On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

Sustainable buildling and light habitats. to transform the act of building and rethink our relationship with living things.
Transition tales. towards an ethical, sustainable and united future.
Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

12 April 2020

In a world at a standstill

France is confined to try to slow the spread of the virus and I observe nature budding with the arrival of Spring.
Chamonix, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Birds are cheerfully singing outside. Robins, sparrows, crows, chickadees, robins, cuckoos spread their varied songs in the tranquil atmosphere. It is quiet, there is no noise. Not a sound of civilization. Apart from the church bells that ring the chime or the noise of a car engine rarely passing on the street, it is a peaceful calm. The birds seem to take advantage of these moments of rest to vocalize loudly. Do they sing louder, feeling masters of the place finally rid of the human hubbub? Or is it the reduction of noise pollution that simply makes it easier to hear them? To realize that they are there. Birds everywhere, twirling, welcoming with joy the arrival of Spring.

I am stuck at home. In my tiny room at the Mercure hotel in Chamonix. I do not have a kitchen but I have a nice view to watch the birds and plants that live outside. Since March 15, 2020, France has been confined to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This contagious virus that forces humans to slow down. This little virus not catastrophically dangerous which forces us to stay at home. In addition to infecting the body, it seems to indirectly infect people’s brains. Disconnected from reality, lost in the mass of false information, fed on social networks, hatred and instantaneity, people believe they are facing the third world war. Even the president said it. It is war. War against an invisible enemy. Our president appears to have grown wings. That’s it, he can finally use the militaristic and liberticide overtones he hid under his desk. The key word is to stay at home and avoid contact. A certificate of derogatory travel is put in place in order to authorize only certain types of “outside movements”. Playing sports is part of the list but limited to one hour and remaining within a radius of one kilometer around the home. The practice of cycling is authorized at the start before being brutally removed from the possibilities. The certificate must be completed and signed at each outing. What a wasted of paper. Anyone who does not respect the restrictions faces a fine of more than one hundred euros. Goodbye, freedoms. Hello denouncements and excess.

In hospitals, suffocated by budget restrictions that have been in place for years, the situation is difficult. Not enough masks, not enough artificial respirators, not enough beds, not enough medicine. The medical staff do with whatever means are at hand. The state, which has released billions to set up a massive partial unemployment plan, does not seem to be able to release funds for the only sector that urgently needs it. Madness is everywhere in the media. Incitement to fear gangrene every article. People murder themselves using horrible words on social networks. I decide to drop it all. During the first days I followed like everyone else, the live count of the number of deaths, the evolution of the situation in the world, the big words announced by the leaders to deal with the crisis, the catastrophic consequences announced in the poorest countries. But I quickly realized the harmfulness of the situation. To be happy, you have to be ignorant. So I disconnect from all that and spend the days quietly without stuffing my head with catastrophic predictions or incitement to hatred.

My days are busy. Maybe a little too much. This imposed confinement would perhaps be conducive to internal reflection, a slow down, an observation of outside life. But I have a hard time doing  it so I divide my days between several more down to earth activities. I cycle early in the morning when the police are not yet present. I continue to edit the articles on my site. I work on the preparation of the IELTS English qualification in order to be able to integrate the University of Bristol (I applied in January for a course in wildlife documentary in England and I am currently awaiting the answer). I cook as best as I can on my little camping stove, being careful not to trigger the fire alarm. And I start cleaning the hotel garden. Butts, cans, leaves and branches dot the lawn and I decided to clean it up. The days pass a little monotonous. My life is divided between my bedroom, the garden and a quick tour outside. I do not often meet the other team members. Everyone is divided into the rooms of the hotel but they seems to go about their personal concerns. It does not matter me, loneliness, I know it and I welcome it with kindness.

