March 17, 2015


When it comes to weather, Burgundy is in that tricky time of year. The sun has been rising bright and cheerful each morning, and lingers in the evening sky, covering the landscape in pinks and oranges. From inside the house, it is easy to think it is shorts and t-shirt weather. But it is still winter, and there is frost on the windshield most mornings before eventually heating up. Yesterday, we experienced a 68 degree temperature swing in under 10 hours. Regardless, after the cold we had in January and February, it is most definitively hiking season. In the past few days I have climbed up logging roads, down narrow woods trails, scaled rock faces, and, of course, walked trough some of the most famous vines in the world.

As noted in a previous post, French people like to brag about the diversity of their geography. As un-noted elsewhere, it can be extraordinarily annoying for an American to concede that the French are right. The problem isn't with the substance, it is just that they are always so blasé when you tell them they are right. "Beh, oui," they say, shrugging off any compliment you pay to them about their food, history, traditions, landscapes, wines, or architecture. It is as if you have just told them that the Sahara can be hot and dry.

When I set out for a walk from the village of Savigny les Beaune, I was looking forward to some time outside simply to clear my head. I didn't anticipate I would see Mother Nature and mankind working together in remarkable harmony. 

I started down a tree-lined grass avenue bordering a swiftly running stream. On the opposite banks, the natives were feeding their chickens, monitoring their sheep, and roto-tilling their garden plots, a sure sign that the calendar was changing. I spotted dozens of trout in the crystal-clear water, some of them darting away when they saw my shadow. They needn't have worried; I was nymph-less. 

Gradually, I went up, leaving the last house of a new development for a mountain road. Soon, the sounds of nature replaced any noise created by humans. Birds twittered and sang, unseen rodents scurried in the underbrush, and the wind rattled the naked tree branches. Leaves are still a ways off. 

Within 15 minutes, I was alone in the woods, halfway up a significant hill, looking out on nothing but forest, my breathing and heart rate the loudest things within a mile. At the "summit," after chugging one of my son's pineapple juice boxes (I invite you to try to find a bottle of water in Savigny les Beaune; I could have found tripe sausage, but no bottled water), I plunged into the deep woods on a narrow track.

As I got deeper and deeper into the therapeutic mental calm of a long walk, a panicked rustling sound made me look up. On my right, no more than 5 feet from me, a dazed deer was scrambling to get up from her bed of leaves. She had obviously been sound asleep, and was shaking off a little deer REM. We exchanged a long look, both of us a little startled to see the other, before she climbed up the hill into the deep woods, where I was certainly not going to follow. Ten feet further along, I saw my first flowers of the season, little beauties perking up, reminding me about hope.

As the descent accelerated, I knew I was getting back towards town when I started to hear automobile traffic. I crossed a road and saw a sign that let me know I was still in the heart of Burgundy. Just a little oval marker to let the weary hikers know that they are never too far from the nectar that can rejuvenate and refresh even the coldest heart.

When one stands in the vines of Burgundy, it is difficult to escape the reality that, in order to end up with good wine at the end of the year, the plants require equal parts hard work, patience, and luck. At the end of winter, the vines themselves are nothing more than gnarled black knots. They have been pruned aggressively, and, to the unaccustomed eye, it looks like someone has planted endless rows of firewood. 

But the vines are also beautiful. If one's mind is a little scrambled, which can happen even here in this slice of the world, there is no better prescription than pausing amidst these little plants and looking down at a church that dates from the mid-twelfth century. It is a surefire way to embrace a whole new concept of time, to permit oneself a few deep breaths, and to be thankful for the last couple of hours. 

It will also work up a killer thirst.

No comments:

Post a Comment