Morning routine in Nouvelle Aquitaine

After more than two years in France, yes… days do have a routine. Newcomers to French life fondly imagine the regular morning visit to the Boulangerie for breakfast croissants, followed by the morning coffee hit in the local bar. Lunch is a long lingering over the menu du jour, a basket of sliced baguette accompanying something du terroire, perhaps smoked venison liver or a goose gizzard salad (ok perhaps that last bit, whilst real, is possibly not fondly imagined, let’s say instead, duck breast cassoulet or just steak frites then).

But we aren’t newcomers, nor did we ever manage that daily routine except perhaps on a few vacation days. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things do happen, and quite often (even the goose gizzards) but just not routinely.  A routine work day will start with me rising between 7.30 to 8am a quick shower, downstairs to greet a somnolent dog who stays on the couch watching me make Delia her decaff coffee to be drunk as she gets out of her shower (except for Saturday when she sits in bed with it) and a carry-mug of tea for me to drink as I walk the now awakened Siena. The morning-walk varies; at the moment I favour a route that does not involve Siena rushing to greet the summer-time jogger who is somewhat less enthusiastic. This morning, which being a Saturday that I plan to do some building work, did not start with a shower but also started a bit later at about 8.30.

The walk started by greeting our neighbour, Jean-Claude who, being ex-army (albeit supplies rather than combat), starts his day an hour or two earlier. I seldom see anyone else, passing Benoit’s place – the largest house of the hamlet, past the vet’s and the Englishman’s holiday home on my left (both of whom I might occasionally see depending upon exact time of year and day), following the worn tarmac road with grass sprouting along the middle. On the right further along is the home of the mother-in-law of Mme Ratier (who lives in the next house on the left) usually we are greeted by her dogs, Douggie – the very waggy, curly terrier and the older, grumpy and vaguely corgi-like Daphne. The walk then veers right onto an earthen track, through woods, down and over a small stream, past a gite in the process of intermittent renovation and back into woods again. At the moment there are cows in a field here but not always. Sometimes there’stouching-00201 a pair of horses who have known Siena since she was found.

not the actul deer, nor my photo but very similar

not the actual deer, nor my photo but very similar to the ones I saw

 

 

A couple of days ago there was a pair of deer on the track, Siena chased them off the track but (unlike when she has encountered one when running in a field) stopped chasing once they had left the track. They weren’t especially troubled by her, although they are hunted here, it isn’t the season and it would take two or three more clever hounds to corner one of them.

I will revisit the topic of my daily routine since I feel I am waxing too lyrical and not even got home with the dog!

 

 

 

 

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And “Nouvelle Aquitaine”, officially still Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes, is a region of southwestern France, created by the territorial reform of French Regions in 2014 by the merger of Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes.  The new region came into existence on 1 January 2016. Wikipedia entry aside, this newly gathered region includes us in our corner of Haute Vienne, itself a department of Limousin, itself now part of the new region, somehow Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue so Nouvelle Aquitaine might be adopted. There are layers upon layers of differing borders though, scratch the map and you’ll uncover Quercy, Perigord, Berry and all sorts of older and older areas that are still referred to today. Interestingly the new region more closely matches the ancient borders of 11th and 12th century when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet. Bringing it under English rule. Perhaps I haven’t so much come home, as home has come to me.

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Repointing regalia and scones

DSC02749Weekends are now being spent doing the repointing (finally) of the back wall to the house. Hammer, chisel, pick and angle grinder for the first phase of getting the old crumbling stuff out. That’s a pretty cruddy job, I particular enjoy the plastic shower cap, which, in the hot weather, holds the sweat in nicely albeit keeping the dust out. Then its two and a half buckets of sand to one bucket of lime (nasty stuff, burns your skin and unpleasant to breathe in, though ok when mixed). I tried an applicator that squirts the mortar if it’s the consistency of toothpaste. The problem is that it doesn’t stay in the cracks when it’s that sloppy, and any thicker and the applicator bungs up. So it’s back to small trowel which works well enough especially if I can catch most of the mortar I drop.  Two of us now though tackling the mortar removal makes for much quicker work.

