Whenever my travels take me back to Germany, a journey to France is an added bonus, in particular a journey to a hamlet near Auxerre, in Burgundy. It harbors the residence of Heike, my best friend since high school days, her husband, Pascal, and their son. Their two daughters have already fledged the nest.
A cozy nest indeed. Their remodeled farm house and barn sit on a generous plot of land, amid a grassy expanse surrounded by and dotted with diverse deciduous trees and decorative plants, and separated from the neighborhood by tall hedges. Several weeks into fall the tree crowns are braided with rusty streaks yet the canopy continues to conceal a variety of chattering birds more vocal than I expect so late in the season.
Heike’s numerous flowers are fading, but a few late bloomers continue to color the landscape. After cool nights we awaken to frost in the morning. Luckily, the logs in the fireplace warm our hands and hearts.
Following a fortifying breakfast Heike and I set out with their dog, Loupo. His name connotes his wolfish genealogy (le loup means wolf in French) and, phonetically, fits his amusingly loopy character. A French Beauceron, theoretically a herding breed, he is less of a herder than a hunter who, in his second year of life, still struts with puppy power and keeps reminding us not only of his need of, but also his right to attention.
On our walks we pass the nearby dairy which supplies Heike’s family with raw milk, stroll along pastures with grazing cows, horses, and an occasional assembly of deer, and wind in and out of parcels of forest interspersed with fields of feed corn, while we watch layers of mist dissipate slowly in the rising sun.
Heike has known and supported me through many stages of life and remains my most cherished friend. We fell in love with and married our respective husbands at about the same period. In her case, Eros led her to France, me to the United States, making our reunions sadly rare, but all the more precious. My visits usually fly by. Many days I tag along with Heike during her activities, many horse-related. It is a special treat, and a revival of my adolescent horse obsession when we get to ride out together, she on her mare, I on a borrowed mount.
An excursion to Auxerre is likewise part of the program. The town which predates the Roman conquest of Gaul hovers above the picturesque valley of the Yonne River. Besides its wines, it is known for the white limestone Gothic Cathedral St. Étienne and former Benedictine abbey St. Germain whose crypt contains the oldest known frescoes in France from the ninth century, even though they were not detected until 1927.
I also savor Heike’s culinary creations, with copious amounts of baguette and cheese, and benefit from Pascal’s impeccable taste in wine. Often I simply take in the serene setting of their home, or soak up the sun in the garden like their cat, Esso. I always leave in a state of peace and equanimity, nourished in body and soul.
Heike and Pascal, thank you and your children for always welcoming me/us with open arms. After many years of this unidirectional traffic, it is high time you made a trip to Colorado. I only hope we can repay your kindness and hospitality.
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