Lessons from the mountains
I'm writing this on my last night in Puivert, sat at a table in the craft brewery a short walk from my parents' house. It's 7.30pm, the sun is just setting over the mountains and I've a cold beer in my hand and a heart that's ready to be heading home. This time tomorrow, I'll be in England and almost there. Home to my guy, to my dog and to my bed. Home. The nicest word there is.
Sometimes I think that a trip is more than just the time that you're away. It's a punctuation mark that you don't necessarily intend to make. But maybe when you're away you look at what happened before you left, ruminate on what will happen when you get back and realise that your trip is exactly that. A punctation mark, a break, a pause, a moment to breathe. And it doesn't matter what happens on your trip, because it's the going away that's all you need. It's okay if it's not as full of laughter and relaxation as you'd hoped. It's okay if you miss home and wonder if you should have gone away at all. Because that pause, that time, is renewing and energising you even if it doesn't feel that way at the time.
My parents bought their house in Puivert about eighteen months ago, and have only been over a few times since then. Mostly to do basic decorating work, organise building repairs and get the gite that's attached to the house ready for renting out. It means that although the house is lovely, spacious and with great bones, it's not as homely as it will be when they've spent more time there over the coming years. Visiting off season means it can be cold and wet, and this time it has rained for eight out of the ten days I've been here. I think all these things combined left me feeling a little down at times, especially with the added tiredness of a toddler who decided to wake around 5am every day and often refuse to nap for very long. When it's raining, there's no wifi and you're very tired, the lack of time to yourself or to rest feels a little testing and you can yearn for your home.
And I don't at all mean to sound ungrateful. Ten days in the mountains with my family is something of a luxury that I'm very priveleged to have, both of time and of people. But going away with a toddler, without your partner, and navigating the complexities of living with your parents again as an adult comes with challenges. Even for just ten days. At times I've felt a little sad and isolated, with all I left behind feeling very far away. My relationship with my parents is complicated (like everyone's?) and sometimes we struggle to connect. It can go unnoticed when other family members or friends are present, but when it's just us, it's very apparent. It brings up old memories and feelings I thought I had either forgotten or dealt with, and a sadness just washes over me thats hard to pull myself out of. And then there's the guilt that comes with those feelings, the fighting through them to see the positive, the knowledge that if you don't you'll regret it and waste this precious time that is melting relentlessly away.
I guess I'm writing this because I always try to give an honest view of everything I do. And that it's okay to post pictures of my trip to a beautiful and magical place, but say that this time around it didn't always feel so magical. It felt like a reality check, a window into what it's really like to live in the mountains in a poor region of Southern France and not just see it through a tourist gaze. That it can be cold, unfriendly, painfully quiet and isolating just as much as it can be beautiful, peaceful, relaxing and uplifting. It's easy to share a beautiful picture on instagram, prompting so many comments from your followers who are jealous of the wonderful time you're having even if you didn't say anything like that at all. When you can't adequately explain in a caption all that your holiday is making you feel, without sounding ungrateful or sad, but you so desperately want to give a truer account of your experience than one sun-filled photograph can do on its own.
But, with all that said, I loved being in the mountains. It's just that there's two sides to the story of this trip.
Despite the rain, we were able to get out and do something every day when the weather was clear. Often just for the morning or the afternoon. We went hiking, there are easy trails nearby at Nebias which are under 10km each and totally doable to hike with a toddler. I've got some photos to share in another post tomorrow. We visited the local market towns of Mirepoix, Quillan and Esperaza and had plenty of relaxing walks around the village of Puivert down to the lake and out to the airfield. The space, stillness and lack of a to-do list was at times completely heavenly. Especially in the sunshine.
I've learnt some lessons from the mountains this week:
- there's two sides to having a wifi signal: the constant addiction to notifications, likes and comments (the side we all need a break from) and the very real connections and community we build and rely on daily for friendships, support and work.
- no matter how magical the place you go on your summer holidays is, there's a darker side to it for sure.
- that pretty pictures will never tell the whole story, unless the person behind them is brave enough to share it with you
- time with my daughter is the most precious thing I will ever have
- no matter what you think about your relationship with your parents, it's important to let them carve out their own much improved relationship with your children.
- having a partner who lets you be who you need to be, with complete freedom and love and trust is gold. If you have it, you are blessed.
- having a baby changes your relationship with your parents. You're still their child, but you're an adult with a child of your own. It's a new dynamic that takes time to navigate, and I haven't managed it yet.
It's funny, I think, when you have a wandering spirit. No matter how much you love your home, your routine and your comfort, you're a person of two halves. Predictability makes you restless and too much safety makes you feel afraid. Afraid of boredom, of stagnating, of missing out on all the other lives you might have lived if you hadn't chosen this one. You crave a window into them, and because imagining them isn't enough you have to go and see for yourself. Be someone else, just for a few days, if only to remind you how much you love being you. That however far you travel to find yourself, you'll always be right back where you started. But when adventure calls, you just have to go.
To my french mountain home, à bientôt.