Those of us who’ve had the habit of moving around when the mind calls for it have, in spring 2022, gotten back on boats, planes, and trains. I zipped on a high-speed train (the TGV, train grande vitesse) two hours out of Paris to the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, a place where I could recapture ME.
I sought replenishment in resplendent nature because my physically-distanced and deforested lifestyle in 2020 and 2021 had knocked me off-kilter. Even before that, I felt deprived of living close to the soil. In 2009, I had willfully transitioned from a Texas home, on a corner lot that I myself landscaped and regularly manicured, to a Paris apartment.
To nip my approaching malaise due to this 13-year absence, I visited a family in the shadow of Lusignan’s Church of Notre Dame and Saint Junien, first constructed from 1025 to 1110. What I saw through the windows and from the terraces of the family’s 400-year-old home, a stone’s throw from the church, was my cure.
Prescription: uninterrupted, hands-on, and all-out woman-versus-weeds battles in the tiered, four-acre backyard.
I had to ask, no, insist, that my entertainment during the four-day visit be centered on the weeds that, in the case of creeping thistle, had grown to more than one foot tall in the flower bed. I attacked for seven hours over two days. Sometimes, gloved hands; sometimes, bare-handed.
Process: grabbing the Creeping Charlie or dandelion clusters firmly and low at the base, wriggling the stems to loosen the clumping soil, and clawing with my three-tined hand cultivator to free the taproot.
I mercilessly hacked other hardened and prickly adversaries that had greened over the ramparts, built in the 1200s. It was the first clearing of 2022, but how dare the invasive weeds think they could alter the ecosystem for the long-term!
As I waged the flowerbed battle, my malaise lifted.
Inhaling to the capacity of my lungs, the moist earth’s aroma of living and decayed organisms medicated me. The sound of weeds snapping as they left their growing beds, and of soil particles grating as they let go of networks of roots, lulled me into a deeper intoxication.
Nature’s elixir so filled me that the booming “doooong” of the pealing church bells (30 feet away) did not penetrate my cocoon. Neither did the twelve “doooongs” marking noontime.
During the two days when I was engaged in full-fledged gardening, my heart pumped more forcefully than at any other time over the previous two years.
That made me think about Lusignan’s magical, green-haired, mermaid fairy, Mélusine, a beloved folk-legend character. Her extra-dimensional kingdom is water. Mine is soil. She and I and geosmin (that earthy odor) were mightily present in the garden.
The light wind tickling my skin reminded me of the garden’s most recent designer and caretaker for 50 years, Michel, and his spirit that still heals.
A Paris-based author and journalism instructor, Nita Wiggins helps people write stories to bring out empathy. Nita has initiated and supported study-abroad programs, and her own voyages of discovery include Senegal, Russia, Finland, Turkey, and Iceland. Her memoir is Civil Rights Baby: My Story of Race, Sports, and Breaking Barriers in American Journalism.