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My dormant muscles soon groaned in protest yet I realised with delight that there was a confident, though small, spring in my step

Sometimes, you know, in between all the moaning and the angst and the existential questions, there are moments of true grace for me here in France.

Early this morning, as November slips away, Portia and I stood entranced in the middle of the parc, her growling at Pierrot's 4X4 just visible in the mist beyond the crossroads. He would be prowling the wood, gun ready for something to pot.

I stood warmed by a sun that was rapidly dispelling the white gauze hanging over fields and hills, as my boots grew wet in the heavy dew.

Around us the mist separated into three tiers, unlike the fogs that often shroud us at this time, leaving us blind until well into the afternoon.

The first hung over the early shoots of the winter wheat fields reaching to the withers of M Dupont's horses gathered around the water buckets.

The second drifted on the hills and ridges far away in the distance, giving tantalising glimpses of the Gers bastides, church spires dominating all.

The third, by one of those strange quirks of weather and perception, ended below the just discernable outline of the Pyrenees, a crow's flight of 150 kilometres.

This seemingly monochromatic vision was topped by what could have been a summer blue sky, barely a wisp of cloud to be seen.

In the short time it took to trot along the road, weave our way down the hill and back, the greys had dissolved and the still-burnished leaves of the woods and forests burst through. It reminded me of those "magic" painting books one had as a child when a brush wash of water brought the scene to colour-filled life.

Just a few days earlier I'd felt that same thrill of life as the pair of us puffed our way around the plan d'eau outside Saint-Nicolas- de-la-Grave – the village that clusters around a chateau once owned by Richard the Lionheart of England.

It was a walk we did often on first arriving here and only having each other as we discovered the area which was now home.

Here, the confluence of the Tarn and Garonne swells into a huge lake bounded by 400 hectares protected as an ornithological reserve.

A large open-air swimming pool is tucked behind thick hedging; a discreet camping site nearby, all set in grounds clipped and maintained year round.

Pathways snake down to the bisecting Canal Du Midi and the hills, dotted with houses looking down to Moissac, provide a film-set backdrop. Others wind around the water and discreet boards list both birds and plants to be found in this natural paradise.

Again we walked in the warmth of the sun, no clouds in the sky, not a breath of wind. On the lake where yachts and canal boats berth in a small formation, the day was so still that they were perfect mirror images in the water, not a ripple to disturb the symmetry.

Way across the expanse six swans glided, their reflections visible from my bank and cries from ducks and other birds were the only sound in the silence.

We passed but two people in the hour and a half we crunched over fallen leaves, stopping often to rest our eyes on the water.

Even in high summer, I have never been conscious of more than a handful of people sharing my walk, although the cars in the car park give proof they are there, somewhere.

I find it sad that our area, filled with such richness, is so often bypassed in the search for the more fashionable, recognisable and crowded spots further south.

It was Portia's first public outing since her accident; fit to be seen without eliciting horrified, worried gasps.

Hair has grown back on her "hipless" leg and she has returned to her natural skinniness, no longer the emaciated figure where the bones of her constantly arched back could easily be counted and a tune could have been played on her ribs.

And it was also my first long walk in the almost 18 months of our mutual lameness. My dormant muscles soon groaned in protest yet I realised with some delight that once again there was a confident, though small, spring in my step. The hesitant old-lady shuffles have finally gone.

As I stood in the parc this morning, thinking of that last walk, I found it wryly amusing that it should be nature that is reawakening a tentative joy in my surroundings.

The very nature I cavil against so often on this page. The nature I fear, pining for noise and people, concrete and city fumes.

Perhaps if I, for once, work with nature and not against her, I will find a more harmonious way to live here until my departure, one way or another.

Accept her and use her to get not only muscle working but to quiet the endless self-examination and discontent.

Well, I'll try. I'll never settle into the contented state of many of the British expats around me, but then there is probably no place on earth I could find to achieve that.

For that is my nature. At least I now accept that.

cookfidelma@hotmail.com

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