I look at the magnificent landscape that stretches before my eyes. Mountains, plateaus, snow-capped peaks. All the magnificence of the Gapençais country. How beautiful is this place. The more time I spend here, the more I marvel. My heart is in joy. In joy to have found a place that makes me vibrate, a place where I want to live. I am back in the Hautes-Alpes. After the month of December with Jules renovating an old ruin, I went back to spend the holidays with my parents. And I applied for a nine-month eco-construction training course at Le Gabion formation center in Mane in the Alpes de Hautes-Provence. I had the oral interview in mid-January and received the positive response a week later! What joy! I have the feeling of being lighter. The weight that weighed on my heart is gone. I chose this path and life has confirmed my choice. A year ago, almost to the day, I started working at the Mercure hotel in Chamonix. A year later, my life has completely changed. For something better. It is the start of a wonderful year. Of a year full of change and positive. I will do everything to make this happen.
While waiting for the start of the course, on February 19, I left again. Karma led me here, to Théus, on the other side of the valley of Gap, towards Embrun and the lake of Serre-Ponçon. At 1400 meters on the slopes of Mont Colombis, there is a small farm in a haven of paradise. Les Sens de Théus, run by Pauline and Jean-Pascal, is a magical place. A very small winding road, an old stone building, nature all around, the smell of plants, birdsong and a breathtaking view. Everything here calls for wonder. The forms, the simple architecture, the textures, I feel passionate. The energy of the place flows through me and I welcome it with delight.
The farm and the view over the Gap valley with the snow-capped Céüse mountain.
Different textures and designs in the wooden siding of the farmhouse.
Pauline and Jean-Pascal are farmes producers and pickers herbalists. The couple in their forties moved to Théus three years ago. Both are former top cross-country ski athletes. About ten years ago, they converted to market gardening before turning to medicinal plants. I am impressed. They accomplished in just three years, which most people do in five years.
My stay with them is like a gift from the sky. In the middle of winter, it is not the harvest and picking season, but our discussions are extremely interesting. They are a gold mine on plants and their uses. I am learning a lot. They are also incredibly kind and genuinely passionate about their profession. Although it is banned in France, they fearlessly claim to be herbalists. Everything in their approach refers to a political choice, a choice of society, a vision of a future more in connection with the land, autonomy and simplicity. It gives me great pleasure to be around people like them. Radical in their choice and really trying to be part of an ecological approach.
Pauline and Jean-Pascal pick around a hundred local plants to create their products. The majority is done by wild picking. The rest is planted a few meters higher. They follow the organic specifications charts and especially that of the Simples, much more restrictive. Ecological ethics and artisanal production are at the heart of their profession. Working only with local plants and offering a variety of quality products guide their projects. Preserving the environment and plant resources are vital considerations for them and they are careful not to harvest too intensively. Everything is hand picked and each product is made using traditional quality materials. The use of plastic is also reduced to an absolute minimum.
Essential oils, floral waters, floral oils, alcohol, gemmotherapies, herbal teas … I discover all of their production in pretty glass bottles surrounded by very pretty labels. Their visual identity is very beautiful. And much more elaborate than any of the farmers producers that I have seen so far. The quality of the work jumps out at me. Pauline and Jean-Pascal do not do things half way. On the other hand, their website needs an overhaul and the photographs do not highlight their products. My fiber as a designer photographer itches me and pushed by the correctness of their approach and the growing interest I have in their project, I offer them my help.
Some of their essential oils photographed by me. The farm is full of amazing materials and textures and I decided to use that for the settings. For essential oils, I started with a game of shapes and textures with pieces of wood.
The days pass between the application of an earth coating on the walls of the barn, the preparation of gemmotherapies and tinctures from last year’s harvests, the work on the redesign of the site and the taking of photographs. The mix of different activities makes me happy. Eco-construction, plants, photography and design. Suddenly something jumps out at me. But why choose between these different activities? Why not try to work in these three areas? Combine eco-construction, natural health and web-design. Why not keep the skills acquired during my art, cinema and design studies and use them in combination with my new interests? I, who need variety, changes to keep interest, shouldn’t I imagine a future linked to these three themes? The conventional, cloistered vision of working for years in the same company, is outdated. Nothing is holding me back from choosing something else. It even appears beneficial to me, in the face of future social difficulties, to increase my areas of professional activity in order to increase my resilience.
By discussing with Pauline and Jean-Pascal, they encourage me in my choice. Why not consider professional activities linked to the seasons: in spring and autumn, eco-construction sites. In summer, work related to plants. And in winter, when it’s cold and the pace slows down, web-design projects related to ecology and craftsmanship. I really like the idea. How to put it in place remains to be seen. How to effectively combine the three activities. I will have to seize the opportunities and build a network. Keep my eyes and heart wide open and attract the good energies.
Pauline and Jean-Pascal tell me about their ideas, the layout of the farm, new products, what they imagine for the future. Behind the scenes, I see mine becoming clearer. In perpetual evolution, in permanent redefinition but always towards something better. I leave the farm with a light heart. I will come back to it throughout the year to continue working on the redesign of the site and the photographs. The universe sends me signs, gifts, which I must not miss. Meeting Les Sens de Théus was one of them and I am extremely grateful.
Pauline in March, harvesting almond buds in order to perform gemmotherapy. Working in the open air, in contact with nature and at the rhythm of the seasons, that is exactly what pleases her in the profession of farmer herbalist.
View of the Serre-Ponçon lake from the top of Mont Colombis.