Honey bees abound in France’s wild bay laurels

Sweet bay laurel flowers attracting honey bee in la mer des roches near Sauve, France

Sweet bay laurel flowers attracting honey bee in la mer des roches near Sauve, France

Walking in the garrigue, the scrub oak land above the village of Sauve, France a few weeks ago, I was listening to incredibly diverse bird songs including the most elaborate symphony with a rossingnol or nightingale as the featured soloist. Further down the path I stopped to observe a thriving colony of honey bees hard at work on an enormous fragrant flower laden bay laurel.  I watched them for more than half an hour and attempted to photograph them. Perhaps a video would have been a little more successful! The warm sun on my shoulders, the sweet floral fragrance and their unhurried steady pursuit of the nectar and pollen mesmerized me. It was awe inspiring to witness a wilderness free of pesticides and especially neonicotinoids, the neuroactive chemical which is believed to be causing the massive beepocolypse happening as bee colonies are dying in catastrophic numbers around the world. Rather than waiting for all the bees to disappear, for the time being France has halted the use of these hideous chemicals.

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Prés du rivière Vidroule

Afloat in spring ~ life along the Vidroule river near Sauve, France.

Afloat in spring ~ life along the Vidroule river near Sauve, France.

To live near a river as vivant and ever changing as the Vidroule in the Gard region of southern France is a journey of discovery.  Every walk or bike ride reveals more depth to the living eco-system of this rich riparian zone.  Several weeks ago, at the edge of the turquoise water, milky from a recent orage, I observed newly hatched ducklings getting their first experience in river running. My fond memories of running the muddy Green and Yampa rivers in Utah and Colorado at thirteen, taught me that the strength of the paddler does not always match that of the current.  Mother duck foraging in the overhanging willows appeared confidently detached from the aquatic discoveries her children were experiencing.  It gave me a warm feeling remembering each of my flock stridently paddling their way back home after one escapade or another.  Life happens along the way it seems whether you go with the flow, or not.

Biodiversity along the chemin du moulin neuf beside the Vidroule river

Biodiversity along the chemin du moulin neuf beside the Vidroule river 

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Muguet des bois ~ Lily of the valley

la porte-bonheur or "bringer of happiness"- the true symbol of spring and the gardener's hope

la porte-bonheur or “bringer of happiness”- the true symbol of spring and the gardener’s hope

I took this dramatic photo of my “porte-bonheur” or bringer of happiness. It is the french tradition to give these delicate fragrant white bells, muguet des bois, as a gift to a loved one on the first day of May.  I saw them peeking demurely out from their green wrap in the marché and decided I would capture the essence of springtime fleeting and precious as it is, and enjoy them on my table even if my sweetheart were not in this country to give them to me.

My mother’s garden is still a bloom with these acid loving perennials which spread with abandon into the grass or garden as they wish each spring.  Every year she offers me some and I have always wished I had a great tree under which to plant them allowing them to spread and grow as in the woodlands of central and northern France.  My little terra cotta pot with three plants in it looks a little passé and needs to be planted.  I will tuck it into a friend’s garden here in Sauve and add a bit of peat moss perhaps to make it happy in the limestone soil.  My french girlfriend received a handpicked bouquet of lily of the valley brought to her by her bon ami up north.  I noticed how the leaves encircled each stem of bells yet grew entirely separately, like a man with his arms around his woman, each beautiful in their individual splendor, drawn together by love.

souvenir de printemps

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La couleur d’Avril ~ The color of April

Les glycines ~ tumbling down crumbling walls...I am back in France this spring in time to experience the lushest vine I know. Here it is climbing up Madeleine and Daniel's house in Vallabrix. The morning light of April blanching the violet to white like the thick spears of aspérges in the marchés. I am here for six weeks to exhibit a collection of paintings created in and about le Gard, a dream I have had to share my work in its "pays d'origine". Each year on the 1st of May, Sauve celebrates springtime with les Ateliers Ouvertes. The whole artistic community opens its doors to springtime exhibiting creativity in every artistic form. All the visual arts and crafts from painting and sculpture to jewelry, pottery, iron work, hand-made lamp shades and exsquisite clothing and hats. Live music and Les Giants du Sud, a colorful troupe of enormous puppets perform in the streets and at a stage throughout the day and night. In the Place des Vabres next to the Vidroule, a marché de brocante comes to the village. Vendors display their brick a brac and antiques and collectibles side my side under the shade of the old plane trees. I will be hanging my paintings in la Maison du Conte, a gracious home built between the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries in a magical vaulted foyer.

Les glycines ~ tumbling down crumbling walls…I am back in France this spring in time to experience the wisteria en fleuri. Here it is climbing up my friends Madeleine and Daniel’s house. The morning light of April blanches the violet to white like the thick spears of aspérges in the marchés this time of year. I am here for six weeks to exhibit a collection of paintings created in and about le Gard, a dream I have had to share my work in its pays d’origine. Each year on the 1st of May, Sauve celebrates springtime with les Ateliers Ouvertes. The whole artistic community opens its doors to springtime exhibiting creativity in every artistic form. All the visual arts and crafts from painting and sculpture to jewelry, pottery, iron work, hand-made lamp shades and exquisite clothing and hats. Live music and Les Giants du Sud, a colorful troupe of enormous puppets, perform in the streets throughout the day and night. In the Place des Vabres next to the Vidroule river, a marché de brocante comes to the village. Vendors display bric-a-brac and antiques, and collectibles side by side under the shade of old plane trees. I will be hanging my paintings in la Maison du Conte, a gracious home-built between the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries in a magical vaulted foyer. Here I am below playing dress-up in a vintage clothing store in Seattle last spring.  I loved the dress…it made me feel like a fairy princess…wish I had bought it!

