Thursday, June 25, 2009

" As I walked out one midsummer morning..."

I love that title, possibly the best thing about the book.

We set out early, just a day or so after the longest day, as it looked set to be hot, and I wanted to take a longer walk.

We passed Victor's place. I always like the industrious orderliness of the place, especially since he stopped keeping rabbits.

And there is Victor, going into his garage. I wonder if that vine ever produces anything.

Looking through the gap between Victor's barn and one of his many woodpiles, an old set of ploughshares, and beyond, red roses round the door of the scruffiest house in the village. (I keep meaning to put together a pictorial map of the village; I made a start, but it was complicated, I wanted to put too much detail in. I may take a template from Mappy and try that way...)

On Brochain's corner, the iris foetidissima is flowering. Very smelly iris! It's berries are interesting in winter too, perhaps more so than the flower.

We walk up to the ridge road. It is growing warmer, and the sun draws the moisture up from the earth, so that it condenses in droplets like fisheyes on the underside of the plastic mulch round the maize plants.

Rather than turning at the second road to the left, which is our usual circuit, we carry on down the lane towards la Tantouille, once the hideout of Chouans and vagabonds. Each break in the hedge gives a subtly different vista onto the countryside inland.

The trunks of aspen trees also seem full of eyes,

and I catch one of these meadow brown butterflies resting, which is unusual. They are more shadowy and elusive than the later gatekeepers which they resemble, and float over the fields of wheat and barley in a quite linear and purposeful fashion.

Honeysuckle hangs abundantly all over the roadside trees,

and the ash makes a filigree shade.

We are still able to follow the edge of a maize field to reach another small village called St Meux. The scent of hay is everywhere, and the barns, like the woodpiles, hold stores of energy for the winter.

Unfortunately here, the smell of a run-down looking pig farm also follows us for a while. I have to put Mol's lead on to get her past it, until we are upwind of it. We passed it once when a pig was being loaded into a truck from the building. It was screaming in that horrible, human-sounding way they do at these times, and she was so terrified she wouldn't go any further and we had to make a detour. Such experiences always make me resolve not to eat pork any more, and we don't eat much, and usually only free-range, but my good intentions lapse. It seems Mol might have shamingly more compassion for other species' distress than I do, though she's partial to a little bacon fat if she gets the chance.

That stalwart icon of Brittany, the artichoke; Brittany Ferries was founded on the strength of this vegetable, you know!

Ancient granite crosses at the roadside like this one are sometimes called Merovingian, though who knows if they really are? They must be of great age to be so worn and weathered.

St Meux is quite flowery, and up high in the trees is a dazzling white philadelphus, possibly my favourite flower. We have our own, a Belle Etoile variety, in the garden, but these very rangy, very white ones that grow energetically upwards among other trees and shrubs remind me of the ones I grew up with, their bubblegum perfume mixing with the dusty grey-green aroma of old box hedges.

A peaceful Brittany Spaniel had a good look at us. These dogs were a 19th century creation, bred from crossing English setters with the general purpose mutt favoured by the Breton charcoal burners. Some are quite graceful elegant creatures, others hang their heads low and seem to have an rough-edged independence about them, more of the charbonnier's mutt than the setter. This one has a sweet face though.

So there it is, midsummer, sunny and warm and fine and dandy. Yet, though I took scores of pictures, I ditched most of them. They were, quite simply, uninteresting; flat, overexposed, without shadows or highlights. Many of those I have used have been cropped or had their levels fiddled with to help them along. The brilliant meridional midsummer sun, even at this comparitively early hour, was simply too much. Doubtless a better knowledge of apertures would help the over-exposure (I have tried but seem unable to retain anything I learn...), but this wouldn't change the lack of obliqueness of the light which, for me, makes photographs interesting.

So, am I seriously complaining about it being summer? This is, surely, what we spend the springtime in exquisite anticipation of, and what we are looking back on in the delicious, heartbreaking, attenuated melancholy and nostalgia of autumn? Because this is it, isn't it? This is the moment, the splendid, effulgent mid-point, the sun at its height, the hours and hours of generous daylight, the sheer luxuriance of it all, especially when it's doing what it's supposed to do, and showing up all sunny and warm for a change. We should be feasting on this glut of sunlight, 'just soaking in the light, as if refueling after the long dark winter', as Marja-Leena says, who being Finnish, has a special feeling for the summer solstice!

What's not to like? Do I dare to feel a little disappointed? Quite simply, like many things exquisitely anticipated or wistfully looked back on, the reality is just a little bit flat, an anti-climax; you've got what you were waiting for, what now? What else is there?

