Le Prénom + French Dog and Cat Names for your pet
What is “Sobriété Énergétique”? + How to warm up in winter (with la bouillotte)

Bois, Kindling, or Tinder in French + A Fun and Free Activity while walking

Pointu wooden boat christmas lightsWooden boats all dressed up for the holidays. More about le bois in today's story. Enjoy French delicacies? Don't miss the sweet column at the end of the edition. If today's word is too easy for you, find some more advanced terms in the story below. 

TODAY'S WORD: le bois

    : wood

AUDIO: Listen to all the French words in today's story by clicking on the sound file below. Then scroll to the vocabulary section and check your comprehension.

Sound file for the French words

by Kristi Espinasse

If it's wintertime where you live and you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, maybe you have discovered the joy of collecting sticks? I talked last week about our morning promenades, and today I'll share one of the multi-purpose benefits of la marche--because besides being good for the mind and body walking is good for treasure-hunting. More about that in a minute. First, some history for the wood-related term "stere," from Wikipedia:

"The name was coined from the Greek stereós, "solid", in 1795 in France as a metric analogue to the cord. The unit was introduced to remove regional disparities of this former unit, for which the length could vary greatly from 6 to 13.5 m. It is not part of the modern metric system and is no longer a legal unit in France, but remains used in the commerce of firewood."

En hiver, a stère of wood is a treasure, especially when you have gone to collect the logs and stack them yourself. Jean-Marc drove to Aubagne recently, to a wood yard, where the two of us filled the back of our jeep with logs. It was amusing driving up onto the vehicle-size scale to weigh our car and then weigh it again after we filled it with le bois. I wish I'd brought gloves for protection, but we managed to pile a bunch of le chêne into our bagnole. After driving back onto the scale to weigh our load, a giant digital screen registered 190 kilos. The next step was to park in front of a trailer (inside of which a secretary was tallying up our purchase). The total price? 50 euros.

Returning home to stack les bûches beside our front door, I was surprised at how little 190 kilos amounted to once we stood back to admire our (short) wood stack! Ah well. The upside about helping my husband with the firewood--and learning to build a fire--is how it has opened my eyes to all the wood treasures out there. I can hardly wait to get out of bed each morning and take off in search of sticks!

It is amazing how much kindling can be found in our neighborhood here in town. This isn't the woody countryside. And yet, each morning I'm delighted to find small branches and hearty twigs here and there along le trottoir. It must be the wind blowing everything around at night. Trees lose their flimsy limbs, delivery trucks leave behind morcels of crates (or entire cageots), and beautiful pine cones salt and pepper the ground all around! 

In the beginning, before wood-collecting became our winter sport (it involves lots of lunging and bending), Jean-Marc and I would return home with a few sticks each, but as our outings continued, so did my appetite for kindling. Now we carry a bag (Jules' suggestion) and often manage to fill it.

Jean-Marc doesn't have the same enthusiasm for our firewood findings. He won't shout "LOOK AT THIS ONE!!” each time a thick stick is discovered. But he is a willing and faithful accomplice. (And just this morning he did finally shout “LOOK AT THIS ONE!!” if only to humor me. Or maybe he is finally feeling the joy in it? In nature's equivalent of dumpster diving!

Across the street from where the trucks deliver to the local eateries, there's the beach--another good place to treasure hunt. I have had my eye on an 8ft long log that washed up to shore a month ago. But pride keeps me from waking my husband and stealing out into the night with a giant saw. What if someone noticed us? Besides, there must be laws against collecting wood in certain areas. But picking up smaller pieces of driftwood seems to be ok....

When I feel self-conscious about how the two of us look walking home with armloads of sticks each day, I make a joke of it: "Our neighbors are going to start referring to us as Monsieur et Madame Bois or Monsieur et Madame Bâton..." Thankfully the older you get the less you care! How do you say that in French? Because I'm going to carve it on one of my bâtons!

Madame baton
Madame Bâton. The bag is practical (and helps with discretion).


When we return from our walk, I like to set all the wood along the stone stairs, where the sun helps to bake them dry. Stepping back to admire the short and tall bâtons, I see more than a lineup of sticks: I see so many funny characters.  

