Friday, 21 February
We are nearing the end of a week here in the Perche. The days have developed a gentle rhythm, starting at 6, if I am lucky enough to sleep that long. I waste no time getting dressed as our bedroom above the barn, with little heat and no insulation, is freezing. Equipped with my headlight these dark winter days, I descend through the mess the swallows left and over the gravel, into the warm house.
The one to two hour period between getting settled on my chaise longue and walking Tasha is of vital importance to my day. Enveloped in the silence of the sleeping world, with my mind still fresh and clear, I sip my coffee and write. If I miss this magical spell, the rest of the day is unlikely to be productive.
I have the same routine in Paris but there the morning walk looms as an interruption. In the city there’s always a certain level of aggression, however passive it may be at that hour. I usually meet my dog-walking friends in the park and though the social interaction is good for our uncouth dog and pleasant for me, it is a distraction.
Here in the Perche, however, it’s just Tasha and me and this blessed countryside.
Studies have found that nature is very good for us humans: "Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality." (from the University of Minnesota website)
But they don’t mention the effects of this miracle drug on mental acuity.
What I am finding is that the morning walk here in the Perche is an important extension to the morning’s work. The combination of oxygen to the brain and the exhilaration sparked by the surrounding natural beauty also sharpen my mind, meaning that while I walk many ideas bubble to the surface.
Originally for Tasha’s sake, I decided to follow the same route every day. It would be reassuring for our nervous dog, I thought, and if she got led into temptation by a deer or a hare, she would know where to find me.
The walk is a figure 8. We head down the lane...
...past Jean-Pierre’s salmon-pink barn to the left.
Tasha tears across the surrounding fields and in 10 minutes has had more exercise than she gets in a 90-minute stroll through the Tuilieries or along the Seine. We turn right through this bower...
...which leads to - given the buckets of rain we've had this scarily mild winter - the muddiest footpath I have ever seen. At times I have actually had to pull myself out by the bootstraps. But I relish every schlurp and schlop because I remember last summer and the scorched earth that even had me feeling sorry for the drooping nettles.
Not long before reaching the village, its church tower rising above the rooftops...
...we turn left, through paddocks where we are greeted by a horse and a goat…
...and a pony...
We loop back via Pascale’s house...
... onto the same path, until looping again around the back of our house through the fields. At a good pace it's about a 50-minute outing, far more salutary and much cheaper than the equivalent hour on a shrink's couch.
In the end I probably feel more reassured by this repetitive walk than the dog. There is comfort in knowing what is around the next corner. I am now acquainted with the neighbours whose houses I pass. I like seeing my footprints from the day before in the mud. Trees become not just points of reference but in their way friends, with different moods.
Of course you can only be sure of the path ahead up to a point. Nature is not static and the surprises are generally as cheering as the sameness. Leaves come and go; the light is ever changing. In January I’d set off in the dark, Tasha’s gilet jaune glowing across a field and the sun only edging its way up half-way into the walk.
This week (and a third lost gilet jaune later) it's light enough for the deer to be out and the birds to be chirping. But still early enough for me to have witnessed, every morning, the commanding wingspan of a barn owl as it swoops over a field in search of a last nibble before bed.
For the last few days I have had a worsening cold. Collecting my thoughts has been a challenge; the sentences I have managed to write have been as supple as ebony. This morning David came over from the bedroom at 7.30 and called up kindly: "Would you like me to take the dog this morning?"
"No thank you!" I cried. "This blog needs a good walk!" Here you have it.