Creatures in the French Woods By Marie Guegain

My hall of death was a daily assault of pressures. I had to console the grieving, arrange various bereavement ceremonies, and also ensure the fire was working properly. Fire is very capricious. Some days it is  predictable. Other days it causes problems. Everyday it is crucial. Fire cremates the dead. The uncertainty often bedevils me, makes me look for an escape, a place to unwind, and to get in touch with beauty. Offering me a rich tapestry of woodlands, wild animals, and lulling vistas, I usually find relief sitting next–or going into–the fabled L’Hermitage Caves.

Located deep in the Saint-Gorbain Forest, one hour west of Paris, these majestic stones that resembled prehistoric creatures wasn’t easy. Tourists tire looking for them. But going there for years to find serenity, I had staked out a shadowy path through the wilderness. The mid-June, northern France heat made walking through the beeches and oaks arduous. I was also tired after a long day of tending to the dead, arranging burnings and scheduling at the crematorium that I administered. Two grieving families had needed me to console them. Their emotions still weighed heavily on me. But once at Saint-Gorbain, communicating with these stones, I felt enlivened, knowing they were “listening” to me. I asked them about life, its impermanence. What was its purpose? Why, in our daily lives, do we complicate so many superficialities?  They listened. Gave me a surge of inspiration. Many people believe in stones, “magic crystals.” They speak to those of us who believe in Nature’s healing gifts. I was certainly a believer, and once I entered their silent domain, the cave offered me a welcome respite from the heat.

I was now able to think clearly, to appreciate the forest, and the wonders that surrounded me. In this parkland there are numerous ponds, red deer, a vast variety of birds and wildflowers. History also abounds. The Prémontré  Abbey dates back to the 12th Century, and there’s the Saint-Nicolas-aux-Bois abbey, an ancient place where Benedictines worshipped and could escape life’s tumult. I had needed to reflect, to think about the chaos that now enveloped my domestic life.Meditating next to those stone “beasts”, and inside the cave, I had found peace. I recognized that I am part of life’s cycle. That along with death there was beauty. We just had to discover it. Saint-Germain, with all its fragrances and verdant terrain, is a “petite corner of paradise.” It’s many pathways lead straight to exhilaration and soothing thoughts. I had found such renewal in those so-called “transformational” stones. Touching them with my eyes closed, I immediately felt a bonding, some strange sensual connection. I had allowed myself to be enveloped by the silence, the totality of where I was. After leaving the cave, a breeze whistled through the grove.  I watched two deer romping through the trees, and a wild boar scampering in a field.

Their cavorting in the woods reminded me of my childhood, picnics in the wild, cepes, bolets, and girolles. “Ah,” I thought, “the morels’ sauce was so divine.” So were visits to this forest with my mother and father. They helped me discover insects, birds, to sip a little velvety wine, and to think, “is life always going to be this idyllic?” No, it hasn’t been.  But struggling, then overcoming, is also part of life’s cycle. Even if I am close to the fire, I still see tomorrow, its promise. Now the Pandemic is receding in France and elsewhere. Life is triumphing, allowing all of us to take trips to Bountiful.

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