Monday, October 4, 2010

Week 19: Dawn and Other Awakenings

Crows watching the sun rise over Montmirail

What glorious sunrises we've been having! One morning this week I woke up to see a group of crows on the rooftop across the Place sitting meditatively in a row, enjoying the spectacle, faces turned towards the rising sun. 

It turns out that beautiful dawn colors are seasonal.  I've been noticing them so much more frequently. It's also true that sunrise is more than an hour later these September/October mornings than it was in mid-summer, so I'm actually up in time to enjoy it! While sipping my morning coffee, like the crows, I sit and watch the sun.

Our clean air and abundant clouds apparently also play a role in the beauty of our dawns and dusks. According to the link above, the idea that polluted air makes for better colors is a myth.

One of our clients this summer, a professional photographer, showed me a simple trick for capturing the colors of dawn with an ordinary camera. And it works really well. You simply wave your hand quickly in front of the lens while taking the shot.


I must put in an appreciative word here for crows. They don't have the best reputation in the bird kingdom, but really, they're fascinating and nice to have around town. The crows here stay all year long. During the winter they keep the village lively. In the summer they seem to disappear, but that is actually due to the fact that in the warm months they become solitary while they are building their familial nests, breeding and raising their young. Once the weather turns snappy, and the hatchlings have become young adults, they gather together into huge swarms again of hundreds or even thousands of individuals. They are very social during this period of the year. Who has not enjoyed the marvelous sight of a flock of crows raising from a field in one mass and flying away together in loose formation? Crows turn around our church spire all day long and perch at the highest points. Unlike morning doves, numerous in the village during the summer, crows seem quite clean in their habits.

The swifts, whose evocative cry fills summer evenings, have all left town by now. The song birds have mostly flown south as well.

As if in strict observance of the calendar, autumn this week has made its presence felt. Various changes in life accompany the turning of the season. Certainly the palette of colors is radically altered. Our Virginia Creeper is already beginning to turn its beautiful red shade. The hills around are a deep green.

View from the dining room

There is no question that the temperature has dropped dramatically too. After a rather cool summer in California, my friends and family there have suffered temperatures well over 100° this week. For us things are quite a bit different than that. Days are still mild, but nights are chilly.

 We had our first evening fire

In the woods, the colors reflect the season.  Leaves cover the pathways, beginning to create a brown carpet. It seems that both winter and summer last a long time and things stay relatively constant. In fall, (and spring for that matter) each day brings noticeable changes.

Even after a few days, much changes. Chestnuts litter the ground. Blackberries go from plump and red, to deep violet and if unpicked, wither, turn black and fall. Color comes over the forest in a wave, first one tree turns, then another. Each time I take a walk there is more to notice.

For the first time in months I heard the wind in the branches as I took my usual walk through the forest. Acorns fell from oaks and bonked me on the head. A steady stream of little brown leaves detached themselves from branches and swirled around like butterflies.

A recent walk yielded a basket full of forest produce. I think one could live on the seasonal products offered in our little wood. Rose hips, berries and grapes on offer today.


Besides tangerines, which are all of a sudden available again in our local stores, another sign of the season is publicity and critiques for all the new events and shows being launched in Paris. Monet is  celebrated in several venues this fall. There is a lot of brouhaha surrounding the painting that is credited with naming the Impressionist Movement, Impression of a Sunrise, painted in 1872. A journalist, derisively named Monet and his friends Impressionists, after viewing this painting. The Musée d'Orsay, which is mounting a huge Monet show at the Grand Palais on the right bank, has managed to get all the major museums and collectors in the world to loan many of their Monet's to this comprehensive exhibition. Of course they wanted this very important painting as well, but the small Marmottan Museum, also located in Paris, which owns it, refused. They said that they too were hanging a special Monet show this year and needed the painting themselves. It's being characterized in the media as a David and Goliath fight.

Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression of Sunrise) 

By the way, if you appreciate Paris, be sure to read the wonderful article, Letter from France, Why I Love Paris in Autumn, by David Downey, author of Paris Paris, Journey into the City of Light (My all time favorite Paris guide book.)


Another friend David, from Lafayette, California, where we lived before moving to France, has a house in Brittany. He comes to visit, however, only very occasionally and stays only briefly when he does. He is an architect. This week he was in residence, after two years. He invited us to come visit. It wasn't entirely easy to get away as we still have clients much of the week, but we didn't want to miss the opportunity of seeing him and managed to find a twenty-four hour period completely free.

David's house was built in 1671, although it has certainly gone through some modifications since then. It's built of granite. Each area of France has their individual architectural style and building materials. Local stone was quarried to construct local housing, so a palette of colors was established in each area. In Brittany you have either this sandy brown stone or gray. Blue is the preferred color to paint shutters in the area, so David's house is not typical.

Even if we stayed only a brief time, we wanted a glimpse of the ocean before coming back home. David accompanied us, stopping over at Maison Conti before his flight back to California. The three of us hopped into the car and on our way back eastwards, swung past a few of David's preferred coastal locales. La Trinité-sur-Mer is a base camp for international sailboat racing. The port was full of huge trimarans. Personally, I prefer the old-fashioned sailing vessels, of which there were also plenty,

Down the coast a short ways we got a look at the open Atlantic and waved to all our friends and family across the wide sea.


It rained the entire time we were in Brittany. I was gratified to return home to clear skies and another beautiful sunset.

Twilight comes early these evenings--it's dark by 8:30.


  1. Good Morning!!

    Oh, I just love that beautiful sunrise photo with the crows. I had to call my hubby to the screen to see it also. You know I love my sunrises and sunsets ;-)
    I love strolling around your little town and woods with you. I feel as if I am really there (someday!).
    What lovely surroundings you get the privilege to enjoy each day. It is obvious that you do not take it for granted, but treasure it.
    Thanks for bringing me along for a few days!

    Janet xox

  2. So peaceful your sunrise photo with the crows and beautiful sky. I love it! It all seems so special and your telling of it is so enjoyable to read. Thanks!

  3. Nancy, what a delight, your photography is gorgeous.