I took the dog for a walk in the woods yesterday. I’ve been so head-down in my little screens in the house lately that I have not been paying enough attention to the larger world around me. Because of that I have neglected what should by now be my thoroughly French reflexes, which every native person around me carries instinctively in their nostrils, in their bosoms and in their boots.
The weather was threatening to rain, but when we got to the public forest the parking lot was overflowing and the woods were crawling with people in oilskin coats and Wellies, poking around with sticks. Why were they all out at this time of evening in this damp weather?
And then it dawned on me.
Yes yes yes. I should have known. I just wasn’t paying attention.
Yes it is deep in the fall. Yes it has been alternately stormy and sunny for days now – a hard chill in the air, dampness permeating the soil, morning dew lit sometimes with warm raking sun, other times washed away with more cold misting rain, that fecund smell of wet leaves and rotting wood in the breeze.
If you are French you are probably already salivating as you read these words, the natural Pavlovian alarm system which was cultivated in your consciousness since birth ringing uncontrollably, but I’ve not yet been here long enough that I cannot inadvertently sideline in distraction the one overwhelming thought to which these signs add up: Mushroom season. Cèpes!
I was not paying attention, but that does not stop the course of nature nor the urgent priorities of French gastronomy.
They say everything in France leads to a good dinner, and I believe that well-trodden route is also reflexive: A good dinner leads back to everything else valuable here, too.
A walk in the woods followed by a grilled rabbit with a warm cèpe-cream sauce, or a cèpe potato gratin, or a simple fluffy cèpe omelette with a glass of cold white wine for dinner by the fire will surely gratify the senses and clear our minds in readiness to get up and do what needs to get done the next morning. It’s a better plan than obsessing over our little screens without pause.
Back at our house I found a plastic bag hanging on the front doorknob, left there by a very good and generous neighbor who knows all the secrets of woodland treasure.
He did not forget the signs nor the season, and he chose to share, and to share quietly, without discussing the uncertainties of the political landscape. In the bag with the fat and fragrant mushrooms was a scribbled note on a piece of torn envelope which read simply, Bon Appétit.
It’s that time of year. That is the time, exactly, no matter what else is changing.