Friday, November 18, 2022

A mast year and a newly dark village

(Cross-posted from DailyKos)

From 2010 to 2020, my husband and I lived a significant part of each year in Berlin. And from fall 2015 through 2019, I sang first soprano with the Berliner Konzert Chor. (If you click on “View Image” in the bottom left corner of the landing page, I’m 5th from the left in the front row.) It was a wonderful experience getting to sing in the Philharmonie and the Konzerthaus Berlin Gendarmenmarkt. I miss choral singing… but I digress. 

Singing meant that I was almost always in Berlin in the fall rather than in our tiny village in Upper Provence (SE France). Because of how complicated traveling back and forth between France and Germany became during the Covid lockdowns and border closures, we regretfully gave up our rental apartment in Berlin in August 2020.

I didn’t notice anything unusual here in France during our daily walks in the fall last year. But this year, the oak and walnut trees have produced acorns and walnuts in incredible abundance — maybe a hundred times more than usual. Oaks far outnumber the walnut trees, and acorns are still dropping all over and crunching underfoot everywhere. Up until this fall, I hadn’t really known that there were any walnut trees here. Now I know. And I have gathered more than a thousand walnuts from a handful of trees (mostly just from two situated in a corner of our village’s municipal park). Most of the nuts are not very big, but they’re delicious.

Don’t laugh, but my having been brought up with a “Jesus is coming very soon!” mindset actively cultivated by the Mormon church started me wondering if all the hyper-abundance was somehow a Portent of the Last Days — though for me these days, such portents would be of catastrophic climate change, not a “second coming,” especially given how hard France and much of western Europe were hit by drought this year. (Our village is next to the Verdon River, parts of which were closed to recreation this summer — something that had never occurred before and which had a huge economic impact in one of France’s poorest départements that relies on tourism.)

Anyway, given my upbringing and natural inclination toward catastrophism, I started asking myself, “do the trees know? Are they overproducing because they somehow sense the drought will continue next year? Are they telling us to gather while we may because of doom to come?” (Yeah, I can get a little dramatic.) Well, it turns out that the hyper-abundance is a natural phenomenon called a mast year, which happens at varying intervals. We’ve been living here for some 15+ years now, but as I said, we’d never seen this before since we weren’t around at the right time of year before.

So no, not necessarily a harbinger of doom, these yummy walnuts, and hooray for that.

For my second little tidbit — two nights ago I got up after midnight to make my usual offering to the Bladder Goddess (aging sucks) and noticed how very dark it was. To my surprise, there wasn’t a power outage — our power strips were still aglow. But all the street lights were out (at least all the ones I could see from our windows; we live in the center of the village). I’d only this very week become aware of a movement among smaller towns and villages across France to turn out their lights from midnight onwards to save money and energy — especially important with the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the throttling of energy supplies, etc. I did not know that our village had decided to do this — an apparently recent decision, as the lights had been on after midnight just a few days ago. (Mr. Mo tells me that the lights went back on this morning at 6 a.m., presumably to facilitate people’s getting to work and school during the lengthening winter darkness.)

I am glad for the darkness — it’s a lot quieter (not like there’s a lot going on here after midnight right now anyway, though don’t get me started about the noise during high season), it’s healthier for human and animal life, and it’s good to be able to see a lot of stars right through our skylight. Studies show, by the way, that while people may feel more protected and secure having public lights on, dark villages are just as safe as lit ones. 

I hope this is a permanent change and not simply a temporary response to war-related fuel shortages. And I hope that more towns and villages will follow suit… and dare I say it, maybe in the U.S.A. as well?