Friends and neighbours


I’m rather late in writing this since my starting point is this plant, Dittrichia viscosa, otherwise known in this part of France as la Vendangeuse since it flowers in September and October during the vendanges,, and often appears in great numbers in the vines.

But the vendanges are long over, those of us who pick grapes for a friend have eaten the celebration meal given to us, and we’ve been to an evening fête to welcome the vin primeur with roast chestnuts and sausages. The vines are all turning from their almost uniform green to the palette running from bright yellow through dull brown to deep crimson, revealing the individuality of their cepage, their grape variety.

Though its flowering glory is past, I wanted to write about this plant because I realised that in its humble way it has accompanied me during my years in France. I say a sort of ‘Bonjour’ to it when it appears, as I do to my friends and neighbours. As a friend does, it will make me think of other times we’ve met, stimulating memories of places, conversations, and activities. I imagine that this is true for naturalists in other domains – birdwatchers, geologists, butterfly enthusiasts – and that this encounter with the familiar and well-loved is one of the things which keep us at it.

So when I took the photo above, I was on a botanical walk recently with a group and leader all new to me, and seeing the golden stars made me say to myself ‘Oh, hello! Fancy seeing you here! I’m glad you turned up for this new adventure. Do you remember that afternoon when you were with a big clump of friends by that old deserted chapel? And didn’t we have fun in the vines this year! I saw you along the motorway too, but I couldn’t stop to say hello’.

Stacey Kent with, of course, You’ve got a Friend’.





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5 responses to “Friends and neighbours

  1. Mike

    This friend will see you very soon, Richard. At first when I saw the title, I thought you might be referring to recent political developments, but no… thank goodness! Richard Maybe was slated to talk as part of the current Science Fair in Norwich and I had a ticket but he withdrew (for unknown reasons) at the last minute, which was a shame. A tres bientot, mon vieux.

    • Yes, the title could refer to the latest stage in Anglo-European relations (strained!), or to the attitudes in Europe to people who need to find safety or work by coming here (even more strained, to be polite). I wasn’t clever enough to think of that. I did think of making another point since I came across a youtube video of Carole King singing her song at the recent Democratic Convention, but I limit my efforts in that direction to keeping all fingers tightly crossed.

  2. Such purity and sweetness!

  3. I’m sure lots of naturalists greet their favourite plants and animals. I know I do, and out loud. Autumn Lady’s Tresses orchids, swallowtail caterpillars, Western Spectre dragonflies — all on the list 🙂

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