Free tinder or kindling in the city does have its downside (if some of you are smiling now, you have already figured out what took me weeks to understand: we have lots of dogs in town, and they only have one place to pee—on the ground, near...or on...these wood treasures). But even that won't stop me from picking up sticks. I'm too obsessed. (Lately, I wear gloves, when I remember to bring them.) More than an obsession, I like to think that, like the resourceful ant, we are building, day by day, a useful reserve for our family. And sitting here typing this story next to the fire, in a warm room, feels cozy and good!

*    *    *
P.S.: To be clear, none of the sticks I've picked up are smelly. No good dog would pee on a stick (would it?). Sticks are for tossing and chasing! And sticks are for hunting and heating. Tell me, what do you do with your picked-up sticks? Do you make art with driftwood? Let us know in the comments.

Smokey and his stick
Smokey, and his stick of the day. Dog heaven must be teeming with sticks.

Driftwood along French beach
Sticks and wood collected on the beach--there's even a half-burnt log (score!), and a lot of driftwood.

This wild, woody pile was a gift from our son Max. Can you guess what it is? Hint: it comes from a vineyard and is excellent firewood for the BBQ. Answer: These are "les sarments" or woody vine shoots. Skip to the photo below for a French dessert or sweet of the same name....


la marche = walking
un stère = stere of wood
en hiver = in winter
le chêne = oak
le bois = wood
la bagnole = (slang) car
une bûche = log
le trottoir = sidewalk
le cageot = crate
le bâton = stick
le sarment = vine shoot
la friandise = candy, sweet

Les sarments orangettes chocolat candy
Sweet of the Week, No. 1: Les Sarments. (Popularly known as "orangettes.") These chocolate orange “shoots” (sarments = that part of the grapevine that is pruned in winter) are made up of a piece of candied orange peel and dark chocolate.

Chez gerard patisserie la ciotat
This time of year you’ll see these candies drying behind the counter of our local pâtisserie, where my son Max picked up a few hundred grams of the delicacy for a recent Sunday lunch.

Sarments are a Christmas specialty and a favorite friandise to savor with coffee or tea. To be extra decadent have them with hot chocolate.
Parasol pine cones
Sunset over the shipyard in La Ciotat, and a parasol pine tree about to release more cones. May you find many treasures in your day. See you next week and thank you for reading.

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Diane Heinecke

Thank you! You always teach me something new. I know nothing about wood, but one of my favorite friandises has always been "les sarments." Yum.

Leslie(Falls Church)

For some reason, I woke up early and decided to restart a fire I'd made last night rather than turn on the heat. It was still dark when I went out to grab kindling(a bunch of twigs I'd found in my mom's yard). It's supposed to rain most of the day here in Virginia.
Nature is bountiful. I love your success in bringing so much home!


I have a woodstove, that's sadly rarely used. When it's rainy or overcast, the smoke draws into the house, not out. On clear days, though, I can have a raging fire in it. One can make doll furniture out of those sticks, if you've a mind to it. Your treasure hunting reminds me of a Vlog I follow on Youtube, Nicola White, is a mudlarker on the River Thames in London. She finds fascinating stuff almost daily.

Nancy Stilwagen

The wild, woody pile from Max can also be a home for the tiny critters that struggle so hard to survive these days. Mary Reynolds, author, has recently released a book about restoring nature: We Are The ARK. Very enlightening about the world around us.


Someone in our house is so decadent that if there are (very infrequently, usually a special gift) "sarments" in our house, she might sneak one even with breakfast. That person, who shall remain nameless, loves "sarments" with a passion that
surpasses the need for coffee or tea or an excuse.
Thank you, Kristin, for keeping it interesting and informative, but mostly for a transparent snapshot* of your life as a transplant in one of the loveliest spots anywhere.

*snapshot: a word pretty much left in the dust of the twentieth century

Suzanne Dunaway

Plus on vieillit plus on s’en fiche (ou fou)…
At least this is what Don thinks will work out if you’re looking for a phrase!


Hi Kristi,
Thank you and I just love the smell of a wood burning fireplace! We have gas logs now and it looks real but there is no smell or smoke. I do miss the crackling sound too!
I love the photo of the boats all lit up with the twinkling lights!
I wonder if you could snap a photo of the La Ciotat Christmas Market? I would so love to see it!
Merci beaucoup!

