each spring and autumn they spend a few days going crazy in the pine tree canopy, dashing up and down tree trunks, leaping from branch to branch in a frenzy and generally acting like kids at a birthday party. This morning they woke me up at dawn, squabbling outside the house, ticking each other off with cluck-cluck noises and racing up and down the pine trunks chasing each other and turning to be chased.

I tried to go back to sleep, telling myself it was just the crazy squirrels. But it was also, I realised, a sign that autumn's here in Provence.

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