'And summer dreamed sadly, for she thought all was ended
In her fulness of wealth that might not be amended...' *

But the joy of spring and autumn, paradoxically, are not in looking forward to or back on summer, but in experiencing that heightened ecstatic speedy vernal tilt, where you want it to stay a moment but its glory is in running through your fingers, or that slow, sad, lingering decline when nothing is so beautiful as what is about to die, and it looks back with love and longing one more time. Experiencing them just for their own sake. We need that, and we need obliqueness, we need the shadows, to know things fully.

But summer is wonderful anyway. I'm really not complaining...

(* William Morris, 'Love is enough' )

Over at Compasses, Joe speaks of hope and fear. I'm a bit late with this, most of you have already found your way there, I think. Thanks for your continued support with this, we've departed from the original thread now, and are having such an interesting time we're not inclined to stop.

Blogger has started doing something really annoying whereby you can't move photos around once you've uploaded them except by a slow and laborious process of leapfrogging one over another. Anyone else having trouble with this? Just been looking at a friend's lovely new Wordpress blog. It's looking more and more tempting. With the time and frustration incurred jigging this post around I could probably have begun to master Wordpress - and the picture quality's better there too...


Rouchswalwe said...

The "eyes" have it. Merci for letting me take a walk with you and for prodding me to ponder on shadows.
As for the pictures, I cheat and use the html panel. You highlight the photo coding - cut - move the cursor to the spot - paste. Voilà!

marja-leena said...

I love this rambling meditation on midsummer and its fleetingness, which is why it's so precious isn't it? Now that it is at its best, depending on weather, the days begin to shorten. Nice photos, Lucy, and thanks for the linkage!

blackbird said...

Ah, yes- the strenght of the midday sun. It does seem to wash out and flatten the sights with its strong light. Maybe that's what midday naps are made for?

I am sometimes disappointed that my camera doesn't pick up the detail that I can see but I haven't delved too far into its workings. I would need my reading glasses and maybe the manual.

Thank you for taking us along on your walk- it is beautiful.

Zhoen said...


Granny J said...

My midsummer problem is the dappling of very shadowy and very hot/sunshiny, which does not respond well to PhotoShop. Your alder tree trunk with its eyes is very similar to our aspen trunks. And BTW, do try the html method -- I didn't know there was any other way to move pictures.

Crafty Green Poet said...

lovely post, specially the alder eyes, the little puppy and your thoughts about speedy vernality of spring and autumn.

I have that problem with photos in Blogger, in fact I've always had that problem. In general though I find Blogger more user friendly and nice than wordpress, which I have some experience of. I think though there are certain things that are much easier on Wordpress, but other than photos, mostly they're things that I don't use - podcasts etc.

Lucy said...

Oops, I think GJ's right, I think they are aspens. Caught out there. Still, the leaves are similar... I'll change it.

Hello blackbird!I have a Crow, a Smoky Swallow and now a Blackbird!

I did wonder about that, Rouchswalwe, but I never trust myself with HTML; whenever I've tried working with it I seem to bugger everything up and can't get it sorted. I suppose one option would be simply to organise myslef better and post the pics in the right order in the first place, but it's nice to have the option of moving them around, even though it means they don't enlarge, or to be able to add something at the last minute... Perhap there's something in the settings I can adjust. I might start to play about with Wordpress before taking the plunge and moving altogether. Trouble is I can't keep up with everything start and don't finish anyway... Thanks for the feedback anyway!

herhimnbryn said...

I enjoyed walking in your company and smiled when you said you discarded so many images....I do too.

'Merovingian', sounds so Welsh to me? Am I right in thinking that some welsh and french language is similar. I seem to remember my Welsh Nanna saying that Breton fishermen would often be heard conversing with her neighbours in Wales.

I have to say that right now I don't miss our summer and am relishing cold days and rain.

Reluctant Blogger said...

Oh it does look beautiful where you live. I love to see blue skies or high cloud cover. It was the low sky which made me feel a bit grey when I first returned to the UK - it felt all claustrophobic.

I like Wordpress a lot - it is easier to use when you get over the initial shock of it being so different. But I don't really use photos. Can you not move photos more easily in blogger if you work in html mode and keep them as code and just cut and paste and copy them? I always did it that way on the rare occasions I used photos.

Why don't you just have a little practice with Wordpress - just set up an account and try putting up a few photos and play with it and see how you get on. You don't actually need to switch till you are happy.

Barrett Bonden said...

