Start the day

While the rest of the world was yawning and stretching and making the coffee, I went with Luna down to the river. The need to take off my shoes, feel the rough stones underneath and the icy cold water tripping over my feet, watching the tiny fish nibble, dart and collide. A stone reminded me of a precious and privileged experience - the incredible cave paintings Milla and I recently saw with my dear friend Dee. These were not mock-ups, but the original pre-historic paintings in the caves at Niaux. Only 20 visitors allowed, we walked through deep and sometimes vertiginous caverns of stalagmites and stalactites with nothing but the light of our handheld torches to guide us to the paintings of bison and horses. I wish I could show you, but then again, to not photograph but to just be in the moment, made it feel so very special. And so remembering that wonderful day, I walked home through the grass in bare feet and my head in the clouds.


fade out again

Today is Bastille Day and I'm home alone for the first time in ages. This morning was spent in the garden. Gardening and me were not exactly strangers before but I'm a typical Brit, handed down the necessary suburban skills like how to walk behind a lawnmower and how to prune a rosebush and keep those flowerbeds weed-free, people! Now I'm having to go back to the start really, and allow my garden to be much more natural rather than me fighting for control. I prefer to work intuitively now, and let nature guide me. A slower process but I'm all for slowing down. I have to keep reminding myself to do so often. I get too enthusiastic, dream big, get carried away in my own head only to have to rein myself in with a smack bottom. I need to make each moment last, and to spend more time percolating my ideas instead of burning out. As far as the gardening side of things is concerned, It's a win/win situation because now I no longer fret over the nettles and brambles. Instead I spent the morning pulling them out and then sat crosslegged on an old bedsheet in the sunshine with a pot of mint tea, sorting through them all, picking off the juiciest, freshest leaves. I'm not sure what the rest of the country has been doing today because all I can here is, well nothing really. The rustle of the wind through the hazelnut trees, the tumbling river and a buzzing and cheeping soundscape.  Now I feel rather chuffed at the rack of nettle leaves drying in the basement and the blackberry leaves spread out across the wooden floor in Manchild's room. The rejected nettle will later be made into purin d'ortie. You know what that is? It's a French trick of macerating nettle in rainwater for about 2 weeks and then straining it. A  bad sense of smell helps here. You then dilute the purin to make a plant food.

Most of all I have been struck by the fact that it's mid July and there are signs that the summer is already fading into autumn. I feel a little cheated, I've not dipped my toes in the lake yet, lain under the stars on a warm night or tasted the salty air of the ocean. Yet sure enough there are blackberries, rosehips and walnuts emerging while I've not had enough time to load up a film camera and have an adventure or two. This, my friend, is pants.
Before I go, I need to tell you a couple of things. Firstly, my art website for the time being is now over here. I couldn't justify the expense of my other hosting while I'm on a bit of a arty-sabbatical.
Secondly, Elderflower and Oregano tonic is now on sale.  A delicate floral taste with a hint of bitter aromatics. It helps protect the gut from irritation and inflammation and eliminate toxins, soothe stomach spasms and have a calming effect on the mind. It also is useful to take at the onset of a summer cold. {More info here}


time for tea

I adore making teas. I think about many things. Do I want to start the day with a ZING? Do I want something to sip endlessly while I'm stuck working on the computer? Do I want a tea because I'm feeling run down and need comfort? I think about the plants; their virtues, their availability, their affinities. I brainstorm, I jot down, but mostly I just head off out the door - rucksack, canvas bags, secateurs, biscuits. Check. The garden, the meadow, the river, the hills...and maybe I'll see a plant that I hadn't even thought of using but I've got a sneaky suspicion it will be perfect. Once I'm back I have to process and dry everything, which essentially involves hanging bunches on hooks in the stairwell down to the basement or spread out on a big rack. And I wait. Some dry quicker; aromatics like rosemary or fine petals like dog rose. Others take aaages. But the story doesn't end with the tea's benefits, because dear me no, it has to taste just right. It also has to look and smell heavenly too. I want the right colours, textures, form and hell yes, aroma.
The tea above is a Four Thieves blend of wild aromatics rosemary, thyme, lavender and marjoram, both leaves and flowers and the very plants I nearly got electrocuted for.
And this gorgeous one is a blend of hawthorn leaves and flowers, elderflowers, rose and poppy petals and lavender spikes to gently usher in sleep. I called it We Float because I'm in love with Polly Jean Harvey.


