Bikes, Bones and Les Bonnes Randonees

The weeks are passing at a surprising speed here in La Fouillade. It rained yesterday and Lark and I did our first baking experiment. Not so good. No measuring cups, oddly shaped pans and the metric system conspired to make a very strange cake! Amusing though until Larken got frustrated and started throwing lemon juice and sugar soaked apples all over the kitchen. This is cooking with a toddler! She loves the part where you lick the batter off of various utensils though. For some reason she didn’t want to clean up the floor.

Matthew was in Zurich this week, speaking at a conference on Impact Investing and meeting fabulous, interesting people. I decided not to take Larken as I feel like she is still adjusting to our move to France. So, she and I stayed here. We’ve had some lovely walks, all close to home. Friday, we spend 2 hours walking along our small road, through the farms and fields. We found mint growing wild and picked handfuls, chatted with the pony, of course, who whinnied back this time and met the grandmother who lives with her son Rene, the farmer above us. She was taking her daily promenade with Rene’s wife and had lots to say about our mint and Larken’s cuteness. We discussed the weather in very simple French and then continued on our way. I hope we getto see her often!

One hike I took before Matthew left was particularly unique. We have seen lots of maps of “Les Randonees” around the towns close to us. We live above the River Aveyron and the riverbed, while gentle in places, is the site of a series of gorges that tower over it in some areas. It’s truly stunning with white and grey stone cliffs at times to 300 feet over the river. Some of the bridges are incredibly high and narrow. Others are ancient stone bridges that barely allow a small car to cross just above the water. Clearly the access points for these villages for hundreds of years. Farms and villages perch above the river in forested hills. A feeling of timelessness often pervades these views. Until this one hike that is!

I started almost down at the river on a track that traversed the hillside in a gentle rolling path. Lovely running with views through the trees of villages across the river. It was a bit short though, so I ran back and then climbed up a ladder that gets you 20’ up a section of rock and leads to a trail. It’s quite steep, so I wasn’t really running and the views were just getting better, so I stopped to take it all in quite frequently. Then I saw the vacuum cleaner, leaning against a tree as if waiting to be used, but maybe 10 years ago. I laughed and continued and then saw a bicycle… hung from a tree. And then another and then cow bones strewn down the trail. Then pots and pans and wheels, a phone, more bikes, more bones. All arrayed fairly aesthetically along the trail. Clearly someone’s amusement and certainly mine! I photographed a few of them for you to see. They’ve been there so long that they are entwined with the flora of the hillside.

We went to the townof Monteils to explore another system of trails as well. The trailhead is directly above a convent. Monteils is quite lovely and the convent looks to account for about half of the population. The nuns have extensive gardens for growing food, contemplation and apparently, keeping feral cats. When we arrived, the call to vespers was ringing through the town. Beautiful bells! We brought the chariot (our all terrain buggy for Lark) so I could push her and Matthew could run and see what the trails offered. The beginning was super steep, but then you find yourself on a ridge rolling through old farms and forest. One building along the way had clearly been abandoned for some time. It was built of stacked stone, of course. The structures made this way have remarkable integrity. It’s clear that they will last for centuries. Lark and I crouched inside and pretended to cook dinner on the old hearth. A pretty dark and smoky experience.

The trail was an old cart path with ancient walls along side for much of it. They are slowly dismantling themselves and moss and plants have displaced the stones, but you have a sense of what it might have been like to go to Monteils with your horse and cart to sell your wares or trade for provisions. It’s not easy going, slick with leaves and mud and so steep in areas I worried about losing the buggy on the way down. But so beautiful and peaceful. We came across another farm on the trail where the family had clearly maintained part of the older structure, built a new bit and then simply abandoned another section that was still attached to their house! In the US, we would almost certainly have taken it down or restored it, but leaving it to fall down slowly but surely is not part of the American way.

Matthew has been exploring more and more of the area on his bike. With all the hills, I tend to ride a few loops that I know that don’t take all of my free time. He comes home raving of his new favorite town on some tiny road and I take Lark, the map and my camera and try to find it. It will be great to be back in Boise for mountain biking, but the road riding here is going to be very hard to leave!

We have been experimenting with travel procedures here. The easiest thing is not what one would expect. We figured it out because when we attempted to drop Matthew in Najac for the train to Toulouse for his flight to Zurich, they had simply cancelled the trains… all week! There was a guy at the station who had mastered the gallic head shake to let us know there were no trains, but he offered no alternatives at all. One option here is to have Lark and I spend 4 hours in the car getting Matthew to Toulouse and then coming home. I don’t like that option so much. So, we drove directly south to a larger town called Gaillac. It was perfect! 50 minutes in the car each way and loads of direct trains to Toulouse. Matthew walked onto the train 30 seconds after I dropped him and just made his flight by about the same amount of time in Toulouse. Whew!

The drive to Gaillac took us through a wine region that looks to have some very celebrated wines. Unlike the enormous chateaus that American wine producers tend to build in Sonoma and Napa, the producers here have very humble digs. The vines along the road range from very young and spindly to gnarled, old grandpa vines. We will have to explore this area further when Larken has some alternative playmates to Matthew and me. I’m pretty sure wine tasting is not really up her alley!

The cooler weather is settling in. We often wake up in a cloud. The mist settles in the valleys and sometimes we can drive up and out of it to bluebird skies. More often, we watch it slowly lift to reveal high clouds scudding across the sky with storms on the horizon. Lark has taken to hunting mushrooms on the property as there are about 10 different kinds that are nestled into the grasses and forest. She stuffs them into her tiny pockets and forgets about them, but loves doing it again and again.

We realized yesterday that Little Miss has chicken pox. After getting ourselves to the doctor this week to get her “carte de santé” so she can attend school or the gaurderie, it’s sad that she will have to be quarantined for another week or so. We had a family from New Zealand over for dinner a few days ago though. They have a 3 year old son and he and Lark played hard once they warmed to each other. It was great fun to entertain in our new home. Matthew made delicious curried chicken crepes, Timo, Olivia and JB brought lovely wines and we talked until the children started to fall over. It made us miss all of you, but so niceto meet kindred spirits so far from home.


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