Early Winter in Essoyes
My mother taught me to appreciate beautiful sunsets when I was a teenager. (Well, she tried to teach me, but I must confess didn’t truly appreciate them until I had left home. “Yeah, Mom,” I would say, barely looking up, in response to her enthusiastic pointing out of the beauty, several times a week.)
But apparently on some level I was listening to her, for all my life since I have loved sunsets. Such it is with teenagers.
And so for a long time I have thrilled to the beauty of sunsets, whether of the dramatic, pyrotechnical kind, or the more subdued pastel versions. I even learned to appreciate the reflections created by sunsets in the windows of apartment buildings, and the color of stones and bricks at the end of the day, when I was living and working in Manhattan. You couldn’t see much of the sky in most parts of Manhattan, but you could still see the rich, warm effects of the changing light.
I also love mountain landscapes, both the breathtaking grandeur of the Big Horns or the Rockies, and the more subdued beauty of the older, gentler, greener Appalachians.
And I have always loved the beauty of lakes, oceans, forests.
But it was not until I got to settle into life on our beautiful little patch of countryside in Essoyes that I was able to notice certain interesting and beautiful things in nature that I had never really noticed before, things that were not on the “macro” scale of sunsets and landscapes. The minutiae, as it were, of nature.
For example, did you know that pine cones start out like this?
This picture was taken in June, is it not beautiful?!
I had never given any thought whatsoever as to how pine cones began their life cycle, the part that comes before they are used to decorate Christmas wreaths. But it turns out that they begin with this beautiful bluish-green color, they are not brown at all. Who knew?!
Then, as fall set in, our mushrooms began to appear. I knew we had them, and that some of them were edible, but I would not trust myself to know how to identify the edible ones from the poison ones, nor how to gather them correctly. So I invited the previous owner of our home to return and gather mushrooms if he wanted to. He confirmed that yes, we do have edible mushrooms, mostly verts de gris, or lactaire delicieux. “But you have to like them,” he said, and added, diplomatically (as if not to hurt the feelings of the mushrooms, or perhaps my feelings)”I don’t like them very much.”
Apparently we also have coprins des mousserons d’automne and rosés de près. Here are some of our mushrooms…
And here are others…
I can tell you that even knowing the names of them now, I certainly wouldn’t trust myself with any of them. (A fun fact is that in France, pharmacists are trained to identify mushrooms, so you can take mushrooms to the local pharmacy and find out what they are and whether they are safe to eat. My friend, Jeffrey Greene, the author of Wild Edibles among other wonderful books, has joked that “You can tell what the really good ones are when they say, ‘Oh you’d better leave these ones here with us…'” 🙂 )
Thanksgiving is not celebrated in France, but it is an American holiday that many French people love to celebrate with their American friends. And so, for the second time, with the help of a French friend who is both a Thanksgiving enthusiast and a wonderful cook, I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner the Sunday after Thanksgiving. There were 14 of us, mostly French people, ranging in age from great-grandfather to great-grandchildren. The group included several Americans and one little girl who is half-French, half-American (and 100% wonderful). I enjoyed telling them about my favorite American holiday, and they enjoyed learning about it. There were, filling in for the turkey-too-hard-to-find-at-this-time-of-year-in-rural-France, wonderful poulets fermier. There was cornbread, and bread stuffing, there were sweet potatoes, and real live cranberries imported from the U.S. There was delicious homemade pumpkin pie, and apple crisp. And of course there was champagne!
Best of all, my son Sam was here! We went around the table saying what we were grateful for, we ate, we drank. It was a wonderful day.
And now it is December, and there is frost on the fields.
And here are the “ripe” pine cones, all ready to help us prepare to celebrate Christmas.
And I’m almost–almost!–ready to announce the details for our spring Writing from the Heart workshops. Stay tuned, and enjoy the beginning of the holiday season!
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, writing workshops in Essoyes, a village in the Champagne region, and teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” each summer in Paris for Queens College, CUNY.