It’s been an eventful week world-wise though hasn’t it? A new science-ignorant Prime Minister in the UK . One of the bills she is supporting requires that internet providers can produce decrypted content of their users despite their not having the decrypting keys. She’s also somewhat into climate change denial (or at least past comments and her record suggest that). She is also backtracking from her previous statement on the rights of immigrant workers (which could backlash onto us migrant workers in France).

Of course there’s the Nice incident. Everyone’s calling it terrorism but it seems to me more like a single unbalanced person who happens to be a muslem going off the rails. Not meaning to diminish the terrible consequences of course, and hoping that it doesn’t give ideas to actual terrorists about how difficult such a method is to prevent. The news now though says that more people have been arrested and that ISI_DSC2779S is claiming responsibility so perhaps I’m wrong. Life here in rural Limousin is unaffected mostly though, even the heightened state of awareness over the past few months have been scarcely noticeable to us.

Last weekend we enjoyed that most splendid of ex-pat occupations, a garden party with cream tea (actual scones, only when the English gather). We happened to sit next to someone who attends the same art school as Delia, but attends a different session. We met again this Friday at the vernissage of a student exhibition where Delia and he were exhibiting.

During the week, amongst other things, I have been creating another new website. I really must find a way to jumpstart the initial stage in creation where I try to get a feel for the required style.It seems the longest and most difficult stage. The site style needs to be unique and not just based on a formulaic template.  For me the front page is the most important, and I really want to try and catch the spirit of the business. This one was particularly interesting as there had been an existing business in the UK but with the spread-out clientele in rural France there is a need to diversify so two other facets are now involved. Anyway it’s ongoing and will give me the chance for a bit of tourism west of here to take some local scenery for their web site.

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Bremoaning and tippexing mice

It would be hard to avoid mentioning Brexit and its implications for us. Not a day has gone by without some nasty racist act being reported from the UK, probably subject to the usual bias of the British tabloids but nevertheless unpleasant. Although we have several friends scattered around the UK, still, politically and otherwise socially, a return for us to the UK is unpalatable. We have looked at options open to us; French nationality (we need another two and a half years for naturalisation), Irish nationality (apparently having a parent born on the island of Ireland, not necessarily Eire, qualifies me for an Irish passport)  – fine for being able to work here but not effective for any benefits for health and pension. The key for us will be what gets negotiated in terms of membership of the European Economic Area. It seems that non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland maintain mobility of labour and reciprocal pension and health agreements which are our three main issues.

Anyhoo, all this gets discussed whenever two or more expats are together, most of whom voted to remain (Bremainers) and are now Bremoaners. But the only real answer is “wait and see” – to the point if irritation. It’s not as if we can put everything on hold; Delia’s clients will be wary of spending when there is such uncertainty. And who will want a web site when they might have to go back to the UK within a couple of years? Anyway I have been raising my web profile by attempting a business blog (patbell.co.uk/blog), and am now in the process of updating mine and Delia’s websites too. My advert will become more encouraging to those who are “keeping calm and carrying on”.

For the past few months we have been battling with sitting tenants – mice. Wallace the cat keeps the living areas clear (mostly passively, the only mice I have seen him catch were outside). But our loft and cave (basement) remain problem areas. We use humane traps which means I can’t just wait for the smell of rotting mouse but have to proactively check for captives. In the loft we can usually hear the mice scurrying around and sometimes the snap of the mouse trap door shutting followed by frantic rattling about. All this usually just as we are about to go to sleep. So our neighbours, should they be looking, would be treated to the vision of a be-slippered and dressing gowned Patrick sneaking out into the darkness to dispose of the captive mouse.  If I have the luxury of being able to do the job during the day I would take it out on my morning dog walk and release it in the woods. At night however, not wanting to trek too far in my slippers, I had taken to chucking the mice over the high wall opposite. Usually we worked our way through the family of mice with the adults usually last and then have a hiatus of a week or so before the next lodgers moved in. I began to suspect that I was seeing the same mice so, of course, I started tippexing their tails (yes I need to get out more) and true enough one or two returned. So now it’s a further trek to the nearest field (50m or so) for the night-time releases at least. This is far enough to be out away from any street lights and I dread the time when I might be met by a neighbour as I emerge from the pitch black, apparently from nowhere in my dressing gown and slippers.  Early onset or what?

