The best part of the day is waking up to the kiss of the sun on the green valley. Some mornings the mountains go missing, shrouded in cloud that burns off by midday. And what a wondrous scape to explore! Kilometer after kilometer of mountain trails, that cut through green pastures filled with apple trees and wildflowers, laughing mountain creeks, birds and beasts and mushrooms and insects that I ache to draw, remember, understand.
Scrubbing cheeses in the cave
After the morning chores are finished the fromagerie gang congregates in the living room, drinking coffee or beer or porto, depending on the time of day. Now that the autumnal chill of September has come calling, we wrap ourselves in flannel, wrapped in blankets in the evening. The house was built in 1812, so everything is falling apart. There are very few windows and the kitchen currently has only two operational very low-watt lighting fixtures. We try and get the dishes done before the sun goes down and it’s too dark to see the scum. But the dinginess of the house is all the more reason to go OUTSIDE.
The other day Brett and I went for a long walk with the two dogs along a ridgeline, the fields thick with lilac-colored heather and delicate yellowing ferns so that when you see the ridge from afar it looks like God gave Van Gogh a try at it for a day. We spotted a herd of animals in the distance. This in itself was not unusual, as in the Vallee of Louron there are always herds of animals in the distance, midnight black horses with their foals, fat sheep with jingling bells around their necks, or the Aquitaine cattle with beautiful buttercream fur. But this time, it wasn’t so easy to identify. They were all different colors, chesnut, white, black…
“Oh look, goats!” I said.
“No way, they’re horses,” said Brett.
“They’re too small to be horses.”
“But they have tails!”
“You wanna bet? Loser makes lunch.”
As we descended the ridge, we let out a shared cry of delight: miniature ponies! They had normal sized heads but tiny bodies and stubby little legs. Caramel, chocolate, licorice, and a white one with black spots that followed us in hopes of a treat. I am not a horse person, and yet I became filled with an overwhelming urge to take them all home and braid ribbons in their manes. It was worth the developing blisters and sore calves just to see this sweet unassuming herd of tiny proportions. Ribbons…seriously…
Two weeks ago we stopped milking the sheep, giving them sage-infused water and a homeopathy treatment in which Brett, Luic, Julie and I spent two days shoving tiny white pills into about a hundred sheep uteruses. That was what your mother would call a ‘growing experience.’ We stopped milking the cows a week ago. On chilly evenings we bring the animals inside and throw down huge mounds of dried grass with pitchforks from the stored bales on the top floor. The ewes and cows will have their babies soon, staying inside the barn all winter. They’ll start the milking again in October.
Now that the milking is over and there is less work to do, Brett and I are painting a mural in the sheep milking room, an abstract Pyrenees moonscape. YvesTom likes it. Brett says she did it for the sheep. I’m painting a new ‘Miel & Confitures’ market sign for Joel, a local bee farmer, which features a baby bear stealing honey from the hives.
Always encouraged by the bubbly Julie, YvesTom sometimes takes us out to nearby bars to play billiards or eat tapas. One afternoon we went to Balnea, the posh bath house in the valley. Two hours of heaven, wandering between the Turkish steam room, roman baths with jets, Jacuzzis, an outdoor Japanese bath, cedar-planked saunas. There’s nothing like soaking your bones in a hot tub with the ever-glorious mountains on both sides above you. Just imagine when in the winter the snow-kissed mountains are covered in slalom tracks of skiiers…
Last week Brett and I drove to the next valley over to explore a gouffre, a vertical cave created by water filtering through the soil and forming an underground river. Beautiful stalagtites of white dragonite crystal, mushrooming castles of sparkling, calcified columns. Everywhere you looked something was in bloom. As if France isn’t pretty enough on the surface, God had to create some inner beauty too. Some countries have all the luck.
le Village de Mont
(all photographs by Brett)