Merry Berry ChristmasThe hedgerows and woodlands of the Quercy are shining with lustrous treasure.  Tangles of wild rosehips drip with dew and glint in the early morning sunlight, whilst flame coloured pyracanthas blaze along the broken walls of some ancient stronghold and the tempting but deadly berries of black bryony string themselves through drying teasels like a newly polished ruby necklace laid out for my lady’s approval.  Holly doesn’t feature here in this arid, rocky land, but the butcher’s broom, ruscus aculeatus fills its place admirably.  I walked through the crackling leaves in an otherwise silent world, marketing basket on one arm and secateurs in my hand, gathering nature’s bounty to adorn my Christmas front door.  Another slight issue I had to overcome was the lack of florist’s ring.  That sturdy wire base one can buy everywhere in garden centres nowadays – except in France.  I had therefore decided that this creation would be a first principles affair, from twigs and moss to the berries themselves.

Down in the market that morning I had managed to procure a good bunch of broom, no mistletoe though.  I wasn’t sorry really, this is France after all, and although Frenchmen rarely need an excuse, if one arises they are more than happy to take full advantage.  I’d been caught out more than once!  I was thinking these thoughts as I wandered through the wilderness, when the vast silence was broken by an unfamiliar trudging sound.  It wasn’t heavy enough for another human, and since I’d never seen another human on this walk such an occurrence would be extremely unlikely anyway.  This was a heavy rustle, certainly not light enough for deer.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  I don’t like noises in the woods when I’m alone and armed only with a pair of secateurs.  Every nerve and vibe in my body strained and shivered, every sense was on red alert.  Vague thoughts of bear and wolf darted into my fevered consciousness as I scanned the immediate surroundings for the source of my mounting panic.  A grunt and a huge scraping sound just a few metres to my right made me drop the basket and stand four square, boots rooted in the mud, secateurs at the ready.  Right in front of my startled eyes trotted a large group of black, bristly wild boar.  They looked at me, I looked at them and we agreed to go our separate ways as fast as possible. I’d walked another five hundred metres, at a very brisk pace, before my heartbeat returned to anything approaching normal.  I always carry a mobile when I’m out in the woods, for if one were to slip and break an ankle it would be a useful tool.  However there really wouldn’t be much point, I decided – a trifle tardily you may think – in phoning the local pompiers eight kilometres away and shouting,
‘Au secours, I’m being eaten by a wolf/bear/boar.’
Not that a boar would have the least intention of eating me, being a snuffly sort of vegetarian, but a frightened or disturbed boar could inflict very serious damage indeed.

I looked down at my basket, glowing berries in plenty, and damp handfuls of moss, trails of ivy and honeysuckle and some good, whippy sticks.  Time to head home to a warm kitchen, a blazing fire and a huge cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with seasonal cinnamon.

Safely back in my cosy haven, I laid the precious harvest out on my scrubbed kitchen table, to admire from all angles, and discovered that the beloved had also been out, for his early morning run, and had brought me a present.  It was laid carefully on my place at the table – beside a pair of wringing wet, smelly socks, but you can’t have everything can you?
It was a leaf.  A particularly pretty golden leaf, it was true, but just a leaf.  I turned it over and puzzled over it for a minute or two, but there was no getting away from the facts of the case.  I popped my head round the study door and asked for enlightenment.
‘Oh yes, it’s just a leaf.’  My knight replied. ‘But as I was running along it was lying on a floor of brown oak leaves, golden and shining and exactly the shape of a heart.  I put it in my pocket and brought it home for you.’

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

© Amanda Lawrence

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Merry Berry Holiday from French Vie

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