It's a small thing, but it matters.
We live on an "island", an outcrop of sandstone that is surrounded by clay farmland, which slopes down to a stream. There is a walk along the edge of the stream because French farmers have to leave a "bande enherbée" of uncultivated land between their worked fields and water. This is supposed to reduce polluting runoff.
During our first years here, we were fortunate that Phillipe, who farmed the land that comes to the corner of our terrain also left a "bande enherbée" along the side of his field as well as the bottom, along the stream. He didn't have to, but he did and Tod kept it mowed using our old tractor. It meant that we could walk across our field, down the side of Phillipe's field to the stream at the bottom and then turn right along Monsieur F's field to the little bridge, cross over, walk back the other side of the stream to a grass covered culvert where we could cross again and do a nice round circuit taking about half an hour with no need to retrace our steps - something we and the dogs much prefer.
Sadly, Phillipe died and the new owner of the land lives some way away. We do not know him, apart from a brief conversation I had with him when I first saw him ploughing three (or is it four?) years back.
Phillipe's "bande enherbée" disappeared. The new owner farms right to the edge. There are moments in the year when it is possible to get down to the stream - immediately after harvesting if you don't mind fighting with the stubble and immediately after ploughing if you don't mind struggling across muddy furrows. Once the latest crop comes up - maize or sunflowers usually - things get trickier trying to walk on earth between the rows of young plants. Once they are past a certain size it becomes impossible. None of this is easy for the dogs - Bertie's pink delicate tummy gets scraped by stubble, Vita's rickety old back legs find no secure foothold in muddy furrows. So Tod regrets the loss of one of the small reasons why it's a pleasure to live here.
Phillippe's field (we still think of it as his) abuts our other farmer neighbour's land - Monsieur F. Gently, gently over the years we have become friends of a kind. Not perhaps the English neighbourly way of dinner parties and shared barbeques. No, our relationship is much more reserved. But he (with his large tractor) is there when we need help, like getting our car out of a ditch.
Monsieur F too farms wherever possible right to his boundaries. Yesterday, he was down in the field by the stream ploughing. I wandered down to the edge of the cottage lawn and waited for him to come trundling back up, making yet another line of furrows. He stopped, jumped down from the cab and we stood and chatted - too close for my English social distancing but far enough apart for him. We rarely see him or his wife so it was a chance to catch up - what sort of a year have they had? How is their gite doing? What will he plant next year? And I asked about his boundary - yes he would be ploughing right to the edge.
I relay this to Tod who then goes ... who knows where?
Later, the man in my life reappears. He has done something very brave - he's been to speak with Monsieur F. That is not easy for him. He speaks good French, but struggles to understand the reply, especially when said in the local accent. It's not easy, but this small thing matters to him. A lot. He's asked Monsieur F if he will leave a narrow strip at the edge of his field so that Tod and the dogs can resume their walks along the stream in comfort.
Yesterday afternoon Monsieur F does a final tour round the field with his tractor and plough. As he leaves, there, on the far side, is a two meter wide tract of green sward - a "bande enherbée", just for us.
Tod and the dogs walk it contentedly this morning. We will be giving Monsieur F some very good wine as a thank you.