Walking before Christmas out of Saignes towards La Table Basaltique de Chastel, an extraordinary monolith that sits in the middle of the plain twixt Saignes and Antignac, in thick dry leaves I was contemplating as I often do a dry stone wall stretching out before me. The Bean, at my feet about an inch from my heel as she ever is when we are in untrod territory since the latent leader only appears when she has walked a walk before and can scent a trace of the familiar in the air and on the ground she treads. All of a sudden I spied a tiny little mouse clad in the softest grey coat, his naked pink legs skittering over the leafy carpet. He kindly (or probably terrifed-ly) stopped and allowed me the time to take a picture.
The Bean was good enough not to go ferral and back to her rat-catching roots and stayed still at my stage-whispered request. Once snapped (by camera, not Bean-jaws) the little creature busied on his way and we continued our climb gently upwards to the lovely village of Chastel Marlhac built into the shoulder of the Basalt.
But all the way I thought. And the think I thought was of that tiny little thing in this place. In fact the first mouse I have seen. I have commented before that mice are not a nuisance here. But what he seemed to represent to me is the vastness of this place, the unspoiled, untouched nature of the place. Not a wilderness. In fact this place reeks of history – from pre-history, through the Romans to the 16th century and beyond, The Auvergne was a crucial territory and the evidence is all around. Churches, Fortresses, Chateaux abound.
No. Not a wilderness. But a pays perdu. A forgotten land. More recently Auvergne has ceased to be the rich territory that was fought over and has relaxed into a rural idyll that is under-developed in modern terms. It is vast – 25% larger than the whole of Wales, the size of a smallish US State (think New England for size that matters reference) and yet unlike its big sisters, The Alps and The Pyrenees, it is accessible. So very often I am this tiny solitary person with only a far tinier dog for company and I am miles from the nearest dwelling. I look around me and I have a real sense of how insignificant I am.
If you click on the right hand picture it will enlarge so you can read the text.
As I sit at my table writing this it is less than 4 hours before the fireworks are let off in France to see in La Nouvelle Annee. I raise my glass not only to my family and those I love but to this place. I raise it to the little mouse living his simple life in this beautiful unspoiled land.
I raise my glass to Cantal.