At least your June 21 was contemplative. Ours involved a 30 km dash from Aumale (near Amiens; wonderful hotel; ah, the financial indulgence) to the autoroute, quick flog up to Calais, last car to catch the preceding Chunnel booking, M20, M25, M4, etc, etc. One treat: the kitchen had been painted in our absence. Fresh and light to catch the ambiguous summer sun. But I think you're right: summer can never live up to the hype that spring implies. My mother used to complain that my grandmother never announced the shortest day, but always took care to bring everyone's attention to the longest, as if relishing the decline. Since my grandmother lived to be 96 this recurrent celebration proved to be somewhat wearing.

I share your dissatisfaction with picture placing in Blogger. In responding to a request from M-L for a selection of holiday snaps I found I had to plan their layout backwards, using pen and pencil. In this day and age! I was tempted by Rouchswalve's HTML technique but put off by trying to find out the beginning and end of the image code. I suppose the trick is to insert large spaces so the code is isolated and obvious.

Plutarch said...

A refreshing and richly enjoyable midsummer walk. I agree about Laurie Lee. Your venture is much better, more verbs, fewer adjectives.

Lucy said...

Funny, I always thought I went a bit over the top with the adjectives.

I loved 'As I walked out...' as a youngster, resolved to follow in an amalgam of his footsteps and Hemingway's into Spain; lack of Spanish and the reality that I couldn't in fact stomach even the idea of bull-fighting kept us on the French side of the Pyrenees, but it was a good holiday anyway. I suspected already that LL wasn't being quite honest in the book, certain things didn't quite tally. Then the fact that he'd really made quite a lot of it up seemed galling, then that he'd made it up because in fact his poor health prevented him from being the brave free spirit he portrayed himself as just seemed quite sad.

HHB - Merovingians weren't Bretons but the Frankish lot pre-Charlemagne. I understand Bretons and Welsh can communicate, though I can see little resemblance in the written language, from my passing acquaintance with both. some of the place names are similar. No one's spoken Breton hereabouts for a very long time, it was Gallic Brittany, where they spoke a patois similar to Channel Island French. There are attempts to revive this too.

RB - 'twas your blog of which I spoke. Truthfully, it's not making the switch as such that bothers me, but the details to be taken care of, changing my Blogger ID, losing followers, linking to my Blogger profile, redirecting everyone... I suppose that's what puts many people off. But I may well experiment. We found the dullness of the light back in Europe,especially at the beginning of autumn, took some getting used to afteronly a month in the Antipodes, and things did seema bit small and pinched and closed in. Now I hate the idea of living without our fuzzy,hazy cosiness again!

BB - granny sounds a right laugh, a proper Jeremiah " the summer is over and we are not yet saved!" I'll pop over and look at the holiday pics.

A Write Blog said...

Nice photos. They tell the story. My favourite is Victor going into the barn. What's in there?

I agree with 'Crafty...' re Blogger.

Anticipation. Isn't that half the fun of anything we do?

And then you can develop it.

Take summer. In the morning I will anticipate a particular kind of evening; one which I can only experience in the summer.

Or the way clouds can turn that heavy grey that only happens in summer before a thunder storm. You wait for that first flash, that first roll of thunder.

I could go on.

Anticipation can work on so many levels and timescales.

Now I'm anticipating late summer; that lazy languid quality that you just know is going to end with autumn.

Isabelle said...

I always have to load the photos backwards and if I get it wrong then I have no idea how to leapfrog, as you suggest. How intriguing.

I'm always just pathetically grateful that Blogger exists and is free; I can never really feel justified in complaining about it.

Lovely words and pictures, Lucy. I know what you mean about summer. Once the longest day is over - especially since my holidays haven't even started - I feel a bit sad. I think we ought to have a fortnight of longest days...

Beth said...

Lucy, what a pleasure taking this walk with you! You've expressed what I feel about midsummer - for us northerners that apex is especially poignant, considering how much we anticipate it, or mourn its passing.

Avus said...

"As I walked out....." I love that book and L.L.'s other stuff. Have you seen the TV version with his lyrical, dreamlike voiceover?

leslee said...

Fleeting summer, indeed. I think we had it for a couple of hours this weekend then it was gone again. And a brief moment today after work and then, just as I was putting on my walking sandals for a walk, the rain again. Enjoy your summer! We're still awaiting ours here in New England.

meggie said...

Another wonderful post. I love your photos.

Bee said...

I was much struck by your musings on summer and that high, bleached out light. How I've longed for warmth, and now I find it . . . too warm. I've been so aware, this year (and probably because we've had this prolonged bout of heat), how quickly it all turns -- and goes off.

The photograph of the dog wedged between the white pillars is very memorable!

marly said...

You know, this is my favorite kind of post--the musings with wonderful photographs. I always enjoy going on an e-walk with Lucy.