September 2018

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Outside the kitchen window the single hollyhock, like Jack’s beanstalk, has reached the eaves and turned back towards the ground. It’s been flowering for two or three months now, and among the hard round seedheads there are still flowers up the main stem and on the tip.

I’m particularly proud of this one. Unlike the ones I’ve planted with so much care and attention in England, this one has thrived. It’s emerged from the single seed I dropped into the gravel lining the dampcourse; a seed collected from a stray plant by a small bridge near the River Lot in 2011. It’s a delicate pale peach with crimson centre.

At the bottom of the garden the rosa rugosa have matured and evidently, from the number of fat spherical round hips, had a great flowering season, with plenty of pink and white fragrant blooms still opening.

When the garden and hedge were destroyed for the legally-required replacement of the septic tank, the fosse septique, last year, my little garden gate and fence into the back private garden also disappeared. We erected a wooden arch, and I planted jasmine and a perfumed white climbing rose given me by a friend. The latter has rampaged over the top of the arch and down the other side, with the jasmine filling in the gaps.

Unfortunately, the arch now frames the view of the washing whirligig. So I’ve brought in a reconstituted stone Buddha to draw the eye. It was so difficult to find a Buddha with the ‘right’ face, and this one is not perfect*, but I can live with it. Although my own spiritual practice is eclectic, my Zen meditation has underpinned it for more than 40 years. So the little Buddha, rather than being merely a garden ornament, is a focal point for me: an instant reminder to drop my concerns, my habitual anxieties, my judgements – just to drop my shoulders, drop into my feet, be present to this moment. (*This judgement has no place in a Zen philosophy but then, I’m not perfect either! Or at least, we’re both perfect in our imperfections.)

The willow outside the bedroom window is going to have to be topped. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for it: it’s so often been a close-by tree that has sealed somewhere I’m considering living. I’m so grateful too for its cargo of small songbirds, warblers – yes, willow warblers – included.

September is beautiful in the Forest. There are fewer tourists, the Forest seems to be breathing out, and we’ve had a small heatwave until today’s pre-equinoctial gales, so that the woods have been full of spilled soft light. We seem to encounter dragonflies and herons wherever we go this time. I find a new-to-me little fontaine in the Forest, and its genius loci or tutelary deity was a bright and beautiful young yellow dragonfly.

What a joy to walk through the woods – and another joy is the 2nd-hand English and French bookshop.

Today I took TM to Mougau-Bihan – the magnificent late-Neolithic allée couverte (translated as ‘passage grave’, though in fact it might never have been constructed as a burial site; there’s still so much we don’t know about the megaliths). This one has some carvings in one end: two pairs of breasts, presumably a gesture to the Mother Goddess who was probably significant in that era, and some axes or swords (that could just as easily be phalluses).

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We had a coffee in the shabby-chic little café-restaurant by the Lac du Drennec – checking out its potential for swimming for TM (verdict: good), and then walked the 7 kms around its wooded perimeter (along with many French/Bretons doing the same thing, if they weren’t on or in the water or having one of those extended Sunday lunches en famille at a picnic bench that the French do so well).

It’s an artificial lake created by damming the River Elorn, but it still manages to be beautiful, with plenty of wildfowl and, apparently, otters. (Nearby is an area where a colony of beavers thrives.)

On the way back I stopped to show TM the Fontaine de St Jean, a beautiful restored and tended holy well plus lavoir (often they are both; a comfortable rubbing-shoulders of the sacred and secular, which pleases me).

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In the same vein, there is a picnic table here too: a huge stone slab with a little monolith behind it right next to the well. The hydrangea bush, with its erstwhile sky-blue flowers, is now adorned with that many-shades-of-bruise colouring in the striking (pun not intended) way that only nature’s makeup artist could achieve.

I long to be the kind of person who would have organised a sumptuous picnic – and I long for TM to be the kind of man who would have really liked to sit and eat and converse in a languorous way for a couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime; but hey, we are not.

Four or five lots of guests have used my cottage now when I’ve not been here. I’ve had amazing, glowing feedback – this is truly a place of inspiration and restoration. Others appreciating and coming to love this place as I do sets in motion another dynamic: in addition to the conversation between me and the place, there’s a third strand now that braids those two, so that we are all interlinked: me, the Forest, the other people who, via me, come to know and love it. More strands in the web of belonging.

I was nervous at first. This is the first and only place I have ever ‘owned’, and since I bought it with a legacy I feel precious about it. But in fact it’s been enriching and deepening for me too as an experience for others to come and share the tranquillity.

My programme of courses seems to facilitate change in people: a deepening of the way they live their lives, an enhanced sense of creativity.

How lovely, then, that I might facilitate change and creativity in a different way, with the collaboration of this place. When someone ‘gets it’ here, the gift that was my father’s to me carries on round, circulates.

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