IMG_3168The roosters that live in the shade of the woods along the riverside wake me long before dawn. They are joined by the caws of another bird, something big and wild. Do herons make noise? I don’t know a heron from an egret or anything else that’s big, with long legs and lives near water. But they are neighbors.

I slip through the darkness to the living room to open the windows and welcome in the cool night air. It’s in the mid-60s Fahrenheit, but it feels icy and delicious. When I put on my glasses, I can see the stars, so many stars. But since I glide through the house in the dark, glasses are of no use and I don’t bother with them. I know where the furniture is, where the window handles are, how many stairs and how big they are. The familiarity is comforting.IMG_3164My kid got a summer job, detassling corn, of all things. I grew up in the Midwest, and most people I know detassled corn in the summer. One of my siblings back home almost choked from laughing when told the news. In French it’s called castration, which is what it is, but somehow more brutal to say.  The fields are a long drive away; my kid and several friends joined up to carpool, or co-voiturage. I drop my kid off at the meeting point, or take my turn driving over the rolling hills, as vineyards give way to vast fields of wheat, sunflowers and corn as we head west. There are few cars on the road at such an early hour. The kids are groggy and silent. I feel like we’re flying through paintings by Monet or Jules Breton.

The sun still hasn’t peeked above the horizon when I’m en route home, but it’s light, the world wrapped in a pale pastel veil. One morning, fog unfurled across low-lying fields, stretching luxuriantly like a cat.

IMG_3158
Blackberries already! My runs are now interrupted as I stuff my face.

The colors of the sky grow more vivid, all purples, oranges and yellows. Then the sun appears, nearly blinding me as I drive straight toward it, the road a ribbon unspooling across the patchwork of golds and greens. The whole world now is golden, the delicate paleness has vanished. Within minutes, the gold, too, is gone and the sun, alone in a deep blue sky, nary a cloud in sight, delivers its frank, sharp rays that divide the landscape into stark overexposure or inky shade. IMG_3161I am home before the sun has climbed high enough to hit the east side of the house. I quickly close the shutters to keep the interiors a cave-like cool. Even though the heat wave is past and we have perfect summer weather, we don’t have air conditioning and use old-fashioned methods to keep the house comfortable. My friend, Merle, serenades me. He boldly follows, keeping a two-arms’-length distance, never more nor less. Merle is the blackbird who lives here with his wife (merle is French for blackbird, and a good name for an excellent singer). He’ll get his own post when I manage to get a flattering photo of him. He comes close, but not close enough for my phone’s camera.IMG_3165Maybe it’s that Europe is so far north–Carcassonne is about 43 degrees north, like Yankton, South Dakota; Niagara Falls; Pocatello, Idaho; Vladivostok, Russia. Summer days are longer than what I grew up with, though not as crazy as in Belgium or even farther north, like Scandinavia. Appreciating the dawn requires getting up really early, made all the harder by the fact that it’s still light at 9:30 or 10 p.m. And those evenings are yummy, too, as the day’s warmth fades but not so much that the cicadas stop singing. Bats swoop back and forth, dining on insects, almost in time with the cicadas’ metronome. 

Some friends came for dinner with the foster children they care for. Kindergarten and first grade, brother and sister. As night fell, we reclined on the chaises longues to look for shooting stars. The boy asked to hold my hand. Then he had a better idea. Wouldn’t it be more comfortable, he said, if he were on the same chaise as me? He snuggled into the crook of my arm. His sister, jealous, claimed the other side. We scanned the skies, but the boy was a little afraid of shooting stars. He told me about monsters. Did I believe in them? No, I told him, you don’t need to worry about monsters. He said sometimes he believed in them, sometimes not. I listened to his five-year-old ideas about the world and hoped he would remember this moment of magic, the stars dancing, the night birds in concert with the cicadas, the light blanket of a summer night’s warmth enveloping us. IMG_2969

 

 

 

 

 

32 thoughts on “South of France Summer

    1. All that heat made them ripen faster. Same with the figs, though the variety around here aren’t quite ready yet. But usually they are for after Aug. 15 or 20. It will be sooner.

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  1. What a lovely post! More like a huge postcard, a day in the life. Wonderful your child is working in the fields this summer. Everyone should spend a summer doing that, to appreciate people who work outside all the time. Along with waiting tables and working in a shop.
    I never realized Carcassonne was so far north! Aren’t you glad you don’t have the rest of South Dakota’s weather – yikes!
    I so enjoy your posts – keep them coming!

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    1. For perspective, Madrid is at about the same latitude as New York, on the 40th parallel, which forms the line between Kansas and Nebraska. Paris is almost on the 49th parallel, which is farther north than Toronto or Montreal.

