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Jessica Eve Watkins

20th february, 2015.


La Muse Retreat, Labastide Esparbairenque, France.

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The day is fading. Dusk dwindles and the branches through the window are bare and silhouetted, though soon to bud with new life. It’s warmer down here in the South of France, the snow now dripped and gone. The sun’s been with us. The trees are waking up. I move outside to fetch an armful of logs for the library fire, and breathe in the changing seasons, the crispness of mountain evening.

The chateau we’re staying in was built in the 12th century. Once home to Cathars, it now houses drifting artists and writers of the world. A sensitive, mystical bunch this time. ‘This is what I would describe as a thin place,’ Nancy tells me one night. ‘A place where worlds collide.’ I feel it. There is a chapel next door that has the ability to make me shake.

The village folk are like hardened mountain goats, shy and secretive. Some of the French men have tiny dogs, which always makes me smile. Señor Garcia does not. He bimbles across his vegetable garden cut straight into solid stone on the edge of a precipitous drop. With a snail shell of a basket strapped to his back, he tells me in Spanish (our mutual language) that he’s just turned ninety, and he flings onions over his shoulder into the woven case, as if to defy it. His face is rich with amusement.

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Moss and vines engulf rusted tractor shells. Ivy encases ancient stone walls. Skeletons of derelict houses sleep in the forest, so eerily full with generations of bygone birth and death. Love affairs and family disputes once echoed under their roofs. They are broken walls to balance on now.

On the evening of Tibetan New Year, Harper and I light a candle in our room and sit cross-legged around it, with incense burning and gong music gonging. We plan to meditate, but that comes later, interrupted first by a sprawling chat about worth. We both have so much to say about each other’s value, and so much work to do before we’ll truly believe our own. When we slip into silence I focus on the flame in front of me, watch the halo grow bigger and brighter, shoot out swords of gold into the darkness. I begin to feel our guides are all here with us. There is so much love in the room. We sit through the alarm. The next morning I am rejuvenated and bursting with life.

The evenings here fill me with joy and feelings of possibility. The labour is over, so we drink wine and cook food. One moment I am editing late into the night, my fingers unable to stop moving clips around. My face aglow with computer light, headphones plugged into my ears, I can’t turn away from the world we once captured in film. Another moment I am upstairs, curved-backed in an armchair writing a new song. Or sewing. Or singing, or walking, or dancing, or planning. We’re helping to build a house too, to pay for our keep. Between chipping down walls and making a movie, I’ve never worked so hard in my life. There isn’t enough time for the deluge of inspiration that is around me. It’s the leylines, and the chateau, and the thin place. We’re conduits of the spacious mountain magic.

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Tonight the valley is silent, just the rustling waters far below in the belly of the canyon, and a wind chime in the breeze. The moon is rarely sighted here, curving lower than the peaks of the Montagne Noire in winter. Wild boar charge through the woodland, but are rarely spotted either. It’s new moon, and the world is dark. ‘The mountains are calling, so I must go,’ John Muir once said. ‘I have found them again,’ is my reply.

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