National Geographic : 1966 Jun
830 The Loire leaps to life as a clear, cold spring beside a rocky volcanic peak in southeast France. A farmer at the foot of Gerbier de Jonc pipes the water into his barn, where thirsty tourists can say they caught France's longest river in a bottle (far right). Or have they? In a nearby pasture an inquisitive boy pushes aside the rough hewn planks sheltering a second spring, also claimed by its owner to be the mother of the Loire. A tactful government refuses to choose between them. Winner by a whisker: In holiday mood, boys race their pet goats through the village of Les Estables. In the high, open country of the Loire's headwaters, winter wise farmers conserve heat by sheltering flocks and families under the same roof. 829 KODACHROME(ABOVE)BY KENNETH MACLEISH; EKTACHROMESBY DEAN CONGER © N.G.S. yet softened by sophistication. The strong hold, as raw as the rock on which it stands, tops a cliff above the valley. .Young country, young culture. The great buildings of the headwaters are old in years but young in architectural evolution. Along the lavish lower Loire, evolved elegance is of a later date. And so the theme develops: As the river flows onward, scenery and civiliza tion mature together. In the village below the ruin I found a cheerful crone, and asked her if she knew anything of its history. She shook her head. "No one lives there to tell. But it's very old. It's been there all my life, and I'm very old." I climbed up to sit among the moss-bound stones that once were walls. Swallows darted around a topless turret. Far below, the river sighed down the valley. A fisherman stood motionless in midstream. The golden evening hummed with summer sound. To some local lordling of the upper Loire, watching from his battlements in the days be fore France was France and this region of Velay was part of it, the scene would have been much as I saw it now. But how had he lived, that other watcher, centuries dead? He lived in primitive austerity. A single big room in a square wood or stone keep was kitchen, bedroom, and living room all in one. A hearth, where meat turned on spits, warmed as best it could the chill hall. Daylight entered only through archers' slits. Torches flickered on walls where weapons hung.