It is now 30 years since we bought Les Sarziers and we definitely feel our roots growing deeper into the Ardèche soil. Let’s not be mistaken: will we never be “des gens d’ici”. For that, your family name, if it doesn’t do double duty as the name of your farm or hamlet and if it has not been inscribed on the village war memorial, must appear on a headstone in the cemetery – a privilege which we luckily don’t yet share with the villagers.
But just now I’m not concerned with those sorts of roots. I mean the roots of our horse chestnut tree, which gives us welcome shade in the summer, sticky buds in the spring (that stick to the soles of your shoes and then leave traces all over the floors) and hundreds of conkers to pick up in the autumn. Since the 1930’s these roots have quietly travelled underground over a distance far greater than the expanse of its branches.
This does not matter until they start finding their way into pipes. How they managed to break into a sealed PVC pipe we do not know, on the other hand we do know about the results.
Of course it all started with a blocked outflow pipe, followed by unpleasant manoeuvres involving buckets in the cellar. The local plumber comes with a high pressure hose and solves the problem – but only temporarily. The pipe blocks again and the specialists come with a bigger and better hose. It blocks again. They return with a camera that must have been designed to explore a dinosaur’s intestines. And there we met the roots – underneath and smack in the centre of our tiled terrace.
“We’ll need to have those up”, the plumber announced with relish (and of course in French, but it sounds just the same). As we could not bear the idea of demolishing our beautiful old tiles we decided to re-route the outflow pipe altogether: a dreary and expensive job but with the bonus of being able to link up the system with last year’s work in the stables.
In a noble spirit of economy I volunteered to dig the trenches through three cellars, leaving the professionals to do impressive things with mechanical diggers and to cut through the walls. This is cellar number three
… and who do I meet there?
The good old roots, at least 30 yards from the trunk, two inches thick and two feet down, turning neatly round the corners and happily spreading far and wide.
After the pedicure we decided to get round to the haircut – a pruning job which we have been putting off for far too long. Last year I attacked the sycamore …
. . . which was enough of a challenge, so this time we were looking for a specialist.
I chanced to encounter Emmanuelle in the boulangerie when I went to get the bread one morning. She was having a cup of coffee, and joined in with the general chat, even though she lives in the wilds above Empurany and has only been here for a year and a half (see above). She was there to drop of cards advertising the lopping, pruning and tree surgery services which she and her partner Johan offer. Voilà!
They popped round one evening to take a look at the tree and a couple of days later Johan was perched on a rope assessing and sawing with the grace and artistry of an acrobat combined with the expertise of a surgeon.
He told us that he started out as a cordiste in Marseille, but, although the word conjours images of steeplejacks mending church bell-towers or hanging daringly from suspension bridges as they work, he said drily that “there were an awful lot of windows to clean” and that it became boring. So the couple, with their little boy, relocated to the country. Both trained in tree surgery, they have found the perfect solution in a job and surroundings which they love and which provides endless interest and fascination. As Johan said, working on a complex living structure is both challenging and rewarding and the care with which he shaped our tree was impressive.
All in all a genuine case of root and branch reform!
Markus (and Kate, who pulled up roots!)