SWEET, SWEET SUMMER
It’s really summer now. Hot days and no rain. The storms have ceased and the grass is baking, streams are slowing, cicadas buzzing and only butterflies and lizards dance through the scorching midday hours. The bright yellow maze of broom on the hillside has disappeared and been replaced by the scent of lavender growing at the foot of the hilltop chapel. The girls are covered with grazes and bruises from long days of bare legs and trips and falls. The quiet of the morning is disturbed only by the sound of bells as a herd of goats and sheep graze through the green areas and along the river banks that run through the village.
Earlier this summer the poplar trees shed their cotton-like seed tufts. Swirling snow storms of soft white silk catching the sunlight, caught by the outstretched hands of children, gathered to make beds for fairies or to delight in smoothing it gently across their faces. Days flow from one to the next: Hands stained purple with elderberries cooked up into syrups, wild plums foraged and gorged on, afternoons reading, racing in the shade, making... Conflicts over toys, sweaty irritability, sighs, "Mummy, I'm bored", "Mummy, I broke your cup", "Mummy, me want watch Peppa Pig". Summertime, rich and exhausting and perfect and endless.
The heat has led us to spend a lot of time by water; the streams for paddling, the river for wading and the lakes for swimming. The girls stay in the water, as deep as they dare go, until long after their lips have turned blue and then they return shivering to the shore. They hunt fish or crayfish and spot birds. Down by a woodland stream a snake slid over my bare toes and my heart beat fast for minutes afterwards. A week later in a pool under a waterfall the girls and I saw a snake swimming across the water in front of us, into the dark of the ruins of the mill. (Most snakes here are not dangerous with the exception of adders and aspic vipers and their presence has definitely provoked a lot of conversation about how to let the girls roam free but not take unnecessary risks).
In the woods Little and L and a friend found the remains of a dead blackbird. Just a mound of jet black feathers and its bright yellow beak. Neither had any hesitation in picking up the remains and coming up with ideas on how to reconstruct the bird. The yellow beak returned to our courtyard where I insisted it stay until insects had cleaned it up before it can find a home in the nature box… It sits outside next to an array of crayfish claws which are also prohibited from entering the house.
We’ve no big trips away this summer and instead are resolved to spend weekends away in the van as often as we can. Last weekend we visited Orlu, a nature reserve just over an hour from here. This was our second visit.
The steep sided mountains rise above each side of the valley, streaked with vertical cliff and woodland and grass. The cloud hung low, obscuring the peaks. We set the alarm for six am for an early morning trek to watch marmottes which are apparently active in the morning or evening, breaking for a siesta in the afternoons. The girls ate pain au chocolat still tucked under the duvet and Little I complained that she hated marmottes. The path follows the small river, climbing high towards the plateaus and eventually a mountain lake. Every so often on the valley sides cascading streams of white streak down to join the river. There is a lot of woodland, beech and moss covered rocks and finally open mountain meadow filled with cows, their bells chiming. On further and over the river a bank rises up, marked with dark burrows and sat, still at their entrances the lighter coloured marmottes. Occasionally one would scamper along a small path. We watched, with binoculars from afar. The girls were rewarded for their hard work hiking with sandwiches and squinted through their binoculars held the wrong way round. We watched two vultures fly above us, one landed on a cliff top where it sat, hunched, it’s white head dipping beneath its wings as it preened itself. We think they may have been Bearded Vultures, of which there is one breeding pair in Orlu. We couldn’t be sure, however.
This weekend the girls are away sleeping in the van overnight with Florent by the nearby lake. Sweet freedom and quiet much needed for me. I have been missing home a lot these past weeks. I think that the long English summer is calling me a little, the thought of friends and perfect coastline and pub gardens and city carnivals and chip shop chips on the beach sings to me from somewhere. It will have to wait, however. For another summer perhaps. For now I will remember to feel grateful for the perfect silhouetted mountain ranges on the horizon and the cool rivers to swim in and the street theatre festivals and cicadas song in the afternoon heat.
It feels for once as if progress has been steady on the house, I’m not sure why as I can’t think what big changes have happened. We have now replaced nearly all the windows and scaffolding covers the wall behind the house ready for the lime wash. Florent has made two beds (it’s hard to believe that we didn’t have a bed for two years…) out of elm and black locust bought from a local cabinet maker. The ‘ébéniste’ arrived here, twenty years ago from Brittany, he traveled down driving a horse drawn ‘roulotte’ or gypsy caravan with his wife and two young girls. A much more romantic way to arrive than our own arrival in the trusty old bus. It may be a frustratingly slow process, renovating this house, but the rewards of the slowness are the greater attention to detail, the time we have to ponder over decisions and opportunities we have to weave in more stories and history via the materials we use.
I have hundreds of terracota tiles to restore. They were used to create the partition walls and we have saved them to create a tiled floor on the ground floor. I have to visualise the beautiful brick red floor to motivate myself for the hours of chipping away at plaster that lies ahead…