Spring! The very sound has excitement embossed on it … it has sprung, it springs – it evokes newness, freshness, joy. This is my first Spring here and it has leapt out of the shadows and entirely taken my breath away. Driving North-East towards Lyon a couple of weeks ago I was overcome with the most curious sentation. It took a little while to understand what it was that was confusing my eyes. It was colour! Vivid new colour – green of course, yellows,mauves, pinks all baudily vying with one another for centre-stage. At that point in Cantal, high up as we are,very exposed in places, nothing much was happening.
The trees were still sleeping and the palette of hues was all taupe and grey with only the bravest flowers and those in the most sheltered spots showing their faces. Even though the temperature was warm (heading up to and above 70 degrees in the village which is only 500 m up and sheltered all around by the high hills), the plants were showing due caution. Roll on two and a half weeks and everything has burst forth … vibrant green, abundant flowers, heaps of blossom. The beeches are tardy, of course but then they always like to save the best til last! Of course in village gardens there were flowers, blossom on trees, the mad fools that are magnolia showing off. Mad fools because invariably they expose themselves only to be frosted out resulting in sad oily brown remnants of flowers on the ground. but what takes my breath away is the sudden explosion in fields and woods. The wild stuff roaring in.
With the colour come the baby animals. They have been there, of course, for a while. The calves in the more sheltered areas out in the fields but many still contained in their byres. The lambs likewise protected from the likelihood of frost and more snow. The horses – the local Auvergne breed sometimes deep bay but more often flaxen-maned and fake tanned to rival any high maintenance Footballers wife, and the Percherons whose babies are born black of white parents – the horses are foaling and the bambi-legged young are finding their feet in the uneven pastures.
Driving back from Aurillac with my friend Isa, having triumphantly obtained the Carte Grise for my car now formally French, he begged for a Gaelic name to celebrate – he – because my cars are always boys – is a bright yellow Ibiza Sport … and is now resplendent in the monicker ‘Franck’, we watched a truck with the co-driver taking in the snow poles. ‘Fin de la neige’ she declared and then laughed when I asked if that really does mean the end of it … it can snow in May here but it seems less and less likely as we stride purposefully towards summer.
And amongst all the newness, all that new life, all those skipping jumping Spring-ing babies one has walked out of our lives. When I moved here it was with a single dog. But the founding member of the dog-pack that the girls and I shared our lives with for years, the gracious, wise and unyeildingly gentle Tally who had stayed behind, the fear being that she wouldn’t make the journey, nor thrive at her great age (14 human which is 98 dog) to look after my elderly mother, decided that a new Spring was a Spring too far. She went with dignity and quietude. But I am certain that when she crossed into the next place she found Achilles and Hector, the whippet and the don’t-know-what that we aquired from the Dogs Home when she was three and welcomed burglars into our house while we slept upstairs – even showing them where the fridge was so that they could have a snack before they denuded us of anything instantly fencible up the M40 in Tottenham. She never barked. Barking was not something she cared to master (unusual for a labrador) though twice she startled herself when a deep bellow emanated from her at the sight and sound of a clearly threatening hot air balloon overhead. She will also have found Joshy, my parent’s last dog – a feisty tri-colour collie who once rescued through the Dog Trust lived seemingly for ever earning him the knick-name ‘the indestructable Josh-machine’ And with them she will have found my father – the girls papa who will at this moment be stoically attempting to order the dogs on a chaotic walk. Tally will help him. The boys will be running in every direction as he shouts vainly at them – gentle man, they knew he would never, could never hurt them.
Being a labrador, she of course had Prader Willi Syndrome and never ever knew that she was full of food. A bowl-full of food would be hoovered up in seconds flat and moments later she would look at you accusingly, silently saying ‘I do believe it might be supper time’. She put up with The Bean who would often spend hours lying on her back, she allowed countless children to roll around and pull her ears, she counselled troubled teens, both her own and the endless streams of visitors those chaotic years were marked by. She was our sense in a senseless world, our rock steady tiller, our lumbering graceless friend and we miss her. So today, as I spend a solitary Easter Day with no chocolate eggs, no Easter Bunny and just The Bean for company, I will smile when the Bells ring out because somewhere out there, watching over us all, is the old girl who moved over to give the new babies a turn.
PS: The title is courtesy of Pablo Neruda