Yesterday morning, as Alain and I were taking a break from our work, he once again said something that really made me think. “L’ultilisation des ressources du terroir, ça c’est l’écologie” or roughly translated, “Ecology is the use of local resources.” Though it was a simple statement made in passing, it emphasizes the overriding goal of the Blancart’s existence: by exploiting local, renewable resources and by continuing local traditions, Alain and Christine reduce their effect the environment and maximize their own standard of living. To explain this broadreaching conclusion, we need to think about yesterday’s project, the “chevrarie”, and the “smoko.”
Having finished the morning routine, Alain and I drove to a distant hay field to build a shelter for a tool that stays there year round. Our list of supplies included a chainsaw, an ax, a hatchet, two shovels, a machete, a large iron bar, a scythe, two Coca Colas, three kinds of cheese, bread, and chocolate. (A diverse group, but each member of the list completely necessary.) At the field itself, we began by digging one of the four 60 cm deep holes to hold the four upright supports for the roof. Working together with the iron bar and shovel, we slowly advanced deeper into the earth until it was sure enough to support the roof. After, we collected the rest of our tools, picked two good trees, and felled them with a chain saw. Tomorrow, we will return with Contesse, one of the families four workhorses, to pull the trunks out of the woods and to finish the construction of the shelter.
Aside from being an incredible learning experience and a great time, the project emphasizes the Blancart’s use of local and renewable resources. Though it would be really easy to run down to the hardware store and buy materials to protect the harvester, Alain purposefully decided to use the local trees, our own manpower, and Contesses’ strength to build the shelter. With time, all three inputs grow back stronger than before and leave no lasting effect on the environment. Raw materials, however, are not the only resource exploited here on the farm.
In a more abstract sense, Alain’s decision to construct the chevrarie (goat-house) in a historic and/or “rustic” way represents another important resource: local tradition. Though most new construction in the area uses “innovative” building materials like cinder blocks, Alain’s chevrarie is a combination of the region’s traditional stone walls and a newer, ecologically-friendly style called “corded wood masonry.” To begin, Alain and I laid a two foot high foundation of large, riverbed stones. Mixing the cement by hand and carefully picking the stones took a lot of time, but the end result is durable, attractive, and traditional. After, we built the walls which are composed of split Oregon Pine logs glued together with cement. In addition, other examples of traditions continued abound: small wooden dowels cut by hand that serve as nails; three-hundred year old beams saved from the farmhouse; a traditional, Meditteranean tile roof; and even a door from an ancient chateau. Each detail, from the corded wood walls down to the smallest wooden dowel, embodies Alain’s continuation of historic traditions which utilize regional resources, are specially adapted to the climate, and treat the environment well.
Considering the amount of energy that Alain puts into living life in an ecologically friendly way, the one resource that he does not forget to respect is us, the humans who live in the environment. Halfway through our work on the harvester’s shelter, Alain and I took a traditional break called the “smoko” to relax and appreciate the work we had done. Sitting there on a hill, admiring our progress and eating homemade cheese and bread, Alain and I could not help but conclude how beautiful a life lived slowly really is. Though we had worked hard throughout the morning, the break gave us time to find new energy, to enjoy a bit of conversation, and to value the simple lifestyle we live here. Just like the decision to harvest the wood with real horse-power or to build the chevrarie with regional stone walls, our daily “smoko” forces us to reflect on our progress and appreciate the life we are living.
Thus, if a true ecologically-friendly lifestyle is the “use and respect of local resources,”all of Alain and Christine’s projects represent a strict adherence to that creed. Whether the resource exploited is the the tree we cut for a harvester’s shelter, the local tradition of stone walls, or our own labor, each is used in moderation and celebrated as a gift that need be respected.