Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Don't Go Down To The Woods Today

It was a cold walk today. I did the same one I described on October 8th, with the scrabbly and skiddy climbs. During the climb I removed my jacket, even though the temperature has markedly dropped after a few fine days, because walking vertically produces a lot of heat. But the most notable aspect of the walk was that when I came down from maximum altitude to the Col du Portel, and also came out from the woods at 600 metres, I was hit by a strong cold wind. I had to struggle to get the jacket on again, the wind being determined to take it elsewhere.

I was certainly glad of that jacket during the remaining 11 kms of the walk. I also wished that I was wearing trousers rather than shorts. But what struck me forcibly, especially after I lost it, was the amount of protection, from both wind and cold, afforded by trees.

I am talking here about forests, not the roadside man-hunting trees referred to the other day. I was also reminded just how much of this area, and of France generally, is covered in trees. This is a big logging area, one of many in France. I read a few years ago that there is now four times as much forest in France as there was at the end of the Second World War. That is very impressive. And much of it is deciduous, although there are plenty of the faster growing conifers, as elsewhere.

I don’t know whether I read that figure before or after the big storm of 1999, which felled colossal numbers of trees, as well as doing much other damage, of course.

Read this and weep, those who talk about the so-called “hurricane” of 1987 in England.

A few days before the turn of the Millennium (I acknowledge here, before I get lots of comments, that I am talking about the false Millennium which was generally celebrated worldwide on January 1, 2000, rather than the real Millennium a year later), on December 26th 1999, the hurricane Lothar hit France, Switzerland and Germany.

Lothar was the strongest hurricane for 1,000 years. It reached wind speeds of 150 kph in lower areas and 250 kph on some mountains. 92 people were killed in France and power was disrupted to 3,500,000 homes. 60% or roofs in Paris were damaged.

In France a total of 140,000,000 square metres of trees were felled by the storm. I read that the number of trees involved was 29,000,000. Or was it 290,000,000? With numbers like these, does an extra zero matter?

10 years worth of forest production was lost overnight, preventing access by foresters and hunters for months in many areas. Some resort towns did not open for business the following summer.

We experienced some of the aftermath of Lothar. Having heard nothing of it, because we had been in Mexico when it happened, a few months later we were staying at Brantôme, in the Dordogne, a favourite place. We were running in the woods, with which we were familiar, but which looked strangely different. As if a comet had landed, for instance. There were fallen trees everywhere. The interior landscape of forests known to us had changed markedly. And it was not just off the beaten track. There was much evidence of tree stumps by the sides of busy roads, giving a faint idea of the number of trees which must have fallen into and across roads. It must have been a terrifying night to be out in a car. Or anywhere over a very large area. People who had already been primed with dire predictions of what would happen a few days later, as the Millennium arrived, must have really believed that it had all come a few days early.

And their health and tempers would not have been improved much when the storm carried on the next day. Actually, it was another huge storm, name of Martin, which was continuing the work of Lothar. Two for the price of one, and no doubt even more dire tales about it being the beginning of a build-up to Millennium catastrophe.

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