Here’s the offering from me in the current month’s competition.

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Dave and the EU

dave the dogNo, not Dave Cameron, but Dave the handsome miniature schnauzer with the incredible eyebrows. He came to stay for a few days, and was left with us for a weekend whilst Lyn and Richard (my brother) went to a friend’s wedding in the Dordogne. He and Siena had a grand time though I think Dave got a bit tired of Siena’s perpetual bouncing. He was also well-behaved off-lead. The two would be off romping and it was more successful recalling Dave because Siena followed whereas she will usually stand still but not always return when on her own.

So I have just taken off my shower cap, goggles and mask. The weather here has been pretty patchy, some sunny days but usually rainy with sunny periods. I had started the repointing of the back wall of our house two weeks ago but, what with visitors and the rain, it wasn’t until this morning that I restarted the job. 3 hours later with a break for tea and I’m knackered so its good to have the excuse of writing this blog.

Its baffling how many UK ex-pats here in France who cite “immigrants” as the main reason to Brexit – they just don’t seem to see the irony – heads in the UK, bodies in France! Yes, next week, the UK will vote in or out of the EU (so strictly Brexit, is inaccurate since Britain excludes Northern Ireland but I guess UKexit doesn’t scan so well).

“Sovereignty and independence” is the cry of many Brexiters in an ex-pat newsgroup I have been reading. My response to one of these nationalistic idiots on the blog was: “I see your “sovereignty and independence” and raise you jingoism and isolation. I’ve seen the BNP in action and if such nationalism is being British I want none of it. Membership of the EU enables the whole continent to step away from the brink of nationalistic division, the curse of a millenium and more. I’m not (necessarily) British and proud of it, an accident of birth in an, albeit, beautiful country with a proud heritage does not make me want to circle the waggons against a hostile continent – I want to be part of the future, not a remnant of the past.”

In short I voted “In” by post.  The effect of a Brexit is unknown, despite the various claims. And there are bigots on both sides so I don’t feel much affinity with any of the arguments.  Working and paying tax in France, as we do, means that health care isn’t an issue (unlike those retirees relying on the EU reciprocal agreement), pensions are a separate non EU agreement. It’s residency really that is the issue, and whilst we might be able to stay, it might become much harder for us and even more so for retirees. If there is a mass return to the UK we won’t join it, the UK can float off into the Atlantic. The only problem will be the glut of UK owned property making it impossible to sell ours if we had to. Fingers crossed that it won’t be an issue.

Whatever… this time next week it will all be over and we can go back to enjoying a glass of sparkling wine in the sunshine.

Repointing and rain

Not like Paris though, rain that is. Not often that not being like Paris is a good thing. Its been waders and inflatable dinghies down the Champs Elyssées I read but not much here. Enough though to loosen tree roots, my favourite dog walk now involves clambering over two fallen trees. There have been some lovely days interspersing the grey rainy ones but not predicable enough – though we have eaten dinner outside a couple of times. Tonight I expect too, we’ll have the company of the cement mixer though since I have finally started the repointing. It’s a messy business, I have already broke the bearings on an angle grinder and we’re only a fraction into the work. I’m not up to chiselling the old mortar out and a cheap angle grinder costs less than a replacement bearing would. Delia thinks it might be a false economy but the cheap brand (Go/On it is called) has done me well enough for a belt sander and a SDS drill, its not as if I am a professional (builder that is).

Anyway, Friday saw the start of the repointing, on a test area in an easily accessible area. The squeezy thing I had to squirt the mortar into the gaps was a waste of time, either jamming up or the mortar was so slack that it didn’t hold its shape enough to fill the gaps properly. The protective goggles were not protective enough and I needed a small “hawk” to hold the mortar. The colour seemed too grey but lightens as it sets.

