The past 12 days have afforded plenty of time for reflection. Too much, no doubt. Nonetheless, beneath the negative emotions that most of us have been feeling, there are flickers of a deeper process at work: one of re-evaluating and realigning the mental compass. I felt this when we embarked on a walk to the regulation 1 km limit and back yesterday morning. We are restricted in where and for how long we can walk, but we are immensely lucky to be surrounded by glorious countryside that is bursting with the vitality of an early spring.
I took the camera with me, something I have never done before on a simple stroll down our lane.
Signs of Spring
We have had no rain for some time, and the mud has given way to dust. But the verges are adorned with the lushest, brightest grass I have ever seen in March, thanks to a wet but mild winter and the recent warm sunshine. Spires and spikes of yellow cowslips and mauve honesty stand out against the sharp green.
The trees are getting that greeny-brown fuzziness when the leaves start to unfurl. There’s a fresh smell of cut grass and rising sap.
Best of all are the sounds. We realise that there is no traffic noise, except for a distant tractor. Even in our country area, the sound of traffic and the whine of jet engines coming in to land in Toulouse are ever-present in normal times. The lack of these gives the air a resonant clarity. The spring birdsong is intensified.
A woodpecker calls in the woodland that borders the lane and drills its beak against a trunk in a mating tattoo. A hunting kestrel cries as its wings flash above us. And there are rustlings and scurryings at the roadside: lizards, interrupted while basking in the sun; or mice, anxious to avoid our giant feet.
We walk down the lane with the sun in our eyes, past fields that have put on a spurt in a matter of days. Past the grazing cows and along to the poubelles (dustbins), roughly the 1 km limit. From here you have a view across the valley to the water tower on the hill, just visible on the left. There is not a jet contrail to be seen. Normally, they criss-cross like some manic barn dance in the sky.
Next to the dustbins stands a headless cross. Its top has fallen off long ago, and the broken pieces of stone have sunk into the field behind it.
These wayside crosses are a common feature of our landscape. Some are simple and unadorned. Others are elaborately carved, like this phylloxera cross below near Saint-Igne, a few kilometres away. It was fashioned by a local mason in a vain attempt to ward off the phylloxera bug that devastated the French vineyards in the late 19th century.
We turn back at the poubelles and have a good view of the village of Parisot on its hill. The church spire is its highest point. You can also make out le château d’Astorguié on the slopes of the village on the right. This was uninhabited when we moved here, but it was bought and restored to its former glory.
It’s uphill on the way back, so we get something of a workout. I take a few snaps of the countryside. They never turn out as well as the reality, but it gives you an idea.
Our neighbours (300 m down the lane from our house) are taking breakfast in the sun. We stop to exchange a few words, keeping a safe distance apart. We all agree that we are fortunate to live in a place like this.
The reality of the situation doesn’t hit you until you take the car on the empty roads in pursuit of one of the restricted reasons for going out. In the shops, we do a sort of ritual dance to avoid getting too close to other people and breathe a sigh of relief when we get home, pull up the drawbridge and try to pretend that the world hasn’t turned upside down.
Appreciating the simple pleasures has become more important than ever.
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