So I was on my way back from lunch when I saw the small path. I had gone to Sauveterre, a medieval town 8 kms. from Salies, for a Vide Grenier
(literally, Empty the Attic, the French version of a garage sale) which never
materialized and decided to stay there for lunch. There is a small
café-restaurant called the PMU because it is a betting place for the horse
races, where lunch is usually very good and the view over the Gave (river born
of the melting snows of the Pyrenees) de Olorón and surrounding countryside is
spectacular. Today there was only one other table so I got to sit close to the
edge and could splurge on beauty all through lunch. I mean, what could be better
than delighting in a shrimp salad with crudités
and then an omelet with pipèrade (the
local béarnaise sauce for about everything, made with tomatoes, green peppers
and onions) while overlooking forested hills and a blue green river where a
family of five were taking advantage of the unseasonal warm weather to take
courageous dips in the icy water, all this under the vigilance of a medieval
tower and the remains of an old stone bridge that once straddled the “gave”.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was speeding (within limits)
towards home and some chores when a graveled path leading off to the right into
a thick expanse of woods hooked onto the corner of my eye. I had driven past by
the time my mind said “a walk in the woods” so I dared a U-turn, drove back and
zipped out of sight, into the cool welcoming shade of the forest. As one only
sees what one wants to see or what one thinks one will see I did not observe
the sign at the entrance saying “Chaussée
” which would have advised me that I was trespassing on a private
road. I parked in  the ample clearing a
few meters from the highway and there I did see a bright red sign reading,
menacingly, Attention: tir a balles.
My French is good enough to understand that I had wandered into hunting
grounds.  For a moment I contemplated
getting back in the car and going home to do my chores, but if there is
anything I have not been able to resist in my whole life it is temptation, and
the woods that stood on either side of the small path were about as inviting as
it gets.

I looked at Salomé. A hunter might mistake her for a
rabbit or a fox and shoot. It was a possibility. The woods stood before us. It
was Sunday, just past lunch time, so I decided that the chance that some
enthusiastic hunter of small animals had downed his Sunday meal and rushed into
the woods with his shotgun was scarce. As for myself, I was wearing a white
shirt, hardly mistakable for a deer or wild boar, and if I heard any suspicious
sounds I could immediately shout out in English or Spanish so that the supposed
hunter would know I was a bumbling tourist that had drifted off the beaten
path. I struck out for the woods; Salomé followed in my footsteps, literally,
as the brambles that crossed the path usually at the height of her nose, were
conveniently trod down by my boots.

The forest closed in around us. There were pines and oaks
and ash and birch, and there was a tree that flowered that I knew not. I
discovered its existence because amongst the fallen brown leaves there appeared
here and there, something resembling petals that were yellow with bright orange
markings on them. There was no tree with a leave like that, so they had to come
from a flower. But no matter how much I scanned the canopy way above my head I
couldn’t find the parent. The path was sometimes shadowed by the bordering wood
and sometimes it would open up to sunlight and grass underfoot. All along the
sides there were wild flowers, white, purple, bright yellow and brambles that
would soon bear blackberries, but were at the moment, blossoming. Most of the
flowers were unknown, except the bright yellow ones which were some variety of
butter-cup, like the ones we used to hold under each other’s chins as children
to see if someone was jealous.

I walked on cautiously, stopping every once in a while to
listen in case the snap of a branch or a distant gunshot would warn us of
hunters. There was nothing but the breeze in the branches of the tall trees and
the chirping of unseen birds. The air was cool in the shade and smelled of dry
leaves and green sprouts, an earthy green smell as can only be perceived in still
woods at noontime. But make no mistake, there is nothing silent about a woods,
but the sounds are subtle and soothing, as of things quietly going about their
business. Occasionally a group of flies would seem to insist on swarming close
to my face, looking for the moisture perceived in the eye and I would wave them
away with a hand. My steps were the loudest sound around; Salomé made almost no
noise as her small paws skirted thorns and sharp stones.

We must have walked half a kilometer when I decided to
stop, sit for a while breathing in the air and listening to the sounds and then
start on our way back. Halfway back to the car, I noticed a patch of path that
had a generous amount of yellow and orange petals. Looking carefully at the
branches that overhung the path, I finally spotted a flower on one that hung
low; it was within reach and, asking the tree’s permission, I clipped it.

The Flowering Tree

The car was waiting for us with no bullet
holes in it and the clearing offered ample space for turning around. It was on
the way out that I spotted the small sign informing would-be trespassers that
the road was private. I sighed, wondering if it was really kosher for someone
to own a forest and on the way home thought of all the blackberries that I
won’t be able to pick.

2 thoughts on “A WALK IN THE WOODS

  1. Como admire siempre tu espiritu aventurero y valentia! Me encanto el recorrido pero me tenias en un hilo!!!! Gracias por compartir esta maravillosa caminata!

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