All the seasons in a week, in Provence

Over the last week, the days have slipped comfortably past, with enough going on to keep me busy, whilst Andy has been away, fitting in lots of chores around the more enjoyable aspects of life here.

Andy back in the UK, away from the blue skies of Provence

In many ways, it’s been a bit of a bizarre week, especially when it comes to the weather. Over the last few days, we seem to have experienced every season. We’ve had heavy winter frosts, a fierce Mistral that has gone on for weeks, the first spring blossoms have appeared and we even had a day when it was warm enough (out of the wind) to walk in shorts. Then two nights ago, the Snow Moon rose and brought the clouds with it too, and we woke yesterday, to the sight of The Luberon covered in a thin blanket of snow, sending us back into padded jackets and scarves again.

An unexpected return to winter

On some days, the fire has been lit around the clock and on others we’ve had the windows and doors thrown open during the day, only for the temperature to plummet again as the sun dropped, sending us scurrying for the fire-lighters and more wood.

A moment of summer on the back steps

We often have weather like this at this time of year, when the seasons are starting to shift and the days are beginning to lengthen into the evenings. The tantalising glimpses of Spring, turn our minds to the warmer days ahead, almost lulling us into a false sense of security, only for Nature to turn full circle and send us back inside again, dreaming of hot chocolate and warming, winter stews..

An almost autumnal morning walk

That said, it is the most wonderful time of year here, with the first signs of Spring appearing in the hedgerows and birdsong becoming the soundtrack of our walks, rather than the muffled peace of the last couple of months. The peace through January is very different from other times of the year and it feels as if the whole area is just taking a deep breath, with even the slightest sound being hushed by some unseen barrier. To hear the frantic tapping of a woodpecker and the lilting tunes of birdsong again, over the last few days, is just such a delight. The Merlin App (possibly our favourite find ever) has been on almost constantly, helping us identify the birds that are accompanying us on our walks

Morning walks to the soundtrack of birdsong

The good thing is that it has been warm enough for me to head out on the bike again, pushing the pedals hard against the strong winds on the way out, then enjoying the feeling of it pushing me home and even giving me a bit of assistance on some of the hills too. The skies have been a beautiful blue, with everything looking as if it has been scrubbed clean by the wind, almost as if Nature has been getting on with its own bit of spring-cleaning.

Skies scrubbed clean by the wind

It’s funny, but since moving here, I have started to look for little things that happen each year, which I suppose is a sign that this is well and truly home. On our walks in the tracks above the house, I know where to look for the first signs of the leaves that will soon sit at the base of the pretty, wild orchids …. and I’m happy to say that the first rosettes of leaves are through …

We’ve started looking down, as well as up now, on the walks

Then there are the verges near Bonnieux, that are home to the little wild pansies, with their perfect yellow and purple faces appearing among the grasses. We walked there yesterday, tempted by the thought of a coffee and croissant at the boulangerie and although the leaves are there, there was no sign of any buds yet…

Walking up to Bonnieux, keeping an eye out for the first of the Field Pansies

But the thing I wait for with excited anticipation, is the first sign of blossom on two almond trees that always come into flower, before any others I’ve seen in the valley. There’s one pink and one white growing in the hedge-line at the side of the old road between Apt and Bonnieux, and every year without fail, they burst into flower days, if not weeks before others, even those that grow along the same piece of road. It becomes a bit of an obsession as January comes to an end, with me finding excuses to travel along the road, just to catch a glimpse of the first buds splitting and the delicate petals emerging; a sight that always make me smile.

A sentinel of Spring

It happened this week and when I first cycled past on Wednesday afternoon (having changed my route simply to pass by), the buds were glowing pink, with just one bud having burst open; its fragile flower fluttering in the vicious Mistral that was hurtling its way across the valley, bringing with it the snowy chill from the summit of Mont Ventoux. It may only have been a single flower, but it was enough and marked the fact that the season had turned a corner and that Spring was finally on its way.

The first fragile flower

The following day was incredibly warm, and when our eldest arrived home from work, we took Millie for a long walk up onto the ridge above the Rustrel Colorado and he walked along in shorts, whilst I was wishing I had followed his lead, It may have only been the earliest days of February, but I stripped off every possible layer, until I was just in a long-sleeved T-shirt and even that was too hot.

Surely that had been enough to really bring the blossom on even more, so on Friday I pottered off on the bike again, to see how the trees were getting on. As I had imagined, the previous day’s sun had brought the blossom out and the twigs were covered with new flowers and bright pink buds about to burst. The pink looked so warm against the cold blue of the wind-scrubbed sky and the drab colours of the winter fields, stretching across the valley. A truly gorgeous sight and enough to lift the spirits of anyone passing by…. a little video here

A sight to make my heart sing

The problem is that weather like that lulls us into a false sense of security and after the snow of yesterday, the wind shifted during the night, rattling the shutters on the front of the house and howling an icy blast along the valley. It meant that I was up in plenty of time to head across to Lourmarin for an early dental appointment, after which I had thought I’d treat myself to a little amble around the market at Cucuron and a coffee at one of the cafes by The Etang. The wind though was too icy and too strong, sending leaves and twigs tumbling along the streets, whipping the surface of the water into little waves and cancelling any thoughts I had harboured of sitting with a ‘grand creme’, whilst watching the world pass by.

Too windy and cold, to sit with a coffee

Back home now, in front of the fire, listening to the wind howling around the house, I can’t help but wonder how those early blossoms are faring, and hope they have survived the sharp return to winter. In the meantime, I’m just trying to work out the best walk for this afternoon, that won’t see us blown off our feet or simply chilled to the core.

Happily there are lots of walks to choose from

Let’s hope this ‘Snow Moon Winter’ is short-lived and the softer days return soon….

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