Via Tolosana Day 33: Jesus Christ, the apple tree

L’Isle de Noe (Chez Edna) to Monlezun (Chez Nicole et Michel) – 20kms

I woke at 6:00am and wrote pages until 7am. In the sink in my bedroom there was the most massive spider, so I didn’t want to disturb it. They say that spiders symbolise change, well there’s a big change coming with this one! I brushed my teeth before breakfast so I could pack everything and take my pack down to breakfast without taking it with me. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs needlessly, I’m always sore.

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Edna was preparing a great brekky – bread, brioche, juice, fried eggs and tomato! Cup of coffee? No, pot of coffee – ab fab.  She had already put my clothes in the dryer as they hadn’t dried overnight. There had been precipitation, and even though I had them under cover, it was damp.  What a lovely hostess.  Such wonderful attention and care.  It was sad to leave because I had been relaxing into the little English-speaking oasis in my ‘desert of French’.  That sounds a little unfair. Don’t get me wrong, I love the opportunity to speak French, but after 32 days it had become quite tiring.

Edna said today would be a good walking day with lots of forest tracks. She was right.  I said farewell and walked out the door and over the bridge.  I first said hello to four horses and passed some sheep with tails intact – how humane!  Then ascended up a paved road that soon turned to forest track. Cows accompanied the sunrise. ‘Just smile’ said the sign.

I thought about yesterday. After ‘Flog It’ on the TV last night there was another documentary program about letter boxing.  I’d never heard of the sport, which appears to be a cross between orienteering, surveying and code-breaking and has people clambering all over the countryside in search of buried treasure.  The things people do.  I was still also a little bemused by this English woman who lives in her little French town watching Eastenders and Coronation Street via satellite TV from England’s green and pleasant land while entertaining a passing parade of internationals also partaking in our own version of spiritual orienteering.  It takes all kinds.

It was overcast and threatening to rain but not quite. I felt a little protected in the forest track and true to reputation, the way was soft and springy – a lovely relief for tired knees. Gossamer spider webs greeted me as perhaps I was the first to pass this morning.  Once again I found more sunflowers, then a little further along, the track looked like it was leading right to a house, but on the way there were several apple trees and a pear tree – all laying down their fruit for the passing pilgrim.  I saw the biggest apple I think I’ve ever seen – as big as the front of my foot.

Some paths were really muddy. Corn or maize made its debut today.  There were so many more pommes des arbres today that I found myself singing Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.  The original poem has a couple of extra verses.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I passed grape vines and in parts the path is muddy clay. There are lots of options for accommodation and it seems all of them are making the most of en route advertising.   In and out of the forest, with the cloud cover, it sometimes got very dark in parts. March flies joined again, buzzing about me, threatening to land and bite.

It had escaped my consciousness that any town with the beginning ‘mont’, will be on a hill/mountain. It is likely you’ll need to ‘monter’ (climb) to get to it. This was the case for my approach to Montesquieu. This cute little town kind of snuck up on me, out of the countryside covered in free range ducks and geese and balisage avec fungi (alluding to the dampness of the day and the area).  Coquilles joined farm equipment and the chemin de terre paths were gorgeous under foot.

I got there around 9:45am and left again an hour later. The houses and old land marks were beautiful and today being Sunday, there was a marche in the town square. It was so small that it felt like it was being staged just for me.  Indeed, it seemed that I was the only one buying anything.  There was a little bar at the corner, and so after looking around the stalls (and buying a fresh Belgian waffle), I stopped in for a little coffee – a mouth-shaper for the waffle. Edna had said the coffee was cheap – only 1 Euro. Emerging back into the square, the guitarist outside was just starting his set and played while I chatted in Frenglish to the stall holders.

One was selling her hand-made soaps. I bought one that I thought looked like cross between a madeleine and a St Jacques shell, and I suggested this might be a good marketing ploy.  It was beautiful smelling soap. One she found was especially for washing clothes, and she then gave it to me – gorgeous peppermint smell.  How generous was that!  I said I’d advertise her on my blog, so here goes: Sabine Henon.

Another stall-holder was selling wines, and we had a lovely conversation about the Camino. He’d ridden it on his bike.  He only spoke French and yet I understood most of what he was saying.  His winery is near Maubourguet, so I took a flyer.

Another guy was an artist, Gerard Quak, whose coloured pencil drawings of the local animals and plants were just beautiful.  I bought some of his postcards and he pointed out some small figures on the town buildings nearby and replicated in the pictures.  I wanted to buy one tomato for lunch, but the vegetable sellers only sold them in bunches. I walked past the waffles again and decided I needed one for morning tea tomorrow too.  I bought cheese and tomato at the epicerie and bread at another stall. Fantastic to have lunch organised. The jazz played and it was yet another place that was difficult to leave.

When I finally felt like I needed to go, I walked out an arched gate and down a wide green path, then across the road to descend straight down a non-descript and overgrown path.  Apples and blackberries accosted me, a rabbit hopped across the path, bamboo grew, a rat lay still and stiff and the bells started again after I’d walked for several minutes down grassy paths on the low side of the hill.  I couldn’t decide whether to put the pack cover on or not. It was lightly sprinkling with rain, but I ended up leaving it off for another 5 kms or so.  I passed a whole field of Queen Anne’s lace and perhaps sorghum – I still don’t know what that crop is. I rang ahead to the Chambre d’hote for the night.  A jumper stuck in the blackberries, some poor pilgrim or farmer had lost the shirt off their back.