So a Saturday afternoon trip to Bricomarche to buy some extras. And “une filme moins fine que ca?” when holding a painting sheet but looking for a tarpaulin wasn’t enough to get an answer (it’s une bâche apparently). Lunettes de travail?. (work glasses) worked for lunettes de protection.  DIY terminology is somewhat specialised and difficult to look up so I am often playing charades in order to find a garden sieve or a luggage strap (I remembered that last one because its “sangle” which sounds like sangliers (wild boar). Oh how we laughed.

Our photo competition this month is “Exteriors” which seemed a bit vague but here’s  one of my entries which was a lovely garden in Bellac.

secret garden

Repointing and rain

Not like Paris though! Not often that that is a good thing. Its been waders and inflatable dinghies down the Champs Elyssées but not much here. Enough though to loosen tree roots, my favourite dog walk now involves clambering over two fallen trees. There have been some lovely days interspersing the grey rainy ones but not predicable enough – though we have eaten dinner outside a couple of times. Tonight I expect too, we’ll have the company of the cement mixer though since I have finally started the repointing. It’s a messy business, I have already broke the bearings on an angle grinder and we’re only a fraction into the work. I’m not up to chiselling the old mortar out and a cheap angle grinder costs less than a replacement bearing would. Delia thinks it might be a false economy but the cheap brand (Go/On it is called) has done me well enough for a belt sander and a SDS drill, its not as if I am a professional (builder that is).

Anyway, Friday saw the start of the repointing, on a test area in an easily accessible area. The squeezy thing I had to squirt the mortar into the gaps was a waste of time, either jamming up or the mortar was so slack that it didn’t hold its shape enough to fill the gaps properly. The protective goggles were not protective enough and I needed a small “hawk” to hold the mortar. The colour seemed too grey but lightens as it sets.

So a Saturday afternoon trip to Bricomarche to buy some extras. And “une filme moins fine que ca?” when holding a painting sheet but looking for a tarpaulin wasn’t enough to get an answer (it une bâche apparently). Lunettes de travail?. (work glasses) worked for lunettes de protection.  DIY terminology is somewhat specialised and difficult to look up so I am often playing charades in order to find a garden sieve or a luggage strap (I remembered that last one because its “sangle” which sounds like sangliers (wild boar). Oh how we laughed.

Our photo competition this month is “Exteriors” which seemed a bit vague but here’s  one of my entries which was a lovely garden in Bellac.

secret garden

 

Trompe l’oeil and Ostensions

I doubt you’ll have any idea about the title of this fortnight’s blog. Trompe l’oeil translates as “mistake of the eye” and it normally describes a two dimensional image appearing to be 3 dimensional, often on an outside wall or on a painted ceiling. We saw a few in Rome but now I am referring to a few I saw in Bellac on a photoclub field trip last Saturday. We met up with our sister club with whom we have a friendly photo competition each month but seldom meet face to face. We are few, their core members number scarcely more than our 6. I got them all to send some of their photos in to put on the web site (see here) but here are a couple of mine.

secret garden

Not a trompe l’oeil but a nice side track

cheval blanc-flat- in Bellac

We dined well at our second choice of restaurant, the first (le cheval blanc with its own trompe l’oeil). The weather wasn’t great though not raining. (unlike today which is a scorcher and Delia having gardened all day is looking very pink).

The Sunday after our Saturday field trip we went to see the Ostensions procession in Rochechouart. The entire town’s streets are covered in red and white bunting and paper flowers. The procession is an opportunity to dress up in costumes of various periods and celebrate the many many many Catholic saints. The Ostensions themselves happen all over Limousin for a couple of months each seven years. They celebrate the miraculous saving of the Limousin population from a scourge around the year 960ad. As far as I can determine the scourge was ergot infestation of their main cereal crop at the time…rye. So this would be associated with hallucinations (a la Jean d’Arc) and unlike Joan of Arc, death. I understand the miracle was eating something else, who’d have thought?

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I have to say after 45 minutes of assorted fancy dress (including couple of friends of ours) we decided to go home.

I had a call for someone to fix their computer. Not sure the impression of working from the kitchen gives but I guess I’ll know if I get repeat business. If I am to get more French clients though, my French needs to step up a notch. I established that they had an internet speed problem (in fact Chrome just needed reinstalling) and that sometimes it just stopped working and she didn’t know why. I fixed the former but the latter is a bit too vague, there might have been a bit more info but understanding perhaps 75% could mean I missed something. Though Delia says if I start talking computer she probably understands less than half what I say so it probably balances out.

