Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Our first excursion to the Padule di Fucecchio begs a return visit

Where would I rather be--the library or here? 
Tuesday was a spectacularly clear day in the Valdinievole. Sometimes a haze hangs stubbornly in the plains below us—exhaust from the paper mills and the burning of olive branches, most likely—and we see Lucca and the hills and mountains only indistinctly. Other times, the air is crystal clear. It was nearing 75 degrees F. outside, and yet, there I was, sitting in the library in Ponte Buggianese, researching the Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio for a blog entry.

Looking at a map, I realized I was only a few miles from the northern edge of the Padule. Suddenly, it occurred to me: I have never actually been in the Padule. Why should I be in the library researching when I could be studying the very place where the slaughter had occurred? Days like this in late October are rare, even in Tuscany.
Birch trees on the edge of the Padule di Fucecchio. All photos by Paul and Lucy Spadoni

Three barchini
I hopped into our rented Fiat 500 and drove past Anchione and turned east. Soon I was bouncing along a dirt road which grew progressively more primitive. I passed an orderly copse of birch trees, and soon I was driving on a clay road next to a wide ditch. There had been no signs, but undoubtedly this was the Padule. I parked and walked along the grassy shore of the muddy canal. Herons and other birds flew by, some singing songs I had never heard before. I startled two bullfrogs on the opposite bank, and they splashed into the slow moving water, gave a few powerful kicks and then submerged. The swamp was alive with water bugs. I found three boats tied up to the shore, one almost half filled with water and attached by a rusty chain. The other two looked swamp-worthy and had long bamboo poles in them for propulsion and navigation.
Tall grass with large tassels on top make good hiding places for wildlife.

Trails led off in two different directions, imploring me to explore them—but I couldn’t. I felt this experience had to be shared, so I drove home and told Lucy. I knew she had plans for the day. She is working on two quilts she’s making for children we support in Africa, and she also has to finish a novel we’re reading for the English book club in Lucca. We are only here for another few days. Never mind all that, she said, after I told her of my discovery—apparently, my powers of seduction are irresistible.

Lucy finds a duck blind and captures
one of the duck decoys.
Camera in hand, we returned and followed both trails through the tall grass and along the shores of canals. We found more boats—I later read that they are special canal boats called barchini—a few abandoned cabins, some duck blinds used by hunters, and many ducks—both real and decoys. We saw a pond in the distance, and I crept up slowly so I could get a photo without scaring away the waterfowl. I must have been very stealthy, because none of the 20 or so ducks even looked my way—and that’s when I realized they were all decoys, set out by hunters. We did later see real ducks, however.
The ducks on this pond were not at all scared of me. I could have waded right in and picked them up, I think.

The thick grass around us prevented us from seeing very far; it was at least 10 feet tall in places. But wait, why was the grass moving over there? We could hear rustling and see the
An abandoned cabin
grass being disturbed about 20 feet away. Herons nesting, perhaps? Wild boar rooting? Deer eating? I might have heard a snort, like that of a deer or boar, but it might have been something else. The rustling stopped and started several times, but after five minutes, it ceased entirely. I grew tired of waiting and we moved on.

Both trails eventually dead-ended, so we went back to the car and tried a different road. This time we found a park, the Casin di Lillo, on the edge of the Padule. It has a public boat launch, places to sit and more trails. We found a cabin with a
More barchini at the Casin di Lillo park.
memorial plaque attached; this was the place a man and his son had been shot down by German soldiers during World War 2. For now, we were the only humans there, although before we left, a man rode up on a bicycle. Many more barchini 
were chained up. Possibly during the summer months, the boats are available for public use. Someday we’ll return to find out—and explore those other trails as well. As of yet, we’ve seen only a few of the 50,000 acres of the Padule and only a half dozen of the nearly 200 bird species present. This is definitely a place deserving to be revisited.

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