Sundays are very tranquil. There is a different feeling to them. Not the usual buzz.  I continued along farm tracks between paddocks of freshly planted crops with small seedlings framed by gentle rolling hills.  The seedlings in one field looked like broccoli.  I paused to put my pack cover and jacket on under a cherry tree, and realised though I had walked about 20 minutes, I could still see Montesquiou in the distance between the raindrops and fog. As with most days, I didn’t see any other walkers. The Via Tolosana is definitely the road less travelled.

In my next life I will own a pelerin gite in France. I’ll have two spaniels, Monte and Carlo (who will eat Royal Canin, of course) and after we’re done setting things straight in the gite of a morning, we’ll go for a walk in a forest. I’ll write books and be happy!

Approaching Pouylebon, I passed little apples and little plums, a Chinese lantern bush and a quince tree. Apples, apples and apples. Oak leaves. And I even saw a unicorn (licorne). I was going to try to make it to La Baraque for lunch, but when a bench presents itself, you take it.  It was clear again, so I took off my jacket. I went around the back of the building next door – it looked like the Mairie, and underneath found a convenient place to squat. It is not pleasant eating with a full bladder. I wrote yesterday’s diary and it was mostly peaceful until the tractor guy drove past. Evidently some people work on a Sunday. A female cyclist passes one way and then a male the other way – and they looked identically kitted out!

After a nice break, I checked out the beautiful old l’eglise and then left the town between some houses following a little path that led into the forest. I caught up two other walkers, out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. They were walking fairly slowly, so I did too, not wanting to disturb them.  It was a steep descent, through trees and at the bottom there was a clearing which I crossed. Here I caught up with the couple, and we found signs to say the forest was being logged. I thought it was elm and oak, but now I know what I do, it was more likely beech.  The woman said usually you’d need to go around, but because it was Sunday, it was unlikely there would be any loggers there today, but be careful.  I found a whole family of funghi. There were lots in the forests today.  Blackberries, cow paddocks and corn. Orange slugs.

A man in a red car drove past me in the forest. A bit strange being in there in a car – the track was boggy in parts.  Another couple on a stroll passed me going the other way.  I emerged from Le Grand Bois and came to La Baraque (passing the gite I was considering staying in before my change in plans), then shortly afterwards Saint-Christaud.  The church here was architecturally really interesting.  So many sunflowers.  I walked quite a way on a track but then getting closer to my destination, I joined small back roadways through Lagardere and Saint-Antoine, just little hamlets of a couple of houses.  Getting close to Monlezun, I crossed a small, really fast flowing river and imagined playing pooh sticks on the bridge (I was far too tired to actually go searching for sticks, or dash from one side of the bridge to the other).

On reaching the large road, D3, I turned right and would only need to go a five hundred metres before getting to Chez Nicole et Michel.  It was hairy on the main road.  It was really busy with cars going really fast. In the long grass near the ditch of water next to the road I saw a large dead mammal. I think it was a badger or maybe an otter – something I’d never seen alive, let alone dead. There had been lots of dead animals in the last couple of days.

Approaching what looked like a beautiful farm house, I realised Nicole happened to be outside looking at the road. She’d obviously seen me coming and was there to reassure me I’d found the right place.  I went inside with her to her kitchen, the large TV presenting a program about the wild horses of the Basque region. It was wonderful to see those huge creatures galloping through the mountains, the quintessential image of freedom. I was treated to menthe, my favourite, and we struggled along with small talk in my terrible, terrible French. It is at moments like these that I wish I made more of an effort when in Australia!  Nicole was lovely. The home is beautiful, and she showed me to my upstairs bedroom. She said Paul, an American had already arrived, and had the other room.  It was such a luxury to again have my own bed WITH SHEETS!  I showered in a beautiful bathroom, then washed my clothes. She then showed me where the line was – out behind the farm sheds facing South – a perfect place for washing under the eaves of the shed.  She gave me a tour around the back past several fig trees, and around through the back yard where they had an inviting outdoor table under a gazebo with huge wooden beams, where we would eat our dinner. I had a brief lie down back in my room, which was a nice thing.

I brought my diary down to do some writing but wasn’t there long before Paul came and we sat there with our aperitifs catching up on where we’d come from.  Paul was an American of independent means who liked walking. His family were at home in America and he had been to Santiago, and was now walking ‘backwards’ Puenta-la-Riena to Rome.  We sat up to the table when Nicole was ready, and ate the most beautiful meal. Three courses of extremely good food all brought out one by one from the house.  We repeatedly asked if she wanted any help, but she insisted we just sit – which was quite a relief.

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At the end of dinner, which consisted of a long conversation about most of the world’s issues, and a run down of Paul’s blogging experiences, and advice both ways about what was ahead of us, I went back to my room via the washing line, only to find that Nicole had kindly taken our washing down for us.  It was a nice chance to see a beautiful moon though directly over the hill town of Monlezun.

Back upstairs, and I wrote my journal for a while, and then fell to sleep in the beautiful, soft bed.

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