Brameloup provides the ideal balance of nature and civilization. The large garden around the chalet (1000 square meters) and surrounding forest and meadows (another 7,700 square meters) provide access to nature close at hand. I always spend some time walking the trails I have built through my own forest (below), or on the rural tracks or paths up to the village of Quincy above me, around the loop to Signy farm a kilometer away, or down to Frangy (see my neighborhood page). Observing the life around me; enjoying the ever-changing colours, patterns, shapes and wonders; feeling the sun, breeze, rain or snow on my skin; listening to the birds singing (and even hearing the earthworms clearing their burrows after a rain), and digging in the soil, pulling weeds, and cultivating the beauty and diversity around me, make me feel an intimate part of nature. There is a spiritual dimension in our contact with nature that shows the greatness in what surrounds us, and teaches us humility at the same time. There are always new discoveries (see nature page and the four seasonal pages: spring, summer, fall, winter). This page gives a detailed description of my forest. For my outside work in the garden and forest, see my activities page.
I enjoy having visitors, and can easily accommodate 15 people for meals (outside) and a few over night, but not many people venture up my difficult track. A few close friends have come, and even stayed over night.
Nabil Stendardo comes occasionally to spend the night.
My own property stretches along 200 meters about half way up the slope that goes steeply down to the Usses River. The eastern end of the property, beyond the rural track or path to Signy that cuts diagonally through my land, drops down steeply in a ravine to the Brameloup intermittent stream, with tall trees like a natural cathedral. Many of the trees are Robinia (false acacia) very resistant to rot, so many fallen tree trunks bridge the ravine. The lower meadow is also below the track on the north side. Above the track beyond a band of forest, the upper meadow rises steeply to my lawn and chalet. The long strip of land to the west is forested, with dense oak forest giving way to a more open beech forest ending with the massive badger burrows at the west end of my property, with dense forest above and forest and a small pasture below. I have made trails through the forest so that I can walk all through it. Here is a description of my land and the beauty of nature from East to West.
The Brameloup ravine and stream, eastern forest. . .
The northernmost corner of my property down to the stream is so steep that I only went there for the first time in 2014 by following the stream bed and climbing up by pulling myself from tree to tree, so I decided to build a trail down to the stream, and then up the ravine bottom (see trail making on the activities page). I can now walk down the ravine bottom from the upper end, climb up the switchbacks at the bottom end of my land to the lower meadow, and return along the trail that follows the upper ravine slope.. .
In early 2017, the electric company cut down trees growing too close to the electric wires across the ravine, leaving some in a precarious position down the steep slope, and piles of branches that I had to clean up.. .
Beyond the lawn, as my property drops down from the chalet, there are upper and lower meadows divided by the rural track that crosses my land diagonally, with the ravine with the Brameloup stream to the East, and my forest mostly to the West. The meadows are full of orchids, lilies and other wildflowers (see nature, spring and summer pages), so I mow them in mid-summer after the orchids are gone and before the autumn crocus, and I try to keep the forest from encroaching by clearing the borders and removing tree seedlings. At the bottom of my land, a footpath goes down the steep slope across the Brameloup stream to the Usses River at the ford where my water pipe crosses the river.. .
Rural track or path (chemin rural)
My chalet is on a rural track or path which is a public right-of-way that cuts diagonally across my property, separating the ravine and lower meadow from the rest. The lower part is prohibited to motor vehicles, but that does not stop the occasional motorcycles, quads or all-terrain vehicles from using it. Most of the passers-by are hikers, horseback riders or trail bikers, and it is an official departmental walking and trail bike itinerary. I do most of the maintenance myself (see activities page)..
The central forest of large oaks, ash, yew, walnut and false acacia runs along a steep slope from upper and lower areas that are more level, and may have been farmed in the past. It has an upper access trail from the top of my property behind the vegetable garden, a middle trail from the top of the upper meadow which continues along the middle of the slope all the way to the far west end of my land, a lower trail along the bottom of the steepest slope which joins the middle trail beyond the central forest, and another that loops from the far western end down near the bottom boundary of my property and back to the track at the bottom of my upper meadow.. . .
To access the western forest, there is a middle trail that goes from the upper meadow diagonally down the slope and through to the badger dens at the limit of my property. It is joined from above by an upper trail with switchbacks from behind the vegetable garden, and further west branches to an 8o meter upper trail along the top boundary of my land above the badger dens, where there are some very large trees. Another branch trail at the same point goes east as the lower middle trail below the steep slope to the bottom of the upper meadow. From the west end, the lower trail near the bottom of the central forest returns above the neighbouring pasture to the meadow and road. I have added a ramp and short loop to the bottom western corner of my property, making four trails with connections crossing the western and central forest.. .
The immediate area around the chalet is mostly lawn, or at least mowed vegetation since I have never planted grass, with some limited landscaping to screen the chalet from the rural path, a little garden with table and chairs in front of the chalet, some fruit trees, two woodsheds, a toolshed, and the vegetable garden at the far end of the large lawn in front of the chalet. The mowed area is about 800 square meters. There is forest on most sides, except where the lawn drops down into the upper meadow, with a view to the North across the valley of the Usses River to Mount Vuache on the other side.. .
I love walking through the forest and fields in all seasons, but when the snow is too deep for walking, I can go out with my snowshoes to get some air and sun. It is actually easier to go up and down the slopes in snowshoes, but they are not so good on my narrow trails..
My chalet at Brameloup is both a refuge and a workplace where I can concentrate on writing without distractions. I have a music system with records, cassettes and CDs, radio (but no television), an extensive library of literature, art, history and natural history for recreational reading, as well as my scientific library and document collection on environmental issues, islands and coral reefs. There is intentionally no internet connection, so there is no temptation to check for e-mail or surf the web endlessly. There is both a downstairs work-space open to the balcony with a view of the forest, and an upstairs work-space with my scientific library and documents. I try to alternate a couple of hours work with a similar time in the garden or forest (see activities), since sitting for hours has been shown to be very unhealthy.. .