Kristin Espinasse

Merci Don et Suzanne! 👌🏻

Kristin Espinasse

Haha, Susie. Sarments, in such moderation, are a great way to start the day!

Barbara Hecker

Fifty-some years ago I lived in Provence for ten months, including a Christmas season. I was charmed by the Santons de Noël displayed in every home. I purchased a 12" set of Mr et Mme Ramasseur de bâtons or fagotier/fagotière (personne qui met le bois en fagots.) The Santons proudly graced my mother's dresser while she was alive. Once she passed, they came to live on mine. I regard them still with pride and gratitude for that time period which brought me so many blessings. Not to mention lessons of a humble work ethic - that of gathering sticks.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Barbara, for sharing Mr. et Mme Ramasseur de Bâtons with us, for the lovely story of the santons, and for the extra vocabulary fagotier/fagotières, un fagot being a bundle of sticks. If you do not mind, I am going to rechristen our morning walking/gathering duo Mr. et Mme Ramasseurs de Bâtons. It is very sweet. 


Hi Kristi,
thank you so much for les sarments! Though we lived in France in wine growing village and regularly collected the big vine stumps for our fire and our bbq, we never knew the winter pruning were called sarments, though I aways picked them up for kindling. Like you, I was a small stick gatherer, conscious of every small addition to my winter fuel pile! No stick was safe with me! Likewise with every beach trip...I'd always bring back a few bits of driftwood, which decorated the terrasse until dried, ready for the poele.
Actually, I have 2 new words to thank you for, since sarments can be used for the scrumptious sweets which we always referred to as orangettes! So many good things to eat in France during winter - I love the Corsican clementines which arrive in the shops in little wooden crates, in time for Christmas. Sadly we are stuck in UK for 2 years but we did visit a northern French Christmas market at the weekend and I found a few Corsican clementines - I brought a few back to eat - what a treat. I have saved the last one for today and will think of the beautiful south when I taste it. I do miss all things southern France but am l glad of your reminders in the blog, so thank you for that!
Bon hiver et bon continuation avec les sarments!


Very interesting read about un stère du bois. I had not known where the word originated but realized somewhere in my past I have used the word and understood it’s meaning.

Also, would love to try making “les sarments”. Would one just prepare the orange peel as if one were making candied peel (as in an ingredient for a fruit cake)?


PS…would love a blog article on Santons (after living six years in Vaucluse).

Kristin Espinasse

Lorraine, We love the Corsican clementines too, and are always eating them on winter. After, we save the thin peels and set them in a long, deep baking dish over the radiator. When dried, they are supposed to make great fire starter, because of the oils in the skin. 

Suzanne in NJ

Merici! Les Sarments ... I have a package of them that I bought in Paris at Comptoir Richard last May but I didn't know the significance of the name. I love picking up kindling and pine cones in the winter. The pine cones are wonderful fire starters. Enjoy the winter walks and the coziness of your home this winter ... a time of reflection.

Susan Vogt

Check out the Youtube channel "Becorn" A former Lego designer is now making woodland creatures out of acorns and sticks and posing them with live critters in the outdoors. Enchanting.

Janine Cortell

I have a large collection of santons both large and small. I have a ramasseur de bois(un monsieur).He is so lovely dressed in a Provençal outfit and hat.
I love all things wood. The ceilings in my house are wood and at one time I owned a wooden boat.
I live in the woods. I see deer, raccoons, and beautiful birds. I do have a wood stove. Yes, wood is a big part of my life.
I would love to send you a photo of my santons.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks Janine. Please send. 


Bonjour, Kristi ,
I love your photo of the boats dressed for the winter holidays! Here on the Monterey Peninsula in California, we have a lighted boat parade in early December if the weather and the tides permit. The event brings people to the wharf for hot bouillabaisse, hot drinks, and a spot to view the spectacle. It’s amazing to me how the boat captains can navigate so well at night!


In Canada we have abundant natural gas that's reliable and the most environmentally friendly way to heat our homes. We only use wood for outdoor fires when we camp.

Wish we could send our European allies some of our natural gas, but alas! Our governments are not fluent in energy literacy, unfortunately...


