O! TO BE IN PROVENCE, NOW THAT MARCH IS HERE!

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that, although this blog is devoted to beautiful, and all-too-fragile New Jersey, I am always longing for Provence.

Mediterranean with Crimson Esterel Massif at its Edge by Popoff

Mediterranean Sea from Esterel Massif, en route to and from St. Tropez

I lived in Cannes from October of 1987 into August of 1988 – in other words, I saw the seasons ’round.

pine tree by Meditgerranean from Internet

Normal Provencal Drive for me, even in winter

In February and March, along the Riviera, trees bloom.  Driving in closed cars up to the sacred hill towns, the perched villages, the fragrance of blossoms fills the vehicle.  Almond blossoms like snow against gnarled hillsides.  Menton’s lemons, grapefruit, mandarines, clementines, and yes, oranges filling the air, until breathing was like drinking Cointreau.  Mingled with the sweetness of flowering fruit trees was always the pungency of wild herbs in the garrigues: thyme, marjoram, rosemary in tall shrubs, oregano, savory and pebre d’ail, a truly spicy wild flavoring.  Animals who fed in the herblands absorbed those savors into their meat, their milk, therefore infusing Provencal cheeses.

Menton's Citron Festival in February

Menton’s Citron Festival around George Washington’s Birthday

The sense of smell was literally intoxicating during my stay there.  One bitter January day in Biot, I was walking its narrow streets, marveling at flowers in small terra cotta pots even on back stoops of houses, blooming in what we know as winter.  Then, I smelled peaches.  I decided I’d just been in this land of enchantment so long that I’d ‘gone round the bend.’  Instead, I strode ’round the corner to find a small fresh food marche, with some of its produce out on the sidewalk in January sun.  Peaches filled the air, as though someone were baking a peach pie.

20110806-100810_peches_etal_marche_aix

Peaches in an outdoor market in Provence

The sense of hearing was newly called into play, not always pleasantly.  The mistral reared its inescapable head day after day in winter, roaring down the Rhone toward that usually placid Mediterranean Sea.  Some say, and I’d believe it, that Van Gogh cut off his ear because driven to this by the mistral.  It can roar for days, causing pipes in your home and shutters on your windows to whine and twang.  We don’t know anything like this wind.  It’s as though Provence wind came through huge faucets, all turned on at full blast at the same time and the same impossible speed, by day and by night, interminably.

Le Parfum des Garrigues

We don’t know wind like this, not even in hurricanes, which I’ve now lived through.  Our winds rise and fall in intensity and sound.  One of the greatest horrors of Sandy for me was the relentlessness of that howl.  The mistral’s is more infuriating, more intense, –a more ceaseless and inescapable blast.

Cheese of Goats, perfumed by wild herbes des garrigues

Cheese of Goats who Roam the Garrigues/wild herb fields of Provence

One time, my daughters had a good laugh on their romantic mother.  Somewhere in the South of France, high above the sea, I enthused, “Isn’t Provence wonderful?  The air smells like champagne!”  We were at a picnic ground high above the sea.  The mistral was so strong, it had blown over a family’s champagne, literally spilling it all over those ancient rocks.

perched village of Provence

Typical perched village – driving through fragrant collines to reach these treasures

It probably doesn’t make sense even to miss the annoying mistral, but I do.  Afterwards, the Provencaux would say of that wind, “Il balayer le ciel.”  (It sweeps the sky.)  No bluer blue ever existed than post-mistral skies, unless you count the Mediterranean, reflecting that ethereal hue.

typica drive near St. Tropez

Everything’s electrifying in Provence.  Breathing itself is intoxicating.  Around any corner, anything can happen.  In St. Tropez’ s Musee de l’Annonciade, one looks at Fauve masterpieces on the wall, then through the windows at the very scenes those vivid colorists painted so masterfully.

