Here in the French Basque Country, it is said that we enjoy all four seasons every single day. It’s one of the things I love about this part of the world – the light rain, the bright sunshine bouncing off the green leaves, harder rain late in the day, then the chilly temperatures of an evening.
But that doesn’t mean that signs of autumn actually arriving are dimmed or dulled. It starts sometimes in September when I first look across the valley and see that the hills are blushing red. That means another summer in Pays Basque has ended.
Red Hills Tell the Tale
My little home in Basque Country is perched in the foothills of the Pyrenees and my view is in two directions is of rolling hills. These are the greatest indicators of season, and if I find an old photo of the hills, I can tell the time of year in which it was taken from their color.
These are wild areas, filled with mountain grass, brambles and thistles. These are dead in winter and one can see the bones of the mountain. In spring, the hills almost magically turn green, a bright, delicious, new green that, to me, seems like the color of hope, of new beginnings.
As summer heats up the days, the vegetation loses its bright glow and turns a dark green. As fall arrives and deciduous plants die back, the hills fade into red. That is why seeing the first flush of red on the hillside tells me that autumn is coming.
But red hills are not the sole sign that fall is coming. Summers are refreshed by gentle breezes appreciated by everyone as temperatures rise. But come September, the air freshens, the current rises and cool breezes blow back your hair as you walk.
Basque Country is known for its winter winds. This past year the winds were so powerful that entire mature trees were toppled, so many that, when I arrived in spring, piles of downed trees lay everywhere like fallen soldiers. But cool breezes of fall, while brisk, are pleasant, quickening the life here as kids return to school and the vacationers depart.
Signs of Fall
While Americans do not flock to the Pays Basque, vacationers from other parts of France and other European countries do. In July and August, lodgings fill up even in the small town where I live. Restaurants open outdoor seating areas and there are fetes and markets and Basque dancing programs of an evening. The beaches are crowded.
The thinning out of visitors is yet another sign of autumn’s arrival. September remains a shoulder season, but most Europeans either vacation in July or August. As they leave, quiet returns, the beaches and mountain trails empty, and I know that autumn is here.