Day 17 Lockdown in France

The forest after a rain always has a magical quality to it. Steams that rise from the ground envelop my dog as she runs forward to meet a friend. As I stop to chat with the other dog’s owner, the dogs play, jump, skip in the air, completely oblivious to everything around, happy to roll in the mud, happy to play chase, happy to meet. After a brief playtime, my dog runs back to me, panting, her tongue hanging out, her eyes shining and runs on ahead. I know where she is headed, to jump into the cold stream that gushes down the side of the hill. I hear the splash and see her jump around a bit and then run up the hill, wet and with a wagging tail expectedly looking at me, wasn’t that fun. I walk on, along the hillside, with the stream in the gorge on my left and the rising hillside on my right. Do you see the tiny sparkles of periwinkle and how they shine through the dark leaves running all along the sides, first on the right cascading down and then on the left almost flowing down to the water? Star-like beauties, they lighten up the mossy cracks of the wall that runs on the right, built years ago when this path was used for crossing probably avoiding the vineyards and forest which has now given way to the village. The branches on both the sides are lichen-rich, the greenish white crusts camouflaging the dark woody stems below. And everywhere the bright fresh green bursting forth, be it the oak, the elm or the very ancient strawberry tree. What delight there is to see so much of brightness after a quiet and subdued winter. Winters here are not harsh, there is frost but not much and many of the trees, like the majestic cypress or the pines, of course, do not shed. But here in the valley where it is a bit damper and cooler than the more exposed top of the hills, deciduous trees and shrubs reign. And right now, after the rain there are tiny droplets hanging from the lips of the leaves, all ready to fall to the ground. While they remain there gracefully poised between heaven and earth, the light shines through and they twinkle like jewels. The stones below my feet are similarly wet and slippery, lichens growing around little pools that have formed between crevices. 

At the point where the path bends away from the stream a new bed of boulders appears. My dog sniffs around before jumping up the rocks to the other side and I navigate my way across the slippery stones to cross to the other side. The hill side as seen from here seems immense and the trees that grow send down long windy roots, which have been conveniently used by dark green ivy to climb up, such that the entire scenery here looks primordial. There is something very ancient about this place. It is hushed, the stream is now a faraway gurgling entity, the birds seem quieter and even my dog knows that these are secret terrains and runs ahead softly, her paws hardly touching the ground. The canopy grows far above me, covering the sky at this point with dark green lushness. I climb up, jumping, skipping over the boulders until I reach a path on the top. Here, a small canal leads the water down from the mountains to the village. Originally built years ago to water the vineyards, the water is now used for the numerous vegetable gardens dotted along the canal. In the hot and dry summer, these water ways are a refreshing welcome. We walk along the canal towards the top the hill and climb again, this time leaving the damp valley below and going on a path that winds upwards towards light. The trees are wider spread here, different from the dense growth below. Tiny delicate violets dot the path to the left where the canal turns to vanish in another direction. I keep climbing and reach a small plateau of green grass with small white daisies. They have wisely shut themselves to the rain and will eventually open when the sun’s tickling rays touch them. I turn right and continue the climb, the trees now giving way to shrubs.

Rows of broom with yellow flowers and white flowering erica run along the sides of the red and yellow path as it winds its way up. See those pretty topped lavender bushes, their smaller petals sitting like crowns on top? Even after the rain and in the cooler morning air, they give off their typical spicy smell, but that could also be from the twisted branches of rosemary or even the cistus bushes that have just begun to sprout fat buds. The path here becomes narrow and as I brush against the bushes my jacket collecting the rain drops from the spiky leaves, the perfume now is only a hint of what is to come when the air becomes hotter and lighter. With the next bend around the hill, the plains of Roussillon open up in front and I can see the distant Corbières mountains as they rise pale blue and ghost-like against a grey sky. And towards the right where the horizon flattens off to a large sheet of whitish grey expanse, is the sea. I halt for a while to gaze towards the place where water and sky meet. Soon, as the weather warms up, the sand will turn yellow once more and the sea will sparkle below a blue cloudless sky.

My dog runs ahead towards the pine forest. These gentle giants of the hillside also have their own perfume, which I love on hot summer days. Now, they stand still, for today there is no wind that rustles their tops. While the tops are green, many of the older branches towards the ground have died. I collect one from the ground and send it flying through the air with my dog running behind it until she picks it up and runs back to me, only to playfully run away. This part of the pine forest winds its way down all along the hillside towards the street and we begin our descent. The paths to do go down are numerous, no doubt caused by other dogs, or wild boar or even rainwater in winter. They are stony and full of roots protruding up at various places catching the incautious walker and sending them stumbling down. So, watch where you step! We scoot, slide until we reach the bottom of the hill, leaving the pine forest behind us and walk back home along the footpath at the side of the road.

And just now, while taking off my jacket I remove a small head of purple lavender that got stuck at the side. As always, I carried a part of the forest back home with me.

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