Our adventure in the Ariege began the moment we handed in the keys to our house in the Larzac on the 1st April 2007. We didn’t leave for financial reasons. We both worked, one of us running our own business. It’s just that we wanted the excitement of a new adventure, to turn over a new leaf and see what it was like living in a cabin in the woods – and be wholly immersed in the wild. We imagined what our new life would be like when starting from scratch: the animals we would have, the house we would live in, the garden we would tend. We had just started a new family so we wanted to raise our daughter in a healthy and peaceful environment, in a place where we could take the time to live together. This valley in the Ariege, the way of life and its inhabitants inspired us.
Before we actually moved, for the whole of 2006 we would come over at weekends to make a clearance in the woods and start construction. By 2007 we were able to move in, Maya was just one year old. Even then our intention was to spend a year in the cabin and see how things would work out.
Our house is in the middle of the valley, and it’s a veritable green jungle. At 850 metres altitude, you need to walk for quarter of an hour to get to where we live. To begin with we lived in a space of 20 square metres – which we immediately enlarged. This took all our energy since we had to carry all our building materials on our backs up the mountain. We also had to be energy self-sufficient as our house is far from the existing electricity grid. For a whole year we used candles for lighting, and a wood-burning range (given to us by some neighbours) helped us through our first winters. To see our roof – made of oak tiles from the forest around us – is very satisfying and a great pleasure for us. Menawhile we are cultivating this wild corner of nature. We have total freedom and space to experiment.
We were made really welcome in this valley by all the families who live here. As we all share the same lifestyle there is a strong community spirit; we get together to share tasks and have fun.
In spring 2008, Prune was born. Although one more mouth to feed, she quickly became an extra pair of hands to collect kindling for the fire. Our life choice seems to have a very positive effect on our girls, especially in the way it underlines the rewards of physical effort, while at the same time making them aware of the simplicity and tranquillity of it all. We live in tune with the seasons, at the heart of nature. We hear the trees crack in winter and then see them burst into life again in the spring.
In parallel we set up a business with the aim of integrating people with social difficulties. Very quickly we began to welcome small groups at our place. They share our everyday life, care for our animals and chickens, tend our garden, as well as discovering outdoor activities such as caving, mountain biking, hang-gliding, making a sauna lodge, and eating good healthy food. How gratifying it was to see so many of our ‘guests’ benefitting from life in the mountains, to have the chance to leave their everyday lives behind for a short while! No television, no fridges, no queuing at the supermarket, almost no bills whatsoever …. And it was so simple for us to be able to do all this too! This activity created 5 jobs in Massat for six months of the year, and it will continue after we leave.
But the mountains really takes it out of you: the cold, the damp, and the raw, physical effort. The daily chores and errands demand so much more time and energy. As a couple we are strongly dependent on each other, and the sharing of tasks – by their very nature – found us having to revert to more traditional roles. This way of life is often difficult to reconcile with 21st century ideas and ways of living. And if that was not enough, such an existence often makes one feel incredibly isolated.
Anyway, this episode in our lives comes to an end today as we leave in search of new adventures …… In leaving here and this way of life, we are leaving behind self-sufficiency in our energy needs and in food (here more partially), where we had far less need for money, and therefore more freedom and time to do whatever we wanted.
But modern life is not all bad. Today each of us is devoting time and effort to set up new professional activities - and perhaps the prospect of a new way of life. The last seven years spent in the mountains above Massat have been, for us both, a pivotal experience in determining how we think and behave now. We’ve been able to get rid of a lot of excess ‘baggage’ and we try to get a lot more out of life. We smile when we hear people talking about “the rat race” and “the stress of living”; we have learnt to appreciate our life choice and its values.
Since our return to ‘civilisation’ in a beautiful corner of the Aveyron, Laurent has pursued his interest in looking after young people and is presently doing a training course. Chloé has thrown herself into starting up a boating activity/ discovery centre in the national park.
Today we are putting down roots in a new place that gives us both the opportunity to fulfil ourselves on a professional level, while at the same time being able to take our girls’ needs into account as they grow up – as well as meeting our need for peace and quiet! Our house makes it possible for us to pursue more socially-conscious activities – such as looking after young disadvantaged people on a freelance basis – as well as tapping into such tourist activities as starting up an eco-museum project and restoring an old water mill. Thanks to our experience in the Ariege we shall be self-sufficient in electricity ……
“Such are the good things that come of a cabin in the woods …..”