Flowers and showers

The flowers around here are bursting forth in an ecstatic springtime dance.

It began quietly enough in January, when tiny blooms began to appear on the wild rosemary bushes that dot the hillsides near where I live. This was good timing: I’ve learned that an infusion made with sprigs of rosemary—especially when there are flowers—is beneficial for the respiratory system, and about half the town had the flu this winter. And beyond that useful tidbit, the lovely periwinkle flowers brightened the landscape through the grey, windy days of winter.

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Late March saw wild iris and some tiny pink plants on my walks.

A few weeks ago, I went for a hike with some friends to see wild iris blooms. The iris weren’t as plentiful as my friends had seen in years past, but I thought it was pretty wonderful. White, yellow, and several shades of purple appeared throughout the landscape. We also saw the spiky buds of asphodel, a flower I’d never seen before. Fans of Harry Potter might remember “powdered root of asphodel” in connection with Professor Snape.

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An asphodel bud, and four weeks later, the blooms climbing a full stalk.

As spring approached, my friend Maryse offered to show me how to forage for wild asparagus, which is a perfectly wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Maryse has an eagle eye for the impossibly thin spikes, hiding in a tumble of myriad other plants. I found a grand total of seven spears, and the remainder of our healthy supply came from her. There was an abundance of other wildflowers, including a few unnamed things plus masses of grape hyacinths, which seem to be thought of as weeds around here. I love that sweet grape-y perfume (when I’m willing to get down on my belly for a sniff).

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A skillet full of wild asparagus, and a grape hyacinth pictured in front of a lichen-covered rock.

In the middle of this beautiful display of springtime, I headed to Paris for a long-planned visit to see family and friends, and this being Paris in the springtime, there was plenty of rain to be had. I have no patience for umbrellas; it’s just one more thing to carry and keep track of, plus it’s awkward to manage both a camera and an umbrella. But one afternoon, my friend Jamie and I were caught in a small cloudburst, and I got soaked; the next day I bought myself a nice small umbrella to use for the remainder of my stay in Paris. The French word for umbrella is parapluie, one of my favorite French words.

I returned to Bize in time for one exceptional day of rain. The river rose and people spoke of floods; rainwater came into my house via gaps in the ancient front door and windows. The power went out for most of a day, and it continued raining for several more days. I had the opportunity to get some more use out of my parapluie.

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The tumbling river near my home, and bright red umbrellas at a patio restaurant.

And suddenly one day, the sun succeeded in burning off the clouds, and spring really arrived. The trees are loaded with buds in deep pinks and whites. The grapevines are leafing out. Bugs have arrived, followed quickly by swallows. Birds are singing, flowers are everywhere.

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Lilacs—one of my very favorite garden flowers—and wisteria are perfuming the air and keeping the bees busy.

There is also an enthusiastic display of red these days; amongst the grasses, weeds and other plants, we’re seeing an abundance of red poppies. Most are of the usual color: a reddish-orange hue that might be called vermilion. Roadsides and fields and vineyards and anything else that is green is now speckled with small red dots. And every so often, there is one poppy of a deeper red hue. It’s a true, rich red that seems to be throwing its arms wide and shouting, “Pay attention to ME!”

Another of my favorite French words is coquelicot (poppy). It’s fun to say, and the flowers make me happy.

And that is a glimpse of the exuberant dance of springtime in the South of France!

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