It’s a dull and grey Sunday afternoon, the fire is giving great warmth to the room and an Elvis movie is playing on the television my hosts are snuggled on the sofa watching and I am hoping for a glimpse of the mountains today. It has been overcast for a couple of days now, with the promise of snow on higher ground, the bitterly cold clear days of last week were great for clearing brambles and walking the dog but the word was that new snow was needed in the hills. If it clears, I will be able to see the pyrenees from where I am sitting and hopefully the new layer of snow will be obvious. Our skis are packed in the car and if the forecast is right we will be heading up the mountain for the first time tomorrow morning for a day on the slopes.
It will seem strange heading to St Lary for a day, last time I was there, I stayed for nearly five months, working for board and lodgings at Lou Rider, a cute little chalet nestling in a valley just below the slopes. I arrived there through helpX in early December and skid for the whole season. This time it will be day trips and a good chance to check out some different resorts in the region.
I am staying with Vanessa and Lisa in their rented farmhouse about an hour from the mountains, the view from the property is amazing, especially on a clear day when the mountains tower above the hills on the other side of the valley. We met last winter when they visited Lou Rider to ski and enjoy the mountains, and have been in contact ever since. I visited the farm last summer and we joked about skiing again this year, I was sure that I would be in California by now and was sure that it wouldn’t happen, but it has. Funny how things turn out.
Life here has a slow, relaxed pace, a bit lazy in fact. We get up after nine, have a cuppa and walk the dog. Plan the day over breakfast. There isn’t a huge amount to do, a bit of garden tidying, maybe some writing, Lisa has plenty of painting work to do, elsewhere, but only three or four days a week, Vanessa marks papers for a college from time to time, a trip to the supermarket, dinner with neighbours, I use neighbours loosely, as many live several miles away, but are friends and so come under that umbrella. We have had some fun nights out, a great evening in a tiny bar that we battled through the freezing cold night to get to, a fifties tribute band that played great music in a bar that was so small and packed that we actually felt warm for the first time in several days. This morning Vanessa and I headed to the local woods to walk with Tim. He has a house in a neighbouring village and knows the area well. We followed the trail through the arboretum and woodland, checking out the occasional named specimen and marveling on the mini canal that brings water to the village, it was built at the turn of the last century and flows for miles, following the contours of the land winding tortuously through the woodland and out the other side. Within the woods, a team of local men were busy felling and chopping timber. Tim explained that it was a community owned wood and all the villagers have the right to remove a certain amount of wood each year. He showed us the section that he was working with another couple of villagers, ten metres by one hundred and twenty five, it stretched up from a muddy track into the distance. The wood that could be harvested was marked in advance by a woodman then the team work their way through clearing brush and scrub and felling their crop, mature trees are left and sold for the commune, the resulting firewood is then theirs to take home or sell on as they choose. He was loving the involvement for several reasons. Learning french, involvement with the local community, a sense of camerarderie, learning new skills and also the cheap firewood. it was a great walk on a dreary morning and inspiration again for plan B should my visa not appear.