Changing seasons, changing vistas


Opening the shutters

Today’s blog gets passionate about France’s ‘Little Tuscany’, our home for the past ten years. As 2021 draws to a close and a global pandemic continues to bring misery, we are lucky to live in a place where we only have to step outside to realise the world is still full of wonders. Here’s how it hit us that first autumn.


“Autumn 2011. As former city-dwellers we took a while to adjust to the experience of living up close and personal with Big Nature. The geographic situation of the house meant that we were constantly coming face to face with arresting spectacles.  Sitting at the edge of our plateau was like being in a planetarium, or a 3D IMAX cinema.

Rolling vistas

The vast expanses of earth and sky all around furnished a constantly-changing panorama – at eye-level, the gentle swells of the hills and valleys with their changing colours was cut through by sharp lines of trees and wedges of forests, the branches stark in winter and burgeoning with leaves in summer.

The sky above our heads would one day be a blinding cerulean blue pieced by a burning sun; the next, full of frantic commotion, rolling banks of clouds with black thunderheads, apocalyptic sunsets and fingers of God. In summer evenings a dusty golden light fell over the landscape, gilding grass and leaves.

Apocalyptic sunsets

Every time you stepped outdoors you noticed something had changed; the way the branches bent against the wind or the cloud shadows chased across the meadows, the way the sun’s rays lit up the new candles on the umbrella pine.

Growing up on the edge of Bronte country, I was familiar with the wide, open vistas where immense stretches of moorland reached to the horizon under the inverted bowl of the sky. But the vistas of Little Tuscany were different, full of complex geometry, Cezanne-like in the juxtaposition of their shapes. Nothing was flat; the landscape rolled or climbed or dipped or curved.

Rolled dipped or curved

To reach the horizon your eye had to travel across irregular fields clinging to slanting hillsides and bounded by untrimmed hedges running up and down vertically or at extreme angles. Beyond were valleys, dark patches of woodland and clusters of habitations perched on hilltops.

As summer drew to an end that first year, we discovered autumn’s ambivalent moods. There were days full of glorious Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness, the smell of  log fires, the crackle of fallen leaves underfoot and the promise of Dickensian Christmases to come. Others, damp and chilly, struck a more downbeat note, reminding us of the ‘sere, the yellow leaf’ into which our lives fall after their spring and summer.

les sanglots longs des violons

For Paul Verlaine, poet par excellence  of mists and half-tones, the season’s melancholy and sad landscapes were like a wound – the ‘long sobbing notes’ of autumn’s violins striking a monotonous languor into his heart in one of his most famous poems:

Les sanglots longs/ Des violons de l’automne/ Blessent mon cœur/ D’une langeur monotone.

One day that first September I opened the bedroom shutters and saw nothing except for the ghostly silhouette of brambles at the top of the slope.  The panorama had vanished, the universe had shrunk. As the sun rose, the blanket of mist became translucent, each drop of moisture hanging in a shimmering web.

A village half-way up the sky

Little by little, a village began to emerge half-way up the sky, a church spire, blurred rooftops. Then the entire hilltop village became visible, floating like an Arthurian mirage in the middle of a lake. Colour was added, streaks of cobalt, and, from the east shafts of sunlight broke through to make the rooftop tiles glint, then turn into sheets of gold.This shifting spectacle continued for most of the morning.

The mist would sometimes lift completely, only to drop again with the suddenness of a stage curtain. At other times the different layers dissolved and re-formed in a sensuous ballet, revealing tantalising patches of countryside, coy folds and hollows, the corner of a field, before swirling veils would hide the scene once more. It was the first time I realised that ‘grey’ could be such an interesting and nuanced colour (fifty shades?) ranging from impenetrable sub-marine murkiness to a scintillating quivering silver, hinting at magical revelations- a witch, a wizard, a fairy, a goddess.

Later I saw a TV programme about a photographer called Simon Powell who roams the Welsh countryside trying to capture  the phenomenon known to the locals as ‘dragon’s breath’, huge swirling clouds of vapour that sometimes hit the mountains and valleys of that country in the evenings and early mornings. Our ‘Little Tuscany’, a region of softer, more gentle undulations, offers a spectacle that is meridional rather than Celtic, magical and ethereal as opposed to dramatic and menacing.

Arthurian mirage with Tuscan perspectives

“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value,’ wrote Claude Monet.

Morning moon over valley

Thinking of Monet’s numerous paintings of Rouen cathedral and northern haystacks, Turner’s eddying vapours of sea frets and industrial smoke, I envied the artists who were able to capture so compellingly such ever-changing, fleeting moments.  For beings such as myself, possessing zero artistic talent, the camera is both a godsend and a curse. The faithful Canon has been called to do duty countless times in an attempt to capture just a hint of nature’s season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Sometimes this involved studied zooms and panoramas from the bedroom window, other times, eye-ball-to-eyeball confrontations with the elements, standing in the chemin clad in pyjamas and slippers,  waving the smartphone in all directions.