 

 

Euromillions and Dexter

This past fortnight has been spent enjoying the company of my oldest son Philip, daughter in law Becca and especially my 15 month old grandson Dexter. The leadup to their arrival was spent dashing around calling in the offered loans of travel cot, car seat and high chair. We picked up a cot sheet at a fête nearby in Oradour sur Vayres. This was one of the first events when we really felt local, meeting up with so many friends and acquaintances. Siena was first to notice our previous puppy trainer but then we bumped into friends from our conversation group, the photo club and our current dog trainer.

Friday arrived and I was off to the airport to pick up the Bell family. I had messed up their b&b booking the previous night (booking on the day of the flight rather than prior), and somehow hadn’t booked the hold luggage but otherwise they survived my planning. In my defense I think Ryanair have a special forgetting mode, since I am sure I selected and paid for hold luggage, but I think I probably need a personal assistant (but since I am no 61 as of last Monday I can perhaps claim senior moments?).

We all spent a happy week visiting child focussed places we might not have otherwise seen: Saturday morning was spent at Thiviers giving our guests a good taste of a local marché. Sunday was sunny but with a cold wind. Our picnic at the mostly deserted Espace Hermeline in nearby Bussiere Galante was a bit frigid. Afterwards we walkA deserted Limoges and a nice bared around the lake and found the other side to be warm in the balmy sunshine and sheltered from the wind.Becca wanted to sample (some) patisseries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dexter amongst the daisies

 

 

Monday was my birthday and we enjoyed  a tasty menu du jour at l’Auberge des Tilleuls.Interspersed with these was a lot of time at home where Siena showed herself to be very fond of Dexter behaving mostly fairly calmly (albeit with a bit too much licking). She put up with having her bed usurped but balked a bit at being used as a train line for Dexter favourite toy train. She did particullarly take a fancy to his toy car and would often steal it away to the garden. Dexter also made good use of the dog flap and the two of them also liked to play either side of the flap pushing it back and forth.  She’s now looking somewhat bereft wondering where her lively exhausting friend has gone.

The annual Foire de Limoges was our Tuesday destination, a bit like a Royal Show but a lot smaller. Some interesting stands and a petting zoo which Dexter loved. Wednesday was a zoo proper where we (all, except Delia, at home slaving over a hot keyboard) spent a lovely but exhausting sunny day. The aquarium in central Limoges and some wandering around a quiet and mostly closed Limoges on Ascension day Thursday.

It had been a good and busy week, and I was sorry to see them off at the airport on Friday morning. It’s the most time I have spent with Phil for many years, since he was a teenager I guess, it was good to spend time with the great father and man he has become.  And to get to know Becca and see the wonderful and patient woman and mother that she is. Not forgetting of course the crazy, fun and happy little man that is Dexter.

As for euromillions? It was a €65M rollover this Friday evening and I was excited to get an email with a subject “ ☺ Vous avez gagné sur fdj.fr !”. I’m open to suggestions as to how to spend the 14.90€ I won.

 

 

 

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Here’s some of Becca’s iphone shots.

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Shiny rings and bluebells

Not sure if it reflected our marriage or not but our wedding rings had gotten worn, mine had a satin finish (which I thought was what it had always had but I was wrong) and Delia’s was actually going yellow. Neither of us realised how wear and tear would affect white gold. I had thought it was a compound of gold like 14 carat as opposed to 24 but no, it’s electro-plated with rhodium (not radium which would still be shiny but glow in the dark and kill us slowly). We finally took them into a jeweller to have them replated.   So, if the worn nature of our rings reflected our marriage in any way,  rings and marriage are now all shiny and new!

