The bond I have with Emie and Stella is great. Since their earliest childhood, I’ve been introducing them to a kind of communion with nature, whether through sports or contemplation. When autumn comes, the birds start singing again and the deer make themselves heard in the mountains. So we decided to take advantage of the still-mild weather for a one-day outing.
But before taking off, there was one event we didn't want to miss. Every year Coupe Icare is held – it’s a free flight festival with hot-air balloons. The aircraft take off from their base in Lumbin and land in the fields near our house. Children run through the streets of the village and cars stop everywhere.
This year, the hot-air balloons arrived at 9 am. At times they seemed to land on the roofs of the houses. A spectacle that never grows old.
After that, we headed to Crolles to pick up some food supplies before our hike – the highlight of our day.
We were lucky enough to find an artisanal bakery, "Le pain de Saint-Hugon", which bakes wonders. We also dropped by the small organic store nearby to get some fruit, before returning home to get our gear ready.
Or to put it another way, you always need to make sure not to forget anything. We were going to the Vercors mountains, where the weather turns cool quickly on the high plateaus at the end of the day. Our down jackets would come in handy.
As well as the headlamps, considering that our return hike would be in the pitch dark. Unless the moonlight ended up accompanying us, if the clouds announced didn’t show up too early.
Besides that, I also brought along my observation equipment: binoculars, camera, tripod, telephoto lens, etc.
Then we were Vercors-bound. Even before starting the hike, we needed to get our fill of energy. And that worked out well because our stomachs started growling at just the right time.
On the small road to Saint-Nizier then to Lans, we found a spot a little off to the side and in the sun. Ideal for setting up our little table and folding chairs. The mackerel salad with beluga lentils was a big hit.
It was 3 pm when our little group set out for the natural reserve on the Vercors high plateau, after double-checking we hadn’t forgotten anything.
Right away, we were plunged into idyllic surroundings. A rare kind of stillness, reminiscent of Canada. The wide path at the outset gave way to unmarked trails. The goal being to lose our bearings, metaphorically speaking, so as to better immerse ourselves in the magic of the place.
The screech of a jay, the call of a raven or the discreet tweet of a migrating tree pipit revived my ornithological skills. Not a breath of air, not a crackling sound came to disturb our ears.
We took advantage of the silence to listen. Without forgetting to check the map so as not to lose our bearings, literally.
6 pm. We decided to take a break in a small clearing, where we would have an excellent position for listening until nightfall. The opening in the woods would also provide possibilities for observing, if ever… The binoculars were taken out. The daylight waned.
All the closeness with nature and the hiking had made us hungry. The girls begged to take out our little food boxes. Afterwards, we’d take advantage of the last hours of daylight, expected to be the most intense. We unrolled our red-grey mat, and settled in.
The sun went down behind the small ridge in the west. Slowly, night drew near. We piled on the layers so we wouldn’t get cold, and could enjoy ourselves. Our unanimous vote went to the sandwich fillings of tuna, tomatoes, green olives and mix of herbs as the day’s winner.
That was when the first surprise of the evening occurred. A Eurasian pygmy owl started its autumn song. Three others ended up answering him. It was a genuine concert.
As someone who’s accustomed to forest creatures, I must say, I had never experienced such bird density. For the girls, who have already observed this species of owl several times, it was probably their most striking contemplation.
After looking a little more closely, we found one of the owls perched on a branch. Others perched in the treetops in the last glimmers of daylight. In the distance, deer bellowed.
A tawny owl flew over our heads a few metres away. The moment was fabulous. It was beyond what we had thought we would find here.
The moon rose behind the peaks. The sky seemed to clear as big clouds threatened overhead. The owls continued to fill the background with sound, while the deer came closer. In the silence of the night, the deer’s grunts gave the atmosphere an otherworldly feel. It was time to make our way back home; we still had quite a hike back to the car.
But we were to be treated to one last surprise. While we were putting away our packs and adjusting the headlamps that would guide us on the return hike, in the distance, in the deep Vercors forest, the howls of wolves gave us a huge thrill. They only lasted one or two minutes but were the grand finale of our evening spent observing and listening to the belly of our alpine forests.
The full moon guided our steps as the grunting of the deer faded, and we left the owls to mark their territory. In the heart of the forest, our steps and our lights allowed us a return hike shrouded in a serenity that only moments like these can bring.