The hillside woodlands are still mostly bare of leaves. Patches of blossom betray the abundance of wild cherry, damson, hawthorns and blackthorns. Along the river the allotments are bursting with pastels; apple, cherry, plum, pear. Pathways are lined with the bright yellow of gorse, buttercups and dandelions. Wild orchids and cowslips grow on the edges of fields.
A dear friend from England visited for a few days and we showed off the slow life and she bore gracefully our sparse and makeshift home. We cycled, wandered and soaked in natural hot springs, warm water that flows miraculously from somewhere inside the earth and springs from a serrendipitous crack in the rocks.
We sat on the steps of the hilltop chapel that overlooks the village and watched the view, framed by the stone porch. Butterflies danced in pairs and a kite hovered. The burst of hot sun has accelerated the melt of snow on the mountains and the brightness of the blue sky seems too bold for early April.
We ate our first meal from the garden, or at least a meal garnished with early spring bounty: calendular and borage flowers and pea shoots. Little L took great pride in carrying home our harvest and presenting it to Florent.
I've written before about the loneliness I have felt in leaving familiarity, family and friends for what we are discovering here. There are still days, moments, moods which are tempered by a longing to be closer to those we love: From the simple things which we long to share with those living far away to the milestones in our lives, the arrival of new babies who we wish to meet and share in their fleeting babyhood. Now, however, there is also a gentle shifting toward us feeling 'at home' here.
I still feel the contrast between here and where we lived before, where we were constantly reassured by our likeness to the people around us and here it's harder to do this. However, I love the richness in the unexpected meetings with strangers and the new relationships which form slowly and without expectation with neighbours and others in the village. The village fabric is close knit and inhabitants of other, close by villages, ruefully smile at the conservative mentality that is prevelant here. Sometimes I find it infuriating and sometimes I realise the futility and arrogance of trying to rail against it.
We often pick up hitch hikers and there is something fascinating with these snapshots into strangers lives: A short journey shared, brief conversations, fleeting connections.
Lavelant to Foix: two polite teenage boys making their way home from a party early on a Saturday morning, sitting out an awkward forty five minutes on the front seat, hungover and glued to their phones.
Cahors to Souillac: an elderly woman making her way home from the market, sharing stories of 1968 when she was a student at the forefront of a cultural revolution.
Montbel to Mirepoix: a young man holding a staff, on his way to a Rainbow gathering, living the life of a New Age wanderer.
Dun to Pamiers: a prickly hippy who refused to wear a seat belt with her nervous dog at her feet.
Carcassone to Limoux: a man who spoke of the pyramids he'd built which channel solstice light into his chakra and the manual he'll forward to Florent, written without using the letters 'a' 'u' and 't'.
Quillan to Belcaire: a young woman from Paris working a nine to five job and sharing a home with ladies who've lived the streets of Paris and are now adjusting to life under a roof, bills to pay and a bed to sleep in.
The girls seem to be as buoyed by Spring as we are. Little L has spent hours playing the role of a nesting bird. A nest of all our cushions and pillows sits in the corner of the room and she sits there, incubating her 'eggs' while reading books. When she's distracted from her task and I cannot answer another of her thousands of 'why's I cruelly remind her that eggs need to be kept warm and she flutters back to the corner, tweeting and sits back down to her duties.
The courtyard is beginning to take shape. The most anticipated of all the renovation. It's a lot of masonry, creating raised beds and repairing the walls. Florent has used terracotta tiles which had been used previously as dividing walls inside, to line the tops of the walls adding an earthy red to the grey stone tones. I have seedlings and cuttings covering all available windowsills, ready, awaiting transplantation into the beds. While Florent builds the girls stand at the bathroom window calling out to him, offering encouragement or imaginary cups of coffee. Sometimes they join him outside to 'help' and Little I hurls stones around, much to the dissatisfaction of Little L who has a much more disciplined aproach to 'helping'.