Tax return done.  All online and (with reference to last year’s) worryingly simple. This time there was yet another form to report our spend on eco stuff, ie our double glazing and replacement doors. Combined with our relatively low earnings (and being online) we immediately learned that we had a fair sized rebate (30% of the eco hardware) coming our way.  That being said, our replacement front door jammed the other day, we couldn’t get out. The back door was our friend. With a bit (lot) of rattling around I managed to get the door open and it seemed one of the angled catches wasn’t linking in with the door handle. So I removed the striker plate but it won’t lock now so we are now locking the outside porch door. The installer turned up promptly but he has to order a complete new lock fitting (the entire height of the door) and who knows how long that will take.

Most of the past fortnight I have been working on my business web site. I have been dabbling with advertising in a local ex-pat paper and decided to go for a 6 month package since  I don’t have my Open University work this year. I had dabbled with SEO (search engine optimisation – ie so google likes my sites). It used to be that you crammed special areas of the web site with repeated keywords but it’s a lot more clever now. Google that is. Not only does it require the content to be have accurate keywords but they also have myriads of minions who check sites visually and black mark those who are using underhand tactics. Essentially a web site has to have content that accurately reflects what it says on the label and that has to be fresh. Freshness is difficult for some of my clients who just want an extension to their business card but for me, it seems, a weekly blog post of 300 to 500 or so words, at the same time and day is necessary. My time being unpredictable I can write the blogs in advance and schedule them to be posted. Apparently Wednesday at 2pm is a good time. So if you are interested in random weekly computing musings you are welcome to visit web.patbell.co.uk/blog. I’m still working on its linkages to FaceBook and Google+ but there’s only so much of this social networking stuff I can handle – I mean I haven’t even got an iPhone!

Bluebells?  They’re out, below today’s photos of one of Siena’s favourite walks.

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Pub quiz and Outlook

We won another pub quiz on Thursday night, we went to a new social group and joined another couple for the quiz, but they now know our weakness – the sports round –  2 points out of ten.  We had hoped to be involved in groups with more of a French mix but 2 years in (our two year anniversary of moving into this house was last Monday) we felt a change in gear for socialisation was needed and this new group seems good.  Last Sunday my camera club met and the new voting system for photo’s was debated (average or total stars – one 5 star vote being equal to 5 one star votes – I don’t think so!).  Photoclubmeteorite.patbell.co.uk/competition is this month’s new one.

Picked up our serviced lawn mower (it had been in the shop for 4 weeks), I popped in on Wednesday and surprise… “Vendredi” they said, probably having been waiting for me to call in. It’s no surprise that places supplying farming equipment are full of mechanics who speak absolutely no English. Not a problem (just needed to remember that it’s la tondeuse for a mower) but amusing when one young lad pipes up “Friday” and they all applaud.

I must confess this fortnight has been dominated by one of my clients whose Outlook needed a minor reconfiguration because of a change I had made in my hosting (ie where I keep my web sites and email).  This should have been straightforward, I’ve done it dozens of times. The difference was that in this case the old email archive was huge and any changes seemed to freeze the computer  (when in fact it was just processing). In short it required a repair job that took literally days to process, mostly without my input but still 20 hours of hands-ontime for me. Its fixed now (or at least I think so) but the moral of the story is threefold – 1. Don’t keep lots of emails, but if you must, then at least split them into separate accounts for each year. 2. Backup!  I shouldn’t complain, its not as if I haven’t played IT support tag for most of this career, you know… touch someone’s computer and you’re it, in the sense that you’re the person who gets blamed when things go wrong sometimes weeks after. A good thing I enjoy solving problems, in fact its what motivates me to do this stuff for a job. The ransomware infection I fixed for someone else got me a lot of gratitude though, better than paying the £500 that had been demanded!

Waiting for the annual tax form to arrive, last year it never did and I emailed Santa about it – well, I might as well have for all the response that emailing the tax office got.  One can file online but one needs a number from the printed form… d’oh. It tends to arrive leaving only a few days to complete it or there’s a fine. Ah well at least they’ve put their guillotine away for now!

Here’s a couple of pics, my entries for this month’s competition “Tracks” . The first is at the start of the velorail with old cabooses from a post train (la poste in this case) and then other, coincidentally is a track from the same rail track but just where it turns into the Voie Vert – a lovely walking trail nearby.

la(st) poste Nature covering her tracks