“No backups for 277 days.”
That’s what the laptop tells me today (although I am backing up – just not to the hard drive in New Zealand that my homesick laptop prefers).
Two hundred and seventy seven days!
Each day a new number that looks a lot closer to 365 than it did five minutes ago when the entire year stretched out before us.
Our year in France is evaporating – one bland, un-ignorable, inaccurate Apple warning at a time.
Autumn has passed, for instance, without me having a chance to write about it – and there is so much to like about autumn in Provence.
The kitchen bench is overflowing with vegetables dropped off by our neighbour, Monsieur L – the beets and horseradish and garlic, potato, leeks and silverbeet grow in the fields all around us. (Incidentally Sabbatical Man finally worked out the name of Monsieur L’s dog. It’s Roi! It means “king” but said with that hoiky “r” it sounded just like a bark to us. Eight months it took to recognise a word we both learned in high school.)
There are truffles in the kitchen too – a handful of the dirty black gold sold to us for cash with a nudge and a wink from someone who knows where to find it.
“Il faut faire un beurre de truffle,” a friend told me. Easiest way to preserve its delicate and fleeting flavour. Simply grate it finely into some unsalted butter, add good salt (I know, I know – yes I’ll probably just use salted butter) and a drizzle of olive oil. Use it to flavour pasta or quiche or omelettes or anything really. I’ll get Sabbatical Man right onto it.
The fields and markets are full of mushrooms.
The garden is full of rust-coloured leaves.
The air is sometimes crisp and clear, sometimes full of smoke from the fires of the leaf burn-offs all around us.
The rain is wonderful. It’s the rain of my childhood in Taranaki – not the piffle and drizzle and drip of Auckland rain but bucketing, roaring, blanketing rain that brings sudden floods and random flashes of lightning (and violent thunder claps) that fry the oven or the fridge. I’ve learned to run into the lounge to unplug everything at the first hint of lightning.
November also brought with it the first week of real cold and, while Sabbatical man took an unexpected trip back to New Zealand, the boys decided we needed open fires every night.
Each evening Large rallied his brothers to gather the twigs, sticks and neatly cut logs to faithfully recreate the complex fire-starting structure taught to him by his pyromaniacally perfectionist father. He did well.
Even on a couple of bitterly cold and wet nights our boys were out there loading up the wheelbarrow and the fires roared. It was brilliant.
The wood brought with it some wild life – little wood mice called musaraigne that look, out of the corner of your eye, like huge, scuttling spiders (araigne). They are a lot less scary than spiders and don’t seem to invade the cereal drawer so I’ve not bothered trying to hunt them down.
Other wee creatures are in the house too – tiny lizards that look suspiciously like salamanders. Four or five cm long, they haven’t learned to hide themselves in door jams and behind pictures like their parents.
Medium trapped one last week and kept it for days in a miserable plastic box with a few rocks for decoration, some water and a regular diet of dead bugs.
He tried to pick it up tonight and dropped it suddenly with a gasp.
“Did it bite you?” I said.
“No it screamed,” he said.
“Didn’t you hear it?”
I hadn’t, thank God.
“I think I might have hurt it.”
I must have looked horrified.
“I’ve let the lizard go,” he told me a little while later.
“Into the garden?” I said, suddenly worrying about the cold and the wet and the size of the poor wee thing.
“No, into the playroom,” he said.
That’s my boy.
At school, Small and Medium carved pumpkins for Halloween at school, took fruit for Thanksgiving, inhaled smoke from the caretaker’s leaf fires (then worried about lung damage), kicked around the fallen leaves, and learned to recite a very complicated French poem by heart.
The walnuts are finally falling and the squirrels are going nuts.
If you sit quietly in the big red chair looking out to the garden you will see them at work – a streak of lightning that pulls up and freezes as suddenly as if you had hit pause; mouth at full stretch to accommodate the enormous nut it has just thieved from the orchard; feeling your gaze but unable to locate you with its madly circling eyeball. Then you blink or breathe or call out to a child to come and see, and it’s off.
A big wind from the south tore through last weekend and stripped the last of the leaves from the trees.
Bizarrely it also brought warmth – temperatures climbing to 18 degrees each afternoon.
Despite the leaf drop, the landscape is still surprisingly green. The crops in the front field seem to go on forever and Monsieur L tells me there is no winter hiatus. He will plant and grow all year round.
Autumn also brought in some good news from home – Sabbatical Man took the opportunity to talk to his partners on the business front.
He has asked for more time.
We’re staying a bit longer.
We will see out another spring and summer.
But our one and only autumn here has been and gone.
Two hundred and seventy seven days and counting.