Just as you think the transition from winter to spring is never going to happen, you awake one morning, look out across the valley and there it is; a hesitant haze of leaf and bud, and life feels better for it. It’s the small things at first – the cold air perfumed with the honeyed scent of heather, their soft white flowers breaking up the bleak undertones. The winter hellebores lose their intensity, and are surpassed by the livelier Euphorbia cyparissias. Bird song wakes you early morning instead of gun shots from the local Chasse - the hunting season having finished at the end of February. Leaves uncurl and bud swell. Change is afoot. Once it's recognised there is no stopping it. Before you know it, the oak and the ash have sprung into action and whist we wait for the chestnut trees - they are always last to the party - vivid highlights of broom and gorse decorate the hillside.
I lived for years in Kenya, our seasons were either wet or dry. There were dramatic changes to the landscape during these periods, but it didn’t have the emotional impact that the cyclical changes of the four seasons have. I had forgotten the simple joy of experiencing the shift of winter to spring. It's impossible to resist the tangible energy that surrounds with growth coming from every quarter. Wild flowers appear from nowhere, like scattered confetti thrown joyously across the plains, celebrating the synergy of sun and light and rain. Roadside verges are filled with primulas and starry primroses, but it’s not long before the frothier cow parsley takes centre stage. Tiny shiny green fig leaves, so soft, appear shyly, but quickly gather confidence. The plane tree in our garden shakes out its new leaves, performing its sun salutations, catching the breeze.
We are re-energised and busy. Our list of spring jobs is long. We start with the garden; turning over the soil, weeding and reorganising. Between the wild boar and the rain our flower beds look sad and unkempt. I re-evaluate and decide to change things around. In my mind’s eye one of our flower beds will become a home for cosmos and zinnias, so we prune and move the remaining shrubs to restock the other flower bed, the lilacs and ceanothus are already flowering.
Our terraces are swept, the pots of tulips fill the spaces and dazzle us with their hues of crimson, magentas and black velvets. The air is fragranced by the wisteria with its cool, elegant sweet scent. Dripping purple rain from our open-air ceiling, it’s graceful flowers belie how hardy and tough a plant it actually is. The masonry bees are awake and alert and hungry and the wisteria flowers are an open larder. I drink my coffee watching the carpenter bees fighting, staking their ownership on a particular flower. They dive bomb each other in mid-air. I move back so as not to get caught in the crossfire. The solitary bumble bee flies from flower to flower ferociously buzzing about its business.
I have my first swim in our unheated pool. I dive in, surface, scream, swim a few lengths in shivery delight. George barks at me from the side, and then, unable to resist, she jumps in narrowly missing me and completes a couple of lengths. This moment heralds the end of winter and spring is welcomed with every stroke. It's a time of firsts; first swim of the season, first pizza cooked in our wood fired oven. I prematurely clean the outdoor kitchen imagining the hot heady summer months ahead. It is open to the elements though and of course in true spring style as I finish, the heavens open and everything is sodden and smudged again.
With all this activity, we turn our backs for a moment to find as we twirl around the sweet chestnut trees have exploded and transformed the scene into a lush, prolific leafiness of a verdant, vivid green. Our early warm, dry spring is moving swiftly into a late, wet one. Slate grey skies contrast beautifully with the luminous emerald and chartreuse colours of the hills. It rains hard and the growth is prolific, the air charged with rejuvenation. Our water source is replenished and we are happy with the knowledge that there won’t be a water shortage this summer at least.
A friend and I go walking on the Causses de Blandas - huge limestone plateaus, filled with wild flowers and surveyed by kestrels. We park the car and in spring style it starts to gently rain. We are too late in the season for the wild iris but as we walk we spot wild orchids woven through the grasses. I lie on the ground to take a photo and feel the wet earth, I am ready to put down roots. Ethereal butterflies, flitter their white and sky blues, rarely taking pause for us to catch the details. This is the season we walk with our heads down, spotting favourite flowers and meeting new ones. We pick our way through whorls of spectacular Euphorbia wulfenii and delicate wild fennel which are just beginning to emerge on the slopes. I have both in my garden, so it’s wonderful to see them growing wild in their natural habitat. We stop to marvel at the canyon of the Cirque de Navacelles 300m below us where the river Viz has carved out perfect meanders. The bright green grass of spring, where an ox bow lake once was, shines its luminescent history all the way to us at the top.
We are spoiled for choice of walks in the Cévennes. Sometimes we decide on the trails through the sweet chestnut and beech forests, especially lovely at this time of year. It’s like walking into an impressionist painting with cold sunshine filtering through the branches creating daubs of light and shadow. The cuckoo’s call is always loud and clear. Sometimes we prefer to work our limbs and take a more energetic hike up the hillside where the paths are strewn with dusky mauve flowers of wild thyme and bright buttercups. Wherever we go I am reassured by nature’s resurgence and the unfaltering vitality of spring. The late rain and wind have well and truly blown the winter doldrums away and added a bounce to my step.