This week I’ve been staying at my aunt and uncle’s farmhouse in the center of France, a rural region tucked in between the castles of the Loire Valley and a mountain range of dormant volcanoes. Aside from one town of about 15,000, the rest of the population is spread out in little communes nestled in the rolling hills and forests of this plateau that spans for miles and miles. Brooks run through the valleys that are older than time itself, mossy stone walls crumbling along the banks. Narrow country roads wind their way past farms, pastures filled with cattle, sheep, and donkeys. This is the side of France that people don’t know or think about, far away from sparkling lights and glamour of Paris.
As I stand on the hillside behind the house at dusk, the clouds rush past above me. Everything around is still except for the trees blowing in the tree branches. The beauty of the untouched landscape, the force of the elements, it feels like I’m looking right into the heart of Earth’s creation. I feel like I am a very small part of something much bigger than myself and, therefore, the weight of my hopes, dreams and worries as well. For the first time in what feels like a very long time, I am surrounded by dandelions and wildflowers instead of people rushing and stumbling over one another in some race we’ve created for ourselves. I love the city but places like this remind me of where I come from: a house in the middle of the woods at the end of a dirt road that sometimes felt like a world away from the short three miles to town. My days here have been filled with gardening, hiking, reading by a roaring fire, and introducing American baked goods such as banana bread to my French family (it received mixed reviews). As I figure out what my next step is, it’s been nice to unplug and catch my breath.
But there’s something even more special about this place. When I am here, I feel connected to my mom in a way that I rarely feel anywhere else. Even in the house where I grew up. At first, it took me off guard because there aren’t that many memories of her attached to this place; we only came here together once. But her presence is undeniable. Fluttering above the herbs in the garden, wandering through the fields, disrupting the colonies of raindrops that have gathered on the stalks of grass. Her footprints are almost visible. Digging my hands into the soil is like holding her hand again. A sense of calm that comes with knowing you are safe in your mother’s arms. And for a moment, I am. Convenient tricks of the imagination, some might say. But I know. After so long, I have found her, she is here. What an extraordinary thing.