Baie de St. Tropez from Musee Annonciade at Sunset

Fishing Boats of St. Tropez, from window of Musee de l’Annonciade

Typica View from Window of Annociade Musee on Baie de St. Tropez

Baie de St.  Tropez from windows of Musee de l’Annonciade

But the queen of all Provencal sense experiences is the amazing mimosa/  Delicate as these blossoms are, they come from a tree.  One filled my second-floor bedroom window in Cannes.  Tiny puff balls moved in the slightest breeze, wafting a scent of lemon and nutmeg in through those bottle-green wooden shutters.  Nothing surpasses waking and sleeping to the delicate mimosa fragrance.  Another miracle was peering through mimosa branches to discover Napoleon’s Corsica so very far away, but only in early winter months.

Magnificent Mimosa in ad for l'Occitane, Provencal's quintessential fabrics

Magnificent Mimosa Tree in Ad by l’Occitane, house of superb Provencal fabrics

Even with my love of New Jersey’s soul-filling beauty, I miss the many electrifications of Provence, especially as March — the month of flower fragrances in that land – begins, with a nor’easter, no less.  No flower fragrances for us, let alone peaches around the corner.

flowering almond treeFlowering Almond Tree – subject of Pierre Bonnard’s last painting – he lived at Le Cannet, one hill over from ‘mine’, L’Observatoire of Cannes

flowering orange treeIn

In Menton, flowers and Fruit at Same Time, on February Trees

POLE FARM RICHES, WITHOUT BINOCULARS

Great Horned Owl, magnificent close-up, by the very talented Brenda Jones

Great Horned Owl, magnificent close-up, by the very talented Brenda Jones

(Heard, not seen, Recently)

NJWILDBEAUTY readers well know that I’ve moved so happily to Lawrenceville, –three-tenths of a mile from the bountiful new preserve, “The Pole Farm.”

Off Cold Soil Road and also off Blackwell Road and also off Keefe road are entries to this wooded paradise, full of rare birds and other wild creatures, and utilized by the nicest hikers and cyclists I’ve ever encountered.

When my sister was here from Illinois, we went to the Pole Farm at least once a day and sometimes twice.  It’s never the same twice.

Now that the seasons are changing, time in the Pole Farm will be more and more colorful.  The first crimson of woodbine is apparent.  A brassy tinge is coming into wild grape leaves everywhere, which will soon gild both sides of the trails in the sunny parts.

Two weekends ago, first a barred owl coasted majestically, then roosted in a number of copses not far from the second observatory platform.  As we walked back along Maidenhead Trail, great horned owls hooted back and forth to one another in the dark woods.

Most of the time I take my new binoculars, which are finally fulfilling me as a birder.  I want the world to know that Bushnell, for a minuscule fee of $10, examined my old non-focusing binoculars, which had been a gift and for which I had absolutely no paperwork, not even a serial number.  Some weeks after I followed their on-line directions re mailing, they sent a beautiful box holding a beautiful case and an impeccable set of absolutely brand new optics.  They and I have been inseparable ever since.  Talk about standing behind their product!

Recently, though, I thought I’d better try walking the Pole Farm without them, to experience that sacred site with my other senses.

Here is a poem that carries the magic to some degree.

For the full magic, come to the Pole Farm, in all lights and all seasons.

This is the reason it’s so vital to preserve open space in New Jersey right now — and don’t forget this in the ballot box in November!  Never has it been more important than now, for our state:  New Jersey:  KEEP IT GREEN!

Short-eared Owl white coloration

Short-Eared Owl by Brenda Jones — to be found at Pole Farm in Winter

 

WITHOUT OPTICS

 

yesterday, I left my binoculars at home

on purpose

determined to experience the Pole Farm

unmagnified

 

entering very early

no one on the trails

 

assailed by fragrance

nearly knocking me off my stride

 

pungent, multi-layered sweetness

heady, even dizzying

 

these aromas

may have been clover’s gifts

–the forceful magenta, truncated white

 

everything so still

I could hear each bee

busy at his nectaring

 

in the half-woods

where thin streams furl

I heard the plucked string

of green frog

–Casals at his tuning

 

along the forest edge, brown thrashers

ruffled underbrush

and trail dust

 

entering the deep woods

I walked into and out of

the piercing salutation

of fox

–part skunk

yet vanishing

before I could say

that ruddy word

 

so leaving new binoculars at home

returned me

to nose

to ears

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

Summer 2014