The month of November. Morning frosts on roof tops and along the length of the riverbanks. The sun lies low in the sky in the afternoons, just about warm, but never quite chasing the cold from the shade.

Little I and I have been taking morning walks together after dropping Little L at school. We walk down to the old railway path and follow it to the river. We spot the ducks paddling against the current and, sometimes, a heron, flying low and then up over the treetops. We crunch through the frost until her hands feel the chill and she remembers the 'bou-yan-gy' (or boulangerie) where some days we buy a croissant to share along with our usual bread.

Under the weeping willows by the lake the fine branches reach almost to the ground. Little I takes them in her hands and swings them, to and fro. The willow's last golden leaves flutter down around her and then she clamours for a bullrush to pull off the fine down and spread it around her.

I've sat down to write outside and now Little I is sat next to me on my duffle coat. She's eating nuts and scribbling on paper, uncharacteristically calm and still. She remarks on the sound of bells chiming around the necks of distant sheep on the hillside then continues her drawing, this time inking the palm of her left hand.

Three doors up the street from us, a house with sky blue shutters sits on the corner. This has been the second home to a couple in their eighties from America for the past twenty years. They sold the house this summer and left for home, for the final time, at the beginning of this month. Their departure has left such an empty space behind them. Since we had met, the summer before last, there had evolved such a friendship between the lady and Little L. It was a relationship that consisted largely of Little L composing drawing after drawing and painting after painting for her, and the lady generously complimenting her on each one. Despite the repetition this seemed to be the foundation of a real friendship and the eighty years between them was of no consequence. Since first meeting them I had been completely in awe of their energy and appetite for travel and adventure. They would share endless recomendations for places to lunch in villages near and far that they had invariably cycled to and I would thank them and think how we really would love to go, if we had more money and less children and indeed could cycle as far as they could ! I was humbled by a couple who, more than half a century older than me, were persisting in their efforts to learn French and to explore another culture. After they left, I couldn't pass their house without a lump in my throat or tears welling up. There had been something so final in our goodbyes and I felt like I hadn't really let them know how much I had appreciated the time we spent together and how inspired I am by their quiet life of adventure.

We hiked up to a hot spring (one of my favourite things to do; I just can't ever quite believe that the earth offers us this hot water for a bath in the middle of some woods or on a mountainside).We've spent as much time as possible outdoors before winter chases us inside. The girls have collected enough leaves, conkers, sticks and pine cones to fill the house with. Each time we discover a new path or village or riverbank we can't quite believe the richness of what is around us. For all the sacrifices of having moved so far from friends and family this is what fills us up again and offers something so sustaining.
Mérens les vals



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