IMG_0171_2

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Thyme in my Pocket

My new book, Thyme in my Pocket, Moments in the south of France in word and watercolor

Here is the cover of my new book I wrote and published this summer with Illumina Press!  It was a wonderful creative experience to paint the watercolors, write the prose, and design the whole book.  I am back in le Gard for two months with my husband hiking, biking, baking tartes, painting, and playing fiddle…en vacance!  I thought this was a good time to post about my book.  Available on Amazon and very soon through Ingram.   Below is a description of the of book and endoresments from the back cover.

Thyme in my Pocket

Moments in the south of France in word and watercolor

 by Alison Johnston

Thyme in my Pocket is a visual memoir of four splendid seasons spent in the rural French countryside. In word and watercolor, artist and writer Alison Johnston takes the reader on an intimate journey home to a country of heart, to a sense of place. In the tiny stone villages of southern France, she lived her dream, born during a six week summer art study in nineteen seventy-nine where she contracted “La maladie des pierres”. Translated as falling helplessly in love with stone, within which one lives and breathes and creates in these timeless villages, she has happily never recovered. For a magical year she and her cycling husband and musical son lived, wrote, painted and played, nurtured by the art, language, music, and most significantly, the cross-cultural friendships which blossomed.

“After reading Alison Johnston’s beautiful artistic memoir, “Thyme in my Pocket”, I felt magically transported to France. Her journey through words painted for me a reminiscing that only someone who had spent time there could make sound so alive, so real. Alison’s seasonal paintings depict the sensibility of place and moment. I cannot recommend this book enough. Fabulous work. “Thyme in my Pocket” is a book worthy of the finest cocktail tables.”

—Susan Wingate, Award-winning Author and Amazon Bestseller of “Drowning” and the “Bobby’s Diner Series”

“In ‘Thyme in my Pocket’, scenes of French country life come alive as Alison shares her impressions of the Gard, via watercolors, sketches and stories which honor the history and the beauty of the region. I enjoyed learning little nuggets of France’s past while ambling, paragraph by paragraph, through the countryside with this poetic artist.”

—Kristin Espinasse, author of “Blossoming in Provence,” “Words in a French Life”, and the French Word-A-Day blog

“Alison’s book reminds me of the spring I lived in Provence. The umber cliffs and the smells and the poetry of the warm winds come rushing back as I turn the pages.”

—Jim Lawrence, author of “Callused Hands Hungry Heart”

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St. Patrick’s Day two weeks past…

It was on my hike up to Lough Anna that I came across these shamrocks growing near an abandoned stone cottage at the side of the road.  It was my intention to write a St Patrick’s Day post on the seventeenth...c’est la vie.

The sun has just burst through for the second time today.  Five minutes ago I was driving across San Juan Valley in a down pour over the wobbly road in the wetland where the waterfowl float in a green soup rain flooded field.  As I drove down Wold Road the mist shrouded Mt Dalla made me smile when I thought of delivering Allaye’s irish bread with her and playing our fiddles by the peat fire.  Rain is synonymous with breath in Donegal, Ireland.  Now, for a moment my Chinese red back door is lit up like a fire engine in the late March sun.  Mon petit jardin is a fête des colours with majenta primroses and grape hyacinths a bloom and the faded prayer flags Robin brought back from India last year hanging across le cour like this was laundry day for the garden fairies…

So to Ireland and St. Patrick, to Allaye O’Conner and all the great tunes I have played each March since 2002 at the Friday Harbor Irish Camp, I remember you in these photographs of Donegal, Ireland.  All the rain this month reminds me of visiting Donegal in January nearly three months ago now.

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Tête a tête: le premier Mars

Yesterday I received a phone call from my dear copine Charlotte sending me wishes for a bon anniversaire, the first of March.  She then told me that I might want to know that her first grand son arrived safely into the world and shares my birthday!  Quelle joie les deux choses!  

Having made my rentré aux États Unis and finally the last leg of the journey to my island home on my birthday, I have spent the last three days surrounded by many moments of love and joy with my husband reconnecting and sharing our lives.  Unpacking and seeing ones house after a separation is much like looking at oneself and taking inventory.  Dusty and forlorn in places and in need of deep cleaning and reorganization…clutter…what to keep, what to be jeté or thrown out.  A break is helpful to give light and see clearly, to cherish what is wonderful and make change where needed.  Spring time, new beginnings, new birth.

In the little protected cour of our garden I see the golden heads of the daffodils smiling and welcoming me back, tête a tête daffodils our son Robin gave me two years ago when we planted their crispy brown bulbs together in the window boxes.  Now he is in Boston at the New England Conservatory continuing to grow as a musician.  I smile and hold tight to what is good.

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