today is a good example of how rapidly the weather changes at île de ré.
just pay attention to les nuages and you’ll understand. [the clouds]
today starts off with dérangement avocette.
avocette nests are suddenly vanishing, and the reserve wants to know why.
so for about three hours, you note every disturbance that occurs.
the time. who? a goéland, or a hawk, or a dog without a leash? an attack, or just passing by? if it was an attack, was it successful? the reaction of the avocette? a cry? a chase? if so, how long and what distance? any extra notes?
the avocettes are extra flighty today. just a few weeks ago, anybody could pass by with no reaction. but this time, a slight movement will send these stilts into the sky.
and it’s all because of baby avocettes. about a week-old now, they’ve certainly grown. one in particular, who quickly becomes the favorite of all the volunteers just because he’s so gross. large.
klip! kliiiiip! klip! a passing goéland is chased away by the avocette. take note – it doesn’t matter if you are passing by or a potential attacker – the avocette does not want you anywhere near her. so stay away!
there are zero successful attacks. so your chef thinks that it might also be a land predator attacking at night, such as a ragodin. a river rat/coypu. either way, it still remains a mystery as who is eating avocet eggs.
now at the end of may, you can no longer see the mustard flowers. the grain is still there, but the bright mass of yellow is now gone. you’ll have to come back next year in april. but go ahead and pop some of the plant anyway in your mouth, at it is guaranteed to still pique.
you love mustard.
but something you love more…
l’or blanc. white gold.
le sel. salt.
but first, let’s back up an iphone moment. because you don’t always carry your DSLR with you, but sometimes, there are still moments you’d like to remember privately. while doing a comptage larolimi your first week at the island, you are invited to stop and have a pause-café. chez le saunier. at the salt collector’s place.
introductions. coffee. chocolate. conversations.
a petit mouvement.
a small moment. a small movement. a small friendship. all of which, of course, leads to a grand mouvement.
that is how you find yourself here chez le saunier, again, a few weeks later.
your eyes gleen. diamonds don’t excite you. silver doesn’t excite you. gold doesn’t excite you. but salt does. you’re still pinching yourself that you got lucky enough that it was unusually hot and dry in april, because normally la récolte takes place in july and not may. [the harvest]
you see, it’s the same thing that happened with the boulangerie. all you did was ask at that first pause-café. nicely. “est-ce que je pourrais t’aider avec la récolte s’il fera assez chaud?”
had he said no, it’s okay, life goes on.
but he said yes.
[may i help you with the harvest if it’s hot enough?]
and so you help. he explains everything. the numbers. the lifestyle. the tools. the preparation. the leasing. the co-op. the gallons. the tides. the travels. – a flood of information that you love absorbing.
ok, so maybe you aren’t really helping – but he doesn’t mind. he’s happy to have someone interested.
one thing you are curious about is fleur du sel. so you ask, can one honestly taste the difference? eating wise, is there a difference? or is it hype?
he explains that for each bassin, during collecting season, he can get about 80 kilograms of gros sel per day. regular salt. and for the same bassin, he can only get 2 kilos of fleur du sel per day.
that is the only difference. that there is less. so close your ears when someone tells you why fleur du sel is better – it isn’t – it’s because it’s rare.
a drawing from a children’s book you liked. unfortunately, you’re sorry but you never noted the author or title… desolée!
so in case you were wondering how salt is formed, here is a quick (and you do mean quick) summary.
there are essentially three basins.
1. in the first one, water from the ocean fills it up
2. it then flows two a second one, full of “barres” to create a mazelike path for the water to flow through. and as it flows, it evaporates as well, causing the salinity of the water to rise and rise.
3. then it arrives in the last bassin where it is ten times more concentrated in salt… and with enough sun and wind, it all crystallizes, and then ready to be collected.
salt basins are home to lots of small insects. which translates to bird dinner. which then translates to attractive home for a bird. shallow and muddy, don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a nest or two.
he recommends that you don’t pick this as a career choice. as great as it is listening to his travel stories and of his vagabond lifestyle, salt collecting is also back and shoulder breaking. it will destroy you physically, he says.
he’s right. holding the lousse at a precise angle at a precise height… dip too low, you’ll get mud and dirty the salt, dip at the wrong angle and you’ll send your salt to the wrong direction, dip too quickly and you’ll lose your balance as you don’t have much to stand on. 15 minutes is probably your maximum.
however, 15 minutes is long enough for you to collect a little pile for yourself.
un cadeau, he says.
he then tells you pat it into a triangular shape, leave it outside, and come back in a few days when it’s dried. that’s it. no washing. no treating. just collecting and drying.
! you must note though, you’ve only done perhaps 5% of what a saunier must do. the easiest, and last part. the months before are spent cleaning, preparing, and forming the basins… which of course you didn’t do. you only took participated in the part that is fun.
hard work. what does this call for? a pause-café in his caravane of course.
tea from china, cups from northern africa, stories from all over.
his real passion is actually surfing. and so when there isn’t work to be done on the salt pans, he spends months abroad chasing waves with a surfboard.
the stories! so many stories! you exclaim, “mais t’es un vrai voyageur!”
[but you’re a real traveler!]
and he corrects you, “je sais pas s’il existe un vrai voyageur.”
[i don’t know if there exists a real traveler]
good point. you start rethinking.
and another point you really liked. “for me, traveling is not about how many places. it’s about how much time is spent in one place.”
five weeks at île de ré. is that considered long or short?
PS: you have been paying attention to the clouds, right?