In the streets of Chamonix, some passers-by exchange trivialities several meters apart or watch themselves pass with a suspicious air. Some people are panicked at the idea of stepping outside. Others like me try to live a normal life. I walk quietly in the streets going shopping or getting some fresh air. I feel like I have the city all for myself. Chamonix does not look like a ghost town, far from it. Just like a city in off-peak season, when the crowd of tourists has finally deserted the place. A city in peace, far from the hustle and bustle of mass tourism and superficiality. I really like this atmosphere. This impression of tranquility that inhabits every moment.

A festival of colors is blooming in Chamonix. Spring brings out the flowers. Primroses, Forsythia, Cherry Trees and Pansies are among the first to appear.

The good weather brings Spring with it and trees and flowers are blossoming everywhere. The progression is almost visible to the naked eye. From day to day, trees are adorned with pretty tender green leaves and petals open to the rhythm of the sun. Nature is reborn quietly, indifferent to the worry that has taken hold of the world of men. Touches of pink, white, yellow, green, purple, red colors light up the city. Isn’t it beautiful, all this beauty that surrounds us, this variation to the rhythm of the seasons. But are we even able to notice it? These few months of slowdown, this forced stop will have at least offered a short moment of respite to the planet. The human world is on a break, the machines of consumerism and capitalism are idling. Less greenhouse gases, less pollution, less environmental destruction. In just a few weeks, the water of rivers becomes clearer and animals venture into town. Give it the opportunity and nature will recover on its own. Will this respite serve as a wake-up call to humanity? Or will we resume as if nothing had happened once the confinement lifted? I read “In the forests of Siberia” by Sylvain Tesson. A story of six months of hermitage in the depths of Siberia. Isolated alone in a cabin on the shore of Lake Baikal. Fishing, walks, readings, nature observation and the hours that pass for only friends. Far from all the madness of the world, a return to nature, simplicity and peace of mind. A happy sobriety. Like Pierre Rabhi’s book which seems to invite me to reading it. Looking at the world in slow motion, emptied of its crowd of hurried ants, I seem to see a vision of the future. The sustainable, equitable and respectful future necessarily involves decrease and sobriety. And even if it will not be easy, it is the only possible healthy way for us. 

In the Mont-Blanc forest, there is no one. I am 1500 meters high and I observe the valley below. The car parks are empty, nobody in the streets and very few cars on the roads. The weather is magnificent and I went on a day hike to reach Montenvers and the Mer de Glace at 1900m. I left early in the morning to avoid the police patrols and I followed the small path which sinks among the trees to climb up the mountain. The landscape is fascinating. Yet I know it well. But each look at the place is a new discovery. I never get tired of it. The shape of the mountains, the whiteness of the snow on the heights, the tiny refuges, the variations of green, the ridges of the avalanche corridors, the valley filled with dwellings. A touch of sadness enters my heart. From one end of the valley to the other, there is only that. A series of chalets and buildings that have swallowed up natural spaces. What did the place look like before men appropriated the place?

The Montenvers is in the snow and the Mer de Glace glows in the sun. The small tongue of ice seems atrophied, even in winter still covered with snow. The monster has long since lost its power. I climb through the snow that freezes my fingers. The trail is gone and I trust my judgment. Not a cloud in the sky. The whiteness of the place dazzles me and I walk like a blind man in contact with the elements around him. The big massive stone bunker of the Hotel du Montenvers lies on the mountainside emptied of its inhabitants. The little red train no longer goes up. Absolute peace. The rail is empty of snow and I take the opportunity to go back down by walking along the construction.

Another day, I go up to the Alpages de Blaitière. The trail starts near the cable car station for the Aiguille du Midi and I see a cabin rushing into the void. Are there people working at the Aiguille or at the shelter below? In the forest, birds search the leaves for insects to nibble on. Large chunks of snowfields dot the path. The undergrowth is damaged on this side of the mountain. Trunks and roots lie everywhere and the earth seems to have been mistreated. Consequences of winter? The Blaitière chalets appear at 1700m in a pretty clearing. There too the earth seems to have suffered. An overhanging rock offers a spectacular view of Chamonix below. Higher up the snow makes its appearance and I sