Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Frolicking in the Forest

5 September 2006

Life in the French countryside continues to be a series of wonderful new experiences. I now know what it means to encounter a silence that is deafening and almost painful to the ear. Being raised in a large family and in urban cities, I never knew what nothing sounded like. Even when out camping one hears wildlife. The acoustics in my room are such that the depths of the night are deadly silent.  My suite in the villa is like a mausoleum and it entombs me every night.  But every morning when I step outside ready for my daily walk, I am greeted by nature’s soft symphony filling my ears. Here, on the quaint outskirts of an old French village, there are no airplanes or helicopters overhead, no street noise, just the gentle rustling of the trees and soft blowing of the wind that only gets louder as I approach the forest. Warning: this entry is not a story about jet setting or glamorous cocktail parties or even meeting worldly, exciting people. This story is a simple story about how a sickly city mouse was transformed into a robust country mouse.  As you can see, the road into the forest is picturesque.

Every day is an adventure in the natural world. Today I discovered that the villas on my chemin (country block) are all built from rock mined from the area. Construction workers laying the driveway next door actually excavate pebble from the vacant lot at the end of the road for gavel for the new driveway. Gravel is not trucked in but constructed utilizing natural surrounding resources.

The woodland path behind the villa is a patchwork of burnt red, bright peach and slate gray; colors of earth I have never seen before. I don’t know how old the road is, but its worn path seems almost ancient. At the opening of the thicket there is a weathered bridge built centuries ago to support a stream that no longer exists. The trail in some places is wide enough to fit a Suburban, of which I have yet to see while living in France, and in denser parts of the wood it is only a foot wide. This is a scene I’ve only experienced vicariously. Living at the entrance to a forest has brought me alive with childlike curiosity. I had never taken the time to look at a tree, let alone notice the sinewy veins in a leaf or the snowflake-like originality of its flower petal formations. The wood is a symphony of birds chirping, insects buzzing, and the billowing wind. The sky above is piercing blue sprinkled with wisps of brilliant white clouds.  It is a different sky, much more clear than the one that hung over me growing up. There is no gray smog hanging overhead like a wet blanket, here there is nothing but blue sky. Sky and forest stretch for miles, and on a clear day one can spot the Mediterranean Sea.

The wood is thick and dark in parts. When I take this path to the market I feel just like “Little Red Riding Hood” walking through the forest. This is not the kind of environment I imagined thriving in when I dreamed of life in the French countryside, but it turned out to be just what I needed. This daily walk has become the very cornerstone of my new life in France. 

At times the forest calm hits me in waves and gives me a newfound sense of peace.  I could never fully experience peace in the city.   There was always too much noise. The noise of the city and the noise of my life eclipsed any hope of cultivating tranquility.  Yet I am the alone in my part of the wood. Through the silence I have learned to detect the different sounds the wood makes. At times one can hear a family setting the table for dinner miles away or the crackle of gravel as someone pulls into their driveway. The beauty of the countryside has taught me to take time, and no not smell the roses, but take time to know myself, know who I am when I am alone, when no one is watching.
There is so much about nature that has healed me: mentally, spiritually and physically. I have found deep serenity, a serenity that would have gone undiscovered for decades. I laugh out loud at the realization that I have become somewhat of a nature buff. Something I would NOT have associated with myself in the past.  I hated camping and still do now.  I remember the day I arrived, as my boss and I were making dinner she asked me to set the table on the terrace and I shuttered at the thought of eating al fresco. The little one laughed all through dinner at the sight of me jumping and swatting every bug that buzzed in my general vicinity.  Entertaining for her, but terrifying for me.  I have never been stung by a bee, and the thought of it scares me to this day. Thankfully, I am now more comfortable in nature. Last week I added binoculars to my backpack to look for birds. It tickles me to think of my transformation.  My entire life I had found pleasure in the discovery of say a vintage Halston suit, circa 1981, at the local vintage shop. Here in the country I have learned to find aesthetic beauty in organic nature fore there are no vintage shops in the countryside. I now experience joy in observing the softness of a flower petal and no longer in the softness of fine aged silks. Nature is a world I have never enjoyed before.  Its beauty and majesty inspires me every day.  It has been almost maddening trying to slow down and retrain myself from being hard core productive.  Life in the country is almost like being retired. Having just turned 28, I am nowhere near retirement, but this time has taught me to slow down and enjoy the deep bitterness of dark chocolate or the smoothness of rose wine as it refreshingly rolls down your throat on a hot day or the lingering smell of sunshine in my laundry.  I have learned to slow down. The most beautiful aspect is that nature’s silent beauty has helped me discover the world within me that I never knew.  By not allowing life to consume me I have been able to discover external as well as internal beauty. This road is heaven and I wish I could take each of you with me down the path, whether it be the wide and majestic or the narrow and silently peaceful trail. For now try to slow down and yes smell that occasional rose for it holds inconceivable and untapped beauty. I long for all of you to discover silent beauty in your lives today.

For more photos please see: http://moniquelyons.shutterfly.com/


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