I’m more attuned to the changing seasons than most sticks and bricks dwellers because I’m out and about many times a day, and I pick up on changes that slip by other people. I’ve written about signs of the changing seasons when I was out on the Oregon Coast. Now I’m on another continent, but the same tableau is playing out. The signs are different here, but it’s the same change in the air that tells you summer is over, and the same winter stars in the predawn sky that tell you the cold weather is coming.
I am in the Dordogne region of France, of which I have fond memories from our two week whirlwind tour of France in a rental car back in 2006. We got into one of the caves and saw the prehistoric drawings of mammoths. We strolled the streets of Perigueux, looking at the Romanesque cathedral. We bought regional varieties of apples in the shops. But it was just a couple of days here, and we were obligated to move on, since we had so little time and so much to see.
But now I’m sitting in one place for a few days, so I notice things. We’re at a commercial campground we stumbled across driving down a two-lane road, Orpheo Negro, named after the famous movie for some reason known only to the proprietor, which is a fishing pond surrounded by oak and pine forest out in the middle of the countryside between Perigueux and Bergerac. There are apple trees planted among the campsites full of ripening fruit, and the ground underneath each is littered with windfalls. There’s a wonderful smell in the air of ripening fruit.
There are also chestnut trees, which are more common in Europe than in America because they were spared the chestnut blight which decimated our native population. Chestnuts also litter the ground, with their spiny husks breaking open to reveal the chestnuts hidden inside. Fiona hops around when walking through these because they’re not too pleasant to walk on without footwear.
And there are mushrooms everywhere. Real mushrooms, the same ones you see in grocery stores. They’re wild here. I saw a woman in a nearby field driving her car around slowly, then stopping to get out and gather them. Fall is the time when they’re most abundant.
I’m just a novice here, but the locals have been skillfully gathering the fall harvest for literally thousands of years on this spot. Most of us non-native Americans are tumbleweeds, blowing across the landscape and never really getting the multi-generational knowlege of these microclimates which allows you to know the land and structure your life so that you live within it. The French are different. They have a word, terroir, which means the peculiarities of each specific location. And they talk about “mon pays”, my land, with nostalgia, even when they’re living in the big city and making their living. When they retire, they go back to “mon pays”, the village where they were born, and settle back in where they are truly comfortable.
I don’t really have a single place where I have deep roots – I lived in half a dozen places before I was an adult. And now, as a fulltime RVer for seven years now, I’m really blowing across the land like a tumbleweed, rarely staying put for more than a couple of days. But I notice, and envy, the attachment to the land that others have. It would be nice to see the land change with the seasons, and have the knowlege of dozens of years of personal experience, and the sense of trangenerational connection that French people have with their land. But if you sit in one place year after year, how do you get the wonderful experience of seeing everyone else’s terroir the way I do? Can’t have it both ways, I guess.
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