Dead Ducks

These ducks, a mom and three little ducklings, may be a little hard to see, but they’re fine. The other day I found out why I’d never have made it as a photojournalist. When I found the dead ducks, the thought of taking a picture came right after being horrified. When I did think of it, I didn’t care. I just wanted to know how this happened.

At first I thought hunters shot the parents, leaving the babies to die. But the duckling that wan’t floating dead in the water was on the house steps, intact apart from the gouge taken out of its neck. Bugs would not have done that. And why, with such young ducklings, still sporting their downy yellow pin feathers, were there already eggs, beautiful blue eggs, in the nest.

Right about then Julien came by. He assured me that it wasn’t hunters. Hunting season is over. It might have been dogs, but since dogs don’t have access to my pond or to that of the neighbor, it was probably cats. And the eggs? Who knows how they got there, but even if we could reach a nest that was a good meter into the pond, we don’t have the means to keep the little guys alive. Just let it go. And let’s hope the cats don’t get those huge noisy frogs. We need the frogs.

About a week later I was back at the rental house. I couldn’t resist a peek at the nest. It had been dressed up with bright fresh leaves and there was a new mom with new little ducklings. No frogs, but maybe they were just being quiet that day.

So this is what I figure. Somebody’s well-fed psychopathic cats decided to have a little fun torturing and killing, but not bothering to eat, the first batch of ducks. They probably came upon them foraging for insects in the grass, something like that. A different duck found an abandoned nest, too good to resist, dressed it up and settled in. New day, new babies. Did the cats kill the frogs? Is that why it was so quiet? Impossible to say: I’m not that good at frog identification. If I saw the frogs again I’d have no idea whether they were the originals. But now that the neighbor cats know my rental house’s back garden as a happy hunting ground, they’ll be back. I fear for the new little guys.

Algae, too much algae

I’ll start with the pretty picture. Not my house, not me, not Jacques. No, thanks to a blog buddy’s suggestion, I was able to escape my algal difficulties by going to a Fete des Plantes, just outside Niort. Is that a chateau or just a really big house? Anyway, I picked up some lovely drought-tolerant, easy-care plants that I have not seen in garden centers here. I am delighted with them. Also it was nice to see that these people, who have a front garden multiples bigger than my entire property, have it under control. It gave me hope. Someday my lawn will come.

And here are the algal difficulties. You are looking at the pond at the house that I am selling and, in the meantime, make Available for holiday lets. I’m not sure this is the best pitch for it, but anyway… The pond is part of the municipal drainage system and must remain. Normally it’s quite pleasant, covered with duckweed, to be sure, but pretty and frog-filled. I have been a little worried about it. The previous gardener would cut back the bushes and just let the branches fall into the water. This cannot be good, I thought, so I let that gardener go, but too late. His carelessness turns out to have created huge problems. Julien tried to clear the pond with little success. He says the bottom is sludge filled. Trapped in the sludge are huge, fat branches, rotting away. He says it would take mechanical equipment to clear it out but the straight sides of the pond — the whole thing is cement-walled and I think has a cement bottom — plus there is all that water — make it impossible to get anything down there.

I need to get the house ready for renters, so I went over to review the current state of things. Oh, it’s bad. Apparently the algae is bad everywhere this year but so what. This algae is trespassing on my pond and it has to go. So I put on my rubber clogs and a bathing suit and waded into pleasantly warm water, pool net in hand. Jacques loved it. Oh the gaseous smells, as I disturbed the pond bottom. Oh, the squelching sounds, the froggy croaks. And the sludge, he couldn’t get enough of it. As I netted tens of kilos of thick algae, thick enough to prevent my new water plants from settling, Jacques attacked the piles of crud, pawing and biting it. As I cleared a horizontal cement siding, Jacques would run out and sniff the debris. Then he figured out that he could safely step right onto the sludge and attack the algae while it was still in the water. Terrier heaven: my water-averse dog waded in up to his tummy. The muddier he got, the happier he was.

Despite Jacques’ assistance, I cleared maybe 20 square meters of algae from the surface, for which the frogs are grateful. I found that it is possible to clear algae faster than it grows, for which I am grateful. I am left with a whole lot more, out in the center, which is too deep for wading. Maybe I can head out there with a couple of little flat-bottomed boats, one for me and one for algae, and clear it out that way. So where can I find a couple of those?

The water is clear but brown, thanks to the sludge and rotting debris. I decided to try some pond chemicals, which worried Julien. He likes the frogs as well as I do and didn’t want them hurt. Then he did some calcs and realized that my chemicals — anti-algae plus a couple of water-clearing agents — won’t even dent the situation out there. The pond is just too big. We both hope they don’t dent the frogs, either, though they are so diluted that I think my little croaking friends are safe. The next step is apparently to find some activated charcoal. Maybe a ton of activated charcoal. Then I can clear that out.

Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Not many people dream of moving to France so they can clear massive algae infestations. I sure didn’t. However I’m finding that I like all these garden challenges. Gardens are low-tech, easily understandable. They tire you out, so you sleep extremely well. Once in a while something pretty comes of it. For the pond, especially, I find myself driving to places I would never otherwise visit, aquatic plants being rather specialized, so occasionally a bit of adventure is involved. I think about this as I sludge-proof my car seats, so Jacques and I can drive home, looking and smelling like Mrs. Swamp Thing and her little Swamp Dog.

No YouTube uploads of the original, just the campy 1982 remake. Sigh. You’ll just have to imagine.

Lynn Sullivan’s Day Off

Well, so, the hiccup. Sorry about the technical difficulties. We had our first unforeseen condition, a thing with the subfloor being different than we expected. As you can tell by the photo, I have moved on.
This is the standard by which I will judge my own decorating schemes. Zach is visiting, right when too many technical difficulties are hitting. It’s been all work and little play for him, not much of a vacation at all. We need a break. Fortunately for both of us, I found this crazy hotel, the Chateau Goujeonnerie, something like that ( In 2006 someone bought the place and renovated it, turning it into a hotel. They are not the first to have this idea but few do it so well. There is no sign, no restaurant, no nothing, really, that would tell you it is other than a very nice house. My room is not numbered. My shower is in a turret.
As you can see, the furniture is haute brocante, celebrating what they have and adding a touch of theater and a dab of irreverence. Think Addison Mizner meets Napoleon III and you’ll get the idea — and if you get those references, come on over! We’ll have lots to talk about.