Poppy red and vineyard green

We’re happy to offer a fresh change from all the recent arctic-themed posts. Spring, and even a bit of summer, have at last arrived in our neighborhood. Colors and freshness are everywhere.

After weeks of gray skies and rainy days, the sun’s warmth has incited fields of red poppies. Some fields and roadsides have become carpets of scarlet.

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It seems to us that there are many many more poppies this year than what we remember from last year. Perhaps, since last year was our first spring in Carcassonne, we hadn’t noticed as much as we do now. I looked online for some explanation about why this year’s “crop” is so rich. I couldn’t find any conversation: apparently it is not as remarkable to long-time residents as it is to us. In fact, in rural areas, poppies, however attractive to artists and tourists, are considered weeds. They grow easily in just about any soil; they compete with other crops like wheat; and one poppy plant can generate over 50,000 seeds in a season.

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The red poppy is a resonant symbol from the First World War. The centenary of the war’s end is this year. After years of horrific battles in the fields of Flanders, during which the ground was trampled and drenched in blood, poppies were the first flowers to push through. Each flower represents a fallen combatant.

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I found one more poppy symbol. The writer says that this connection is a bit poetic as well as an old rural legend. Usually, the red, white and blue of the French flag recall the blue and red of the French Revolution, which frame the white of the king. Instead, out here in the country, the colors are those of wildflowers: the blue of cornflower, the white of camomille, and the red of the poppy.

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Poppies try to steal the thunder from the newly awake grape vines, but the vines will have much more endurance through the summer. The stripes of vineyards drape over almost every hill and plain of this region. In the course of a single week, we noticed the first pale green sprouts atop the dark old vine trunks. And then, almost overnight, the vineyards transformed into fluffy fields of new grape leaves.

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We have learned that this first spring stage is called bud-breaking. This is the time when the vigneron (the farmer of the grapes) finishes pruning the vines and starts preventive treatments to combat grapevine pests and diseases. We can see from our living room window our neighboring vigneron on his narrow tractor systematically passing between the lines of vines. Octopus arms spray what we imagine are pesticides (we hope no) or fertilizers. He mows down the grasses (including a few poppies) that are flourishing between the vine rows. (When the tractor is absent, we see earth-colored white-tailed rabbits hopping among the vines. We trust that they wait out the vigneron in safe burrows.)

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The vines are now growing swiftly, lengthening by 5 – 15 centimeters each day. Before the next milestone, when the vines bloom, the vigneron will select the new branches that promise the best grapes.

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