TRAVEL JOURNAL 15: THE MOUNTAIN HOMESTEAD

We stayed this past week in the gentle, curving mountains of Eastern Ardèche. Shapes of hips and shoulders, knees and elbows form the landscape.Everywhere golden light spills through the tall, dark fir trees.The forest is littered with smooth, narrow pine cones, and the rocks glitter with hidden twinkles in the sunlight.The Romans left their mark here in the style of the houses, and down below a little village rests on the ruins of an old fortress.The wayside is filled with wild fruits and nuts – sloe, hips and haws; little apples, pears, and cherries; laden elder bushes, oaks and hazelnuts.Wild thyme and oregano grow in the pastures.The house here is old and beautiful, with lots of friends and family passing through, guitar music and long meals with homemade cheese.There are fruit trees and grape vines around the house, a hen with little chicks, a flock of Bantam chickens, a white cat, and a black rabbit.For the first time we have tasted ripe apricots off the tree. There are two teenage girls here about the same age as the Teenager, and he has actually been interacting with them and learning a few words in French like “sorry” and “stop, you’re mean,” when they play tricks on him and he throws apples back, or picks them up and pretends to almost toss them into thorn bushes while they squeal and smack him.The first thing we did here was to help move the sheep and a donkey to a new pasture to make room for the caravans of a traveling acting company that was camping there.Later when i went along to help on a trip to the garbage collection facility we stopped by the actors’ camp to collect beer money. Women were walking around topless and people were peeing in bushes along the road. It reminded me of Earthskills.When I got home, the Teenager warned me that strange, bearded men from the acting company kept walking randomly through our room, and luckily he had clothes on each time, though I don’t think they cared.On Tuesday we watched the acting company put on a new version of Snow White, with the step mother being an evil capitalist whose factory is polluting the dwarves’ lake. I didn’t understand any of the jokes, but it was fun to watch.This week I have mostly helped with milking the sheep, and I’ve been able to milk them myself. Sheep are milked from behind rather than the side, so it was a little different than milking my goats.We also helped the oldest son move huge pine logs with a tractor. We just wrapped a chain around logs and stood back and watched him chainsaw off the branches and drive the tractor, but afterwards there was the craziest tractor ride ever, up mountains with tractor wheels skidding up inclines and cutting tiny corners along sheer cliffs.The Teenager was clinging on for dear life to edge of the tractor to avoid being thrown out and crushed under giant wheels, and I was clinging to the tiny seat above the driver’s, trying not to fall on the steering wheel.On Thursday we went along to a beautiful lake in the mountains and saw the source of the Loire river in passing. We had a swimming race at the lake, but it got too cold in the deep part so we called it a tie.On the way home everyone stopped and hiked up to the summit of a mountain to watch the sunset, and there were beautiful flowers and wild blueberries and raspberries growing all over.Friday we went bow hunting with the oldest son. It was the first time I’ve ever been hunting before. In the evening we crept through the forest. There was a lot of wind, so we stopped at a wallow to see if a wild pig would come. We waited and listened.The Teenager made lots of noise building a mini football field out of crackly twigs and bark while we were waiting, and just as the last light faded we saw a an animal, but it was a badger.Our last day we tagged along on a trip to the river at the bottom of the mountain.It was the best swimming place I’ve ever seen – smooth rocks that were contoured for comfortable basking, little waterfalls you could slide down, and deep swimming holes for diving into off the rocks.Everyone complained that the water was cold, but it wasn’t as much of a shock as the springs in Florida, and the rocks were delightfully warm for drying off on.One week went so quickly, and I am sorry to leave this beautiful place and the wonderful people we’ve met.

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