Foragers from Florac on the Lempezou


The woods above the village, on the side of the hill that gets the afternoon sun, are dotted on this fine October day with wild food foragers. A sculptor should be there to sketch them, capturing the gestures that go with each different harvest.


The mushroomers need the surest eye and recognition skills. Head down, basket on the crook of the left arm, they tread long, slow, spiral paths between the trees. Except where the sangliers have churned a patch to mud, successive autumns have left a mattress of decaying leaves, across which they move silently, leaving only the lightest trace, the occasional disturbance made by a probing toe. It calls to mind a mysterious modern dance, or news footage of the search for a missing child, until a sudden bending or squatting movement punctuates the meditative pace. Mostly these moments of heightened drama end in empty-handed disappointment. Occasionally, though, the crouching figure draws a knife and carves carefully beneath an uncovered cepe at the base of the stem. A mere handful of such prizes can validate a hunter's whole day.


Chestnuts, on the other hand, are two a penny here. Hardly worth stooping for, but then again hard to resist. The glossy rich satin skins of the latest fallers glisten as they are prised from their green protective husks. Others, just as lustrous, lie invitingly naked nearby. Picking them up is child's play, performed at the run, darting from hoard to hoard. Pockets and even plastic bags can quickly be filled to bursting, before the prospect of tedious skin removal starts to cloud the forager's enthusiasm.


Rose hips and sloes should wait, until they're cracked by the first winter frosts. The blueberries are over, but there are good blackberries to be had, higher up the hill, where the path emerges from the woods into evening sunshine. Leaning precariously, stretching their fingers to pluck the fruit from the brambles, the blackberry pichers are the tai chi practitioners of the wild food gathering world. The most succulent berries are almost out of reach, defended by the fiercest thorns, but worth the risk for the anticipated pleasures of crumble, later on tonight.


October 2013