Hi Kristi,
I love to collect driftwood. I have some at the top of my manmade waterfall. I used others in a display I put up for our church. I feel guilty about taking them, but I can’t help myself when they are so lovely and will have a good home. I have one which looks like a propeller of an airplane. Remember those prop planes from days of yesteryear?
I love to sit by a fire place and listen to the crackling of the wood and warmth of the fire. Thank you for a body and heart warming story.
Peace, Kathleen

Carolyn Chase

I confess sticks have been less interesting to me (I've nothing to do with them if I did bring them home) but I can't walk past nuts (acorns and horse chestnuts) and cones of the various evergreens around. Also there are some fascinating seed pods in long twisty shapes.


Long ago in the mid '60s I began my teaching career: French 1 to middle schoolers! A pamphlet I received and shared with my students revealed many French Christmas traditions, including the charming displays of santons. A decade later while shopping in a boutique I encountered the sweet figurines produced by Marcel Carbonel, and my collection began. Now I have well over 100 santons in the 7 mm size as well as several doll size santons dressed in provençal fabrics. They reside year-round in two curio cabinets in my bedroom. A 2002 visit to the foîre aux santons and the Carbonel atelier in Marseille were the highlights of my travels. My love affair with all things French endures and is affirmed with each glimpse of my santons. Joyeux Noël, Kristi!

Frances in Napa, CA USA

I love how you enjoy finding those sticks as you walk - finding beauty in what to others are just sticks on the ground. Sarments du Medoc are one of my favorite things - there is an online US vendor of French things who sells them, and I always have some in my cupboard.

Ron Cann

I have the good fortune to have moved to a rural area (Valley Center) just northeast of San Diego about 1 year ago. We have a couple fireplaces and are somewhat in the middle of an area of old oak trees - maybe 150 years old or so. Having lived in a rural area many years ago, I have a couple chainsaws and have been cutting down dead oaks and splitting them into firewood. I love starting fires in the fireplace and tend to keep the fire going all day long (I'm retired now). Part of everyday involves splitting logs and moving them outside our family room in order to access them for the fireplace. Plenty of small branches for kindling and I also have spent time walking around our two acre lot collecting them. Your story made me smile and respect your similar interest in burning wood in a fireplace for the warmth and beauty of a crackling blaze on the hearth.

Lore/Ekphrastic Mama

I love this and now understand the difference between the words for forest and woods... I collected driftwood for years and then fashioned it into a life size giraffe (with some help from the hub). It taught me to trust my creative process. Keep gathering and sharing please.

Kristin Espinasse

Ron, Sounds like an ideal place to live and a great way to get exercise and supplies for heating. In France electricity, and power in general, is very expensive right now and the government pushing for less consumption. Many dream of moving to the countryside to be more self-sufficient.

Augusta Elmwood

What a wonderful way to recycle, to pick up after the trees, and to keep your lovely city a little bit cleaner. You are doing your part to save the environment!
I have a fireplace and never hesitate to pull over and throw a load of logs that someone has piled on the curb, into the trunk of my car. Don't feel too proud,and don't be ashamed. Think of the money you're saving and how toasty warm & welcoming your place will be with a roaring fireplace!
Bisous et joyeux Noël !!


We do the same! Have a little tin bucket for storing them in by the fireside - we've become paisans, too!!! I so miss France and out little house in the south but we are stuck in UK for 2 years due to Brexit consequences, for further education of our son, so we have little opportunity to get back to our real home any time soon. However, reading about your life in the south of France makes me feel I am keeping a bit of myself there still. Thank you for your blog. Et Bon Continuation! Lorraine and family.


Sadly it doesn't help the environment as all the carbon absorbed by the wood is released in one go. In the UK air pollution from wood burning exceeds that from road vehicles and is a major cause of ill health, causing 40,000 deaths a year. Is there any awareness about this in France Kristi? We have a campaigning organisation here: https://www.mumsforlungs.org/our-campaigns/wood-burning

I can totally relate to the stick collecting though! I can't help but collect sticks for when we're camping with no other source of heat, the days after the storms are best. In our local woodland a wildlife group have also created log piles for critters to shelter, helping biodiversity loss.

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