Arsenic in my omelette? Animal instincts + French vocabulary you won't find in a textbook (like the slang word for concierge...)
Study the sentence below, then click on the following sound file to hear the French and English
On peut conduire un cheval à l'abreuvoir, mais non le forcer à boire. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
I was in our chicken pen, refilling the water bowl and collecting the "oeuf du jour" when I had an inspiration: Go over and flip the straw bale! that inner voice whispered.
"Come here, Edie," I said to my chicken and the two of us headed over to a knee-high botte de paille. Ready? Flip! And there, on the underside of the humid mass, the potato bugs were teeming! Dozens of them! What a feast my little hen would have!
"Go on Edie! Eat! Bon appétit!"
Edie approached the writhing wall of insects and cocked her head, left, right, left...and her pupils dilated as she moved in for a closer look. If you know chickens, you can picture my hen's jerking motions, which I feared would scare off the bugs. "Go on, Edie! before it's too late!" (If you know potato bugs, you'll recall their protective mechanism: these “roly polies” instantly curl in on themselves, making a repulsive hard shell barrier).
"Edie! What's the matter with you? Look at that live feast! A veritable bug buffet. "Eat, Edie, eat while you can!" But my chicken just stood there, her neck seesawing, her head jerking as her giant side eye followed the critters up and down the slithering wall. I had the urge to take her by the beak and lead her to the high protein lunch but the use of force would have been unkind, not to mention futile.
On peut conduire un cheval à l'abreuvoir, mais non le forcer à boire
It reminds me of the saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. (You can present somebody with an opportunity but you can't make them take it!) Clearly, Edie wasn't seizing this chance to swap out those bland pellets for some crunchy isopods!
Frustrated and disappointed, I left my cocotte to her own devices and went to check in on Mom, whose studio is across the driveway from the poulailler. Mom and a newly-groomed Smokey were in bed watching cat videos on Youtube.
Giving my best impersonation of a stubborn, wide-eyed, head-jerking chicken, I recounted the story of the Supreme Potato Bug Festin that Edie refused. Mom and Smokey were amused and when I was done flapping my wings and pecking at thin air it suddenly hit me, another kind of folly: we act the same before our own Beloved's gifts (whether that be God, a loving family member, or friend). We fail to recognize the goods being set down before us--whether food, advice, or care. We think we know better. We go and eat soggy, day-old pellets instead.
"See you later," I said to Mom and Smokey, leaving my beloveds and heading around the corner into the house for an afternoon nap. Before I fell to sleep I surfed the net and there is where I saw a serendipitous post from a permaculture site I follow. Can you believe they were talking about potato bugs? Quelle coïncidence! It turns out potato bugs or "cloportes" are excellent workers in the garden as they eat up heavy metals in the soil, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and plomb de la terre which are dangerous to humans.
La Sagesse de La Nature/Nature's Wisdom
Aha! If my hen turned her beak at my generous offering it was because her instincts were telling her Don't do it! Don't eat that!
Yikes! If she had eaten those metal-charged crustaceans, would I then have arsenic in my omelette? Lead in my Eggs Benedict? Francium in my frittata? Adding to the confusion, the internet says potato bugs are okay for hens to eat. What then, is the answer? If not to let my chick decide for herself, and trust her own animal instincts!
It all makes me think about the current times we are living in. So many of us are trying to lead our stubborn loved ones to the water. But we can't make them drink it! It is frustrating, unnerving, disappointing! As for me, I am glad my chicken did not drink the "water" I offered her. After all, what do I know? I would do better to entertain friends with my Jerky Hen Impression than to tell anyone what to do.
Bonne chance et bon courage. I'll be back next week with more French words. If you enjoy this letter, please share it with a friend.
P.S. Some trivia: did you know "cloporte", or potato bug, the subject of today's story, is also French slang for "caretaker"? Cloporte means "concierge" in French! It is fun to think we have hundreds of concierges in our garden :-)
P.S.S. Please consider following my Instagram account -- apart from the photos I post of our area in France, it is a good backup. Should this newsletter experience a glitch, you will always be informed of a new post via Instagram
un abreuvoir = trough, watering hole
l'oeuf du jour = egg of the day
la botte = bundle (also "boot", see post)
la paille = straw (paille expressions, here)
boire = to drink
le poulailler = henhouse, chicken coop
le festin = feast, banquette (see post here)
la cocotte = chick, chook, in French child speak (see "baby talk" post)
le plomb = lead
la terre = earth, soil
bonne chance = good luck
bon courage = be brave
amicalement = kind wishes
In front of Cousin Sabine's, a field of pink "sainfoin": a plant of the meadows which was formerly cultivated as fodder. Une plante des prairies qui était autrefois cultivée comme fourrage. Below, after one of Cousin Sabine's relatives hung it there decades ago, an old mailbox disappears into a venerable plane tree.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety