Roots and wings in Wales and Provence

I have puzzled all my life about taking wing and putting down roots.   When I was child we left my home town in the North of England and spent some years living in New Zealand.  Returning as a young adult I was proud of my wider horizons.  But watching and listening to my beloved grandparents, I couldn't help but see that wider horizons apparently weren't necessary for a happy life.  My grandfather lived all in his life in a Northern mill town apart from a period in the army as a young man, about which he never spoke, when he went to Afghanistan and India.  I always felt he was very happy in his skin, very assured on his own territory, a Lancashire man to the soles of his feet who was rooted in his place and happy to be so.  He didn't want to travel.  He was not narrow minded and indeed generous and tolerant in his assessment of people but he liked to be home.  "What's the point in going places?" he would say.  "I've everything I want here."  He knew his place in the best sense.  I could never be so rooted.  I have lived all over the UK and travelled a fair amount and I used to feel that I could settle in anywhere, make friends, find my feet, until it was time to move on again.  For me my family were my roots, not a place.  Only since we came to live in Wales have I begun to have the strange, almost unsettling, sensation of putting down roots.

I think this is a good thing, this putting down roots, although I cannot be sure, but it is easy living up here with land and livestock to care for and family commitments to keep you at home,  to begin to feel not so much rooted as tethered.  And when you do it is good to take wing.

So we did, Ryanair wing. A friend came in and our son and daughter in law came up to stay for the weekend to help look after my father in law, and off we went to Provence to visit friends.  And it was glorious.  We admired the beautiful house and garden our friends are creating, balancing with much thought and care and skill, the aesthetics of a garden which surrounds a dramatic piece of modern architecture with their overriding wish to create a garden which will nourish all forms of wildlife.  It was great to lift my head from my own patch of land and really look at someone else's garden, although I felt I needed months of reading and research to understand the soil and the climate which are so different from my own.  We had so much good food and good wine and good conversation that we may be able to live on egg and chips and silence for a week or two now we are back.

We climbed towers and wandered narrow streets.

We found a beautiful medieval garden full of many of the plants I grow at home

and some that I do not.  I never knew that capers had such beautiful flowers.

We ate an extraordinary meal at a restaurant in Arles, L'Atelier.  This was food as an experience, a meal as a performance, a tour de force.

We walked in the Camargue, limpid light in the sky and the sea.

We stood by the pool in the darkness, the air still warm and pine scented on the skin.  We walked and talked in a wood full of pine and cedar and butterflies.  It felt as though we were away for a week, not a weekend, and now we are home it seems unbelievable that only yesterday we were eating a fabulous lunch in a restaurant on the square in the Provencal sun.

I woke this morning in my own bed to a perfect early autumn day, the sky streaked blue and gold.  And home was beautiful too.  The grass was green and lush, the garden a sea of tiny michelmas daisies and deep gold and mahogany rudbeckia.  The apple trees were bowed down with red flushed fruit.  Sedum and salvia hummed with bees and butterflies.  I saw it differently, with renewed love, wandering outside for half a breathless hour before I went out to work this morning.  Just for a moment I thought I understood something about the impossible tension between roots and wings and then it went, a butterfly thought.  I shall stick with the simple: it is good to go away.  It is good to come home again.


  1. You wrote... Just for a moment I thought I understood something about the impossible tension between roots and wings and then it went, a butterfly thought...

    I know that feeling, the fleeting sense of something made clear and then gone.

    Wonderful pictures by the way.

    What is it they say in Wales, Dyner filltir sgwar - a man of his own square mile

  2. That was beautiful. So glad you were able to get away, but I can imagine it WAS good to get back home, too!

  3. What a beautiful post. I once lived where you visited, and your pictures took me back (especially those of the Camargue). Thank you for your poetry and pictures!

  4. I lived in a place where I started to put down roots. I was in love with it. Unfortunately, I had to move far away and it broke my heart. It took me a long time to get over it. I very much like where you are putting down your roots, although I realize that it could just as well be in the Provence. XOX

  5. I have lived in this same house now since I was 18 years old. I turned 63 2 days ago. I have traveled all over the US and a trip to London plus a month spent in Scotland when my daughter lived in Aberdeen for a year. I love travel...but I love HOME as well.....
    "There's no place like home."
    I love that you shared your trip and thoughts with us.....

  6. A lovely post - I visited Provence on an exchange when still at school.

    A couple of years later i came out to New Zealand which is where I imagine I will end my days.

    Your post brought back many happy memories as they always do.

  7. Beautiful post!
    I don't know much (if anything) about Wales or Provence.
    I do know about being rooted. More precisely, where I can be rooted and where not.
    Good. Indeed.

  8. It's a funny thing about Wales. I, too, was not rooted in place until I came here 20+ years ago. I still move house easily but the landscape and community of the Black Mountains is my first and last home.

  9. I'm glad you had a lovely time. Provence is stunning but then, so is Wales! I'm looking at it out of the window right now and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else :-)

  10. I have always lived within about 10 miles of where I was born. I can go to an old village churchyard, turn my head, and there they all are, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. My husband plots his family tree around South Wales and the South East of England, even to New Zealand. Me - I have a tiny area of South West Wales that I call my own. If my sister or I are ever asked where we are from, we refer to the house my grandfather bought, in which my father was born, and, in turn, my sister and then me. Travel has been for holidays only. Home is definitely where my roots are. There is something about growing up and staying in an area where everyone knows all about the mistakes you have made in your life, of the good and the bad things that have happened. I think it breeds a certain acceptance in the rhythm of life.
    I fully accept, though, that it is a case of each to his or her own!

  11. Mark - I love the phrase "man of his own square mile"
    Caroline - thank you!
    Abeille - the camargue is a haunting place isn't it? Too flat for me for life though!

  12. Another lovely post, Elizabeth. I love your expression of 'rooted' and 'tethered' which sums up country life in a nutshell I think. Your well earned break looked wonderful and so nice to come home too and see how many beautiful things are there waiting for you.

  13. Gosh you did a lot on your weekend away, it sounds wonderful. I know what you mean about being rooted or otherwise.

    Having spent for first 34 years of my life in the same town, I feel Malvern is more my home although we have only been here 11 years. However, I dont believe this is the house I will stay in I only intended to live here so the boys could walk to school and yet now they have left school I dont feel a rush to move.

    I loved your house it felt welcoming and I wonder if its age and solidity has something to do with you feeling more rooted.

  14. This is a beautiful essay, Elizabeth. Reading about your grandfather, I could almost believe that I could be happy just staying put - who wouldn't wish for that kind of contentment? He sounds like he was a wonderful man. But like you, I have the yen to travel. What I;d love to do is spend 6 months (each) in a variety of place, and New Zealand would be among them.
    You write so well. Such a pleasure, sitting here in a sunny kitchen in Alberta, under the same gold and blue sky.

  15. Nora - I think you put your finger on my reservation about putting down roots. What if I do and then have to leave?
    Linda - ah you have roots there then! But do you still see Provence and want to travel? It's a balance I suppose.

  16. A lovely post Elizabeth. I know what you mean about that tension too, though it is so fleetingly ephemeral as to be no more than a hazy thought with me. Lovely to share you journey (and I didn't know capers could be so beautiful either) x

  17. This is a lovely post. I love the photos, they are beautiful. I particularly like the close up photo of the flower.

  18. I relate so easily to this, especially having been away just recently not to Provence but to Gascony. Yet it is always good to come home with fresh ideas, stimulated, mentally refreshed and a couple of pounds suddenly acquired.
    I keep meaning to ask (history now but for some reason Provence reminds me) about the Peacock. They wander up to a kilometre apparently.

  19. Interesting post Elizabeth. I have moved many times during my working life, although I spent the first eighteen years in Lincolnshire. My first husband had lived all over the world - China, many countries in the far east - many places in this country. The farmer was born in the house where we now live, so they couldn't be more different.
    But we do go abroad once or twice each year - Norway and Canada being our two favourites - but it is always good to come home. And egg and chips is as good as anything to remind me we are back.

  20. I'm so glad to hear of your break.

    I've always been fascinated by this tension and have come to believe that some are stayers and some travellers by nature.

    I hate to leave home at all, though I do, quite a lot and enjoy the being away when I am. It's the only way to have a break when you work at and from home. But neither of us ever want to leave here (also Wales) for good.

    I think that travel gets such good press and 'roots' very little, but of course it isn't movement that shapes a mind: it's what you do with it, wherever you are. Time staying put was hymned.

  21. Your writing is marvelous and evocative and beautiful. It goes down smoothly, leaving lovely images and impressions.

    And...I love that photo with the headless mannequins lurking on the corners in their long, black and graceful is so unexpected!

  22. Yes, yes...YES! Thanks for sharing your weekend away (do post pictures of that dinner, if you took any!). Bear and I are looking forward to our first vacation together in 9 years of marriage, at the end of next month. It's only going to be 3 days, but I am hoping it's as wonderful as your weekend!

  23. After more than forty years of moving, sometimes every year, I was filled with a sense of coming home to find this Island and to know that I'd finally be able to put down roots. When I visit family on Cape Breton I see that they are satisfied to live and die in the same house, but I wouldn't have given up the experience of living around the world - just glad to be settled now. A weekend away is good for the soul every now and again - or even a long journey - just so one knows that home is at the end of the road.

  24. Patty - thank you!
    Susan Heather - where in New Zealand are you? I was in Christchurch and would love to go back for a visit.
    Rob - I always imagine you as someone very rooted in their community, the best kind of way.
    Marianne - ah, maybe it is something about Wales, although I imagine I could feel the same perhaps in the south west of England where many of my family live. The Black Mountains are indeed beautiful, as it is here!

  25. Alison - I wonder where in Wales you were as you were looking out of that window. If you have been here over the last week you have had stunning weather and when the sun shines it is hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
    tva - I think it must be rather wonderful to go into a churchyard like that and see your family roots before you. Mind you, I find it rather more romantic in south west wales than I would in the Lancashire milltown I come from originally!
    Molly - ah I am glad you get the "rooted"/"tethered" thing. It is not a simple equation!

  26. Helen - interesting about the house. I think you might be right about that!
    Deborah - I do know what you mean about the 6 month thing but then you would never be really rooted in one place would you? That has been fine for the first half of my life but maybe needs to be different in the second.
    Pipany - fabulous caper isn't it? I had no idea.
    Kerri = thank you. Me too!

  27. Fennie - ah the peacock wasn't rooted or tethered! He has gone, heaven knows where to.
    Weaver - that is an interesting contrast. And we share the love of eggs and chips I see!
    Anne - thank you for commenting and such an interesting one too. I agree, travel is hymned as the great mind expander and in many ways it is, or can be. But staying put can also be a way of truly seeing.
    Sara - I loved the mannequins too and the modern road sign. Quite unexpected.

  28. Marcheline - I do hope your holiday is as good as ours. I suspect you deserve one. You seem to work pretty hard to me!
    Pondside - I think you share my experience once again. That mixture of a moving childhood and young adulthood with a more now is key I think.


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