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  2. Sweet sweet thoughts. I envy your ability to drive through cornfields though removed from Midwest USA. One of my favorite pastimes when I return there is to do just that, follow the ribbon of road, stopping just once to see how high over my head this year’s stalks reach. The French fields and countryside draw me in as well. Sunny days, late dinners outdoors, under the stars with little children: isn’t this called Heaven?

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  3. Kairosia just said it all. You have the South of France, your family, friends, and all the rest. Heaven. Thanks for sharing your gratitude for it all with us. It comes through. How much you appreciate that this is special, not forever, but timeless.

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  4. A lovely day and perspective.

    Thinking that driving the roads of rural France are a tad more interesting that the mostly flat ones of the midwest. I did laugh about corn detasseling work having lived in Minnesota. Not many folks who lived out near the fields escaped that chore. Can see why your sibling laughed. The good news for me was that I could not do it–I am allergic to corn silk. Can’t shuck corn for the same reason or a rash will shoot straight up my arms past my elbows within minutes and the next thing you know I am taking a 5-day pack of prednisone. 🙂

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    1. I hope you can eat corn–when it’s fresh it doesn’t even need butter! One of the things I miss most, after good Mexican food.
      A little south of Minnesota, and even Minnesota as I recall from childhood vacations, is full of rolling hills. What gets me, though, are the perfectly straight roads in the U.S., impervious to terrain or creeks or woods. Here the roads wind around such obstacles, having been created well before machines.

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  5. Ahhhhh, lovely, I am full of nostalgia but have never done the corn thing but love the idea of the young doing that. The winding roads, the cicadas and the warmth, the light and the sunrise, this is what I miss living here in Australia.

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  6. Oh, my! You truly have a gift in your ability to write in such descriptive detail. You transport us there to be with you, what a wonderful experience. I was very touched by your mention of the two little ones snuggling up to you and talking about stars and scary things. Those moments are very, very special, especially to a child with a troubled beginning in life.
    Watching Rick Steve’s “ Europe” the other night, he went through Carcassonne….Aha! I thought….I know where that is! ( thanks to you) It is really beautiful and more so for being not so on the radar of hordes of tourists.
    I will get there one day…..I have promised myself.
    Merci, for sharing your little piece of “heaven”. I, for one, am so happy to have found your blog.

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    1. I hope you get to come soon! The medieval fortified city can be crowded on summer afternoons, but the rest of the time it’s great. I was disappointed in Rick Steve’s write-ups about Carcassonne, but I’m not sure I would want to set him straight–why send more people to the best spots? You’ll find out here, on my little, obscure blog.

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  7. What a lovely description of a really beautiful place and a superb evening! I especially like how the shade and light play together on that road. I didn’t know Carcassone’s latitude, I’m learning something new from you every time. Your morning routine is so similar to mine, I get up before sunrise and open up the house to trap the cool air inside. By 8-9 am, I need to close the windows and shutters. Our shutters are on the interior side of the windows, unlike the french ones, but they serve the same purpose.
    Do you feel that you have reached a milestone with your son getting his first job? I certainly felt that way with each of mine. It’s like they take their first fly off the nest🤣.
    Thank you for such a good read!

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    1. Ah, milestones. I keep saying “stop growing!” but it doesn’t work.
      I find that exterior shutters work better than interior ones. I saw photos of an old house that had both. Now that’s luxury!

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      1. I know, they grow up too fast. My oldest grandson got his driving license 10 days ago and I’m still recovering from that.
        Last week I came across a portable air cooler and I thought of you. It is called Airfreez, it uses water evaporation to cool down. You may find info about it on the manufacturer’s website http://www.airfreezofficial.com.

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  8. I love this time of summer, when the nights are just a bit earlier than they were a month ago, and the sun a wee bit softer. There is indeed something magical about the dusk. Hope your little friend remembers your wise words about monsters as well as the magical moment you shared.

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  9. Although I loved everything about this pos,t a day later I am still thinking about the little boy. You are a kind and gentle soul and he could sense that, as did his sister. How wonderful that for that moment they had you to calm their fears and give them hope. Just as you did for me this past year. I hope that these two little children find a home with your friends or someone else that will love them, calm them and show them the beauty in this world.

    Have a wonderful weekend friend.

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  10. YOU are a BEAUTIFUL WRITER and this POST IS A WINNER!Congratulations on your SON getting a summer JOB!NO small FEAT these days!Love that YOU have a serenader !!Will Look forward to his DEBUT!
    How sweet these children are………..YES SQUASH those MONSTER THOUGHTS IMMEDIATELY cannot imagine HOW that MUST FEEL!
    XX

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