Similar to our first misty morning experience was the day in February 2012 when I again pushed back the shutters, this time onto a world in black and white. It had snowed overnight; all around lay silent white fields broken by leafless hedges and the dark density of the oak wood. The chemin disappeared, the temperature dropped to minus 14 at night, our hamlet was cut off, and we were glad we hadn’t planted an olive tree in the field the previous October.

(Extract from my Work (Still!) In Progress:  From Nettles to Nightingales).

For sumptuous visual treats this Christmas, take a look at the website of artist Gordon Seward, who has recently won two prestigious Prizes: the Prix Raphaël-Sennelier 2021 awarded by the Fondation Taylor-Paris, and the Prix Renée Asp 2021 awarded by the Académie du Languedoc Toulouse . Three cheers for Gordon and his Muse, Cécile!

And, as 2021 draws to a close, I once again hand over to Kurt Vonnegut:

“I am eternally grateful… for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.” (Timequake)

Happy Christmas to one and all, hoping you can raise a glass with loved ones to toast ‘the honour of being alive.’

Joyeux Noël!

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Albert Poyet,  much loved husband of Françoise, who left us in September. A loyal and supportive friend for forty years, a scholar, a gentleman and an enthusiast who lived life to the full. 

©Laurette Long 2021


14 thoughts on “Changing seasons, changing vistas”

  1. Lovely musings and beautiful images. You live in such a wonderful place! Sending all love and wishing you plentiful adventures in 2022

    1. Thank you dearest Jo! Our little piece of paradise needs a real artist behind the camera to do it justice. I have just the person in mind… The guest room awaits 😉 Meanwhile lots of love to la famille Pearl, sending wishes for a healthy and creative 2022, and if blog readers would like to see an artist at work – this one a sculptor, creating ’emotional portraits’- head over to the brilliant

    1. Dearest Mims quel plaisir! What a lovely comment, so pleased the blog managed to give a lift to the spirits, hoping that yours were also lifted by some time with the family over Christmas. We must get together for more spirit-lifting in 2022. The Cowshed -and its cowherds- miss you ;-)xx

    1. Thank you my dear friend, how I wish we could raise a voddy together in the wardrobe, complete with Santa hats and Primark fur coats. Hope you are keeping notes of all the festive scandals in the Corner Shop to cheer up your readers in 2022, we’ll need it! xx

  2. What a beautuful , evocative piece of writing from you Laurette – you have to live in it to produce these words of such joy and observation – long may it continue – Peter T .

    1. Thank you so much cher Peter F, yes, as a nature lover yourself you know the feeling of being inspired and uplifted that comes from the simple fact of living in such marvellous surroundings- which is why great art is so important, Monet, Hockney, Wordsworth, Proust – all the Biggies are able to transmit those feelings and show us a version of reality which may be very different from our own, one which (to quote Hockney) helps to combat the ‘sterility of despair’. (Wow that was heavy work for Christmas Eve, need to go and eat a mince pie 😉 )Joyeux Noêl to you and yours dear Peter, deck the halls!xx

  3. Damn, Laurette, you know how to write. It’s magical, transporting, and a reminder of gratitude.

    I love, , this post. The pictures, your words, it’s what we all need in these trying times. Thank you so much for blessing us with your talent.

    Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season full of blessings.

    1. Dear Denise, overwhelmed by your words, thank you so much. It would be hard to keep trying without your feedback and faithful support. Do hope you’re planning a cosy Christmas, maybe round the fire, maybe taking the Bard for walks across the frosty countrside. I’ll be dreaming and imaging it all, and sending bises across the miles xx

  4. As always Laurette beautifully and poetically written. You even quoted my favourite French poem! We too are city dwellers who moved to the country – although our little corner of paradise is perhaps slightly less ‘ la France profonde’ than yours. However our wonderful natural surroundings have been our strength and stay ( to quote the Queen) during these last two years of the pandemic and its continuing restrictions. I can only say that the beauty of nature is balm for the soul. Joyeux Noël à vous deux.

    1. Merci my faithful friend, I think you’ve commented on all my posts! Your support means a lot. Great quote from Her Maj, and as someone else would say – ‘Life is (still) good…’ and I hope we can say it in person over a raised glass before too long. Vive l’amitié! xx

  5. A beautiful presentation poignantly dedicated. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. The thing that really struck me was your reflection on Monet. It brings us all together to walk in another’s shoes, to see what they see from a present vantage point. Wishing you, my dear friend, the happiest of holidays. May 2022 bring days of laughter and peaceful nights. ❤️

    1. Thank you so much Paulette as usual for your empathetic and insightful comments, such a joy to communicate, far apart geographically but so close in thoughts. All love to you T and les chiens, hope they get a big holiday hambone 😉 Note to readers: since her first book was published in 2012, Paulette’s profits have gone to help rescue dogs from kill shelters. Her impressive list of novels can be found here

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