Danger, Danger! High Voltage!

I climbed up through the meadows, up the steep and rocky trail and when I reached the top and the view was magnificent. The air was clear, the sky cloudless and  I could see all the way down the valley to the great beyond. The growth was oddly low for this time of year, cropped by grazing but I didn't think about that. I squatted down low to take a photo of the view stretching into infinity, dark blue to pale blue peaks and then the haze of nothingness. Lost in my thoughts I didn't see the electric wire. My camera touched against it, buzzed and sent a shock through me as it leapt out of my hand. Probably not exactly a leap, more likely I dropped it with a bit of hurling involved as I stumbled and let out a shriek. No-one up there to hear me except the crows that mocked me and made me feel a bit stupid. My heart raced and my hand was shaking as I picked up my camera. Miraculously the circuits weren't fried. My ancient Pentax with an even more ancient analog lens on it, the polar opposite of ritzy gear, had survived the ordeal. It's fraught with danger, larking around in nature, you know. I always expected to fall down a cliff into a river or be gored to death by an angry wild boar, my body laying hidden and scavenged upon until the earth claims me back. Fried by an electric fence just isn't poetic enough for me.


today's lesson

meadow clary
One thing about you get used to living in Aude, it just doesn't do weather by halves. It's much more of an all or nothing part of the world. Blistering sun or biblical rainfall by turn. So my medicinal herb garden is still very much a work in progress, and Oh! Dear reader! How I wish I had some lovely photographs of it to show you, but it still sadly is little more than bare earth. Lessons learnt this year include the following:
1. Seed swaps and kindly donated seeds are wonderful, fun to give and receive and if you're lucky give you the chance to make new connections and increase biodiversity in your garden. However, they can't be relied on to support your entire growing needs. After weeks and weeks of eagerly scanning my seed pots and trays for signs of growth I then mournfully realised that not a lot was going to happen. I have a smattering of california poppies, possibly some bergamot, four cerinthes and more quince seedlings than I could possibly need if I lived three lifetimes. This dawning realisation meant that 2 weeks ago I had to rush and order packets of organic seeds of whatever's not too late for me to sow directly outside. 
2. Slugs and snails are complete gits. Which ties in with
3. Build yourself a bloody coldframe woman and stop trying to manage with trays dotted around the house.
But lack of garden growth has given me more reason to go out wild foraging, and therefore use plants that I hadn't planned on working with. What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts and it's a good thing, often I think, when plans go awry. It pushes you in new directions and makes you resourceful and creative. It's not been so easy to take long hikes while my husband recovers either, so instead I take frequent walks alongside the river that runs through the bottom of the village. A few weeks ago so brown, angry and swollen, the trees and shrubs along it's bank festooned with plastic and cloth detritus swept down from the bigger town upstream. Now those same banks are a deep emerald green, dotted with cream elderflowers, dog rose and woundwort. Luna goes racing ahead of me, coming to an abrupt halt that makes her back legs collide with her snout when she rams it in the undergrowth, tail wagging furiously. As I walked through the dappled light yesterday, dazzling sunbursts through the trees and reflected off the water, in the corner of my eye a dash of brilliant turquoise. My heart skipped and I held my breath as a kingfisher darted right in front of me into the river. 
I'm still collecting elderflowers, they will soon be gone and I will have to wait patiently for the berries. I experimented with drying them, they do really well if you leave them on their stems in an airy and shady spot, stripping them off the stems once dry. This lot are destined for a new tea I'm working on, a calming gentle tea ~ elderflowers can help induce sleep, relieving tension and anxiety. I will drift away dreaming of riverwalks, kingfishers and the scent of wildflowers.
I sent out my first La Coumeille newsletter earlier this week. If you want to receive the next one {which will give you a heads up on the shop opening} there's a link up there on the right ➹