I try for a simple lifestyle, with efficient and economical use of power and water, rainwater catchment for the toilet and garden, only organic gardening, and composted waste (see my sustainable lifestyle page). Most of the heating comes from wood I cut myself on the property (see activities page). My food is locally sourced when possible, including cheese and butter from the cheese factory just across the river, and eggs from the next town. I also minimize my use of clothing to reduce power and water consumption and water pollution from washing clothes.
It has been a family tradition since the 1930s (when my parents received 3 waffle irons as wedding presents) to have waffles with maple syrup on Sunday morning, usually accompanied by fresh orange juice. I still continue the tradition when my schedule permits, using the same type of waffle iron my parents had from the 1930s (which I have to repair from time to time). The batter is prepared with egg, milk, self-raising flour, salt and melted butter, mixed with a hand-powered egg-beater. Since pure maple syrup is too expensive, I make my own, 3 parts sugar boiled in water, one part maple syrup, to avoid all the additives in commercial syrups.. .
I bought a used tape recorder to digitize old reel-to-reel tapes in my archives, but when I first started to use it, the tape would not play. On opening the tape recorder, I found that the cast metal piece that moved all the levers to play and record had disintegrated. Knowing that finding someone to repair such an old machine would be impossible, I scrounged in my collection of old things that might be useful some day, found a brass doornob of the right shape and thickness, and spent an afternoon crafting a replacement piece. By evening I could play tapes on the machine again.
It is times like this that confirm my tendency not to throw things away. You never know what else they might be good for. Many of the materials for the chalet were recycled.
When I bought the chalet, I was told that water was supplied from the Frangy water system through a pipe on a cable across the Usses River; only the pump needed replacing. However, a new highway bypass had been built around Frangy, so the whole installation had been moved. It took me two years to get the water connected.
First the old mayor of Musièges (he had been mayor for 47 years) got the village meter reader and went with me to find where my water meter had been moved to after the road construction. We found it under a manhole cover in the Bonnets economic activities area next to the river. However when we turned on the water, it came shooting out of a plastic pipe about 10 meters away. The contractors had laid a cast iron pipe under the river bed, cemented in with large boulders, and run the plastic pipe through it, but had failed to connect that pipe with the one from the water meter. The mayor had the contractor come back, dig up the pavement to find the other end of the pipe, and make the connection. A few months later, we went back to the meter and turned on the water, only to see water coming out of a pipe in the air on the other side of the river. That end had also not been connected to my pipe coming down the hillside, and no one knew where my pipe was. I searched for weeks down the hillside and along the river bank where the cable must have crossed the river, without success. Finally the new mayor (the old mayor's son-in-law) jumped on his tractor, found the village water diviner, and came hunting with me for my pipe. We started at the pump box at the edge of my property, and walked down through the forest, as the water diviner's two bent wires swung to show where the pipe was, down the steep hill, across Brameloup stream bed, across a corn field, and to the river bank some ways down stream from the pipe crossing. The water diviner looked over the edge, and saw the (empty plastic) pipe sticking out of the bank in the bushes. The mayor arranged for a contractor to come, dig a long trench, and connect my pipe with the new one crossing the river.
Finally I thought I had water. I went to the valve in my pump box, opened it, and listened to the air pressure from the rising water, but no water. I went back to see the mayor, and some inquiries showed that Frangy had installed a new water treatment system below the spring on Mount Vuache, and the new system was 20 meters lower than my chalet, so there was no longer enough pressure to reach me. We came back with the water diviner to find how high up in the forest the water came in my pipe, and he showed me where to dig. He was accurate to within 70 cm. I found the pipe, dug a trench down the hill to lay an electric wire, and installed a pump box and pump in the forest to bring the water up to the old cement water tank of one cubic meter behind the chalet. I then rebuilt the cracked water tank, adding a fiberglass lining, and gave it a proper cover and roof. I later added a floating switch, so that the pump would switch off when the tank was full, after I burned out one pump by leaving it on too long (see Chalet maintenance). Finally, after two years, I had water.
Eight years later, I noticed one day that the pump did not turn off when the tank was full, and was still running some hours later. A quick check showed that there was no water. I walked down the hill looking for any sign of a leak or broken pipe, and saw that the corn field had been deeply plowed where the pipe crossed it. I called the mayor of Musièges, and he said they had done nothing that might have cut off the water, so he gave me the name of the owner of the field, who in turn referred me to the brothers who farmed it. They said they had not plowed more deeply than usual. I was beginning to think that I would have to pay a contractor to go digging across the field looking for a cut pipe, or else lay a new pipe around the field. I went to the water meter to cut off the water in case it was leaking underground, and found that it had been turned off. On further inquiry, I found that while Musièges, as my commune, was responsible for the connection, it was Frangy that actually supplied my water. I went to the Mairie in Frangy, and was told that they had found a water meter but did not know who it belonged to, so they turned it off so that the owner would appear. It never seemed to have occurred to them to ask Musièges, and Musièges had never told them that I had a water connection. This was the first that I knew that Frangy should have been billing me for water. I gave them my address, and turned the water back on, but three days later when I checked the pump, it was drowned in water. Dismantling everything, not only was the pump burned out from running dry for several hours, but the heat had melted the connections to the plastic pipe, which had already leaked 4 cubic meters of water (compared to the 197 cubic meters I had consumed in the previous eight years). I had to install a new larger underground pump box and a new pump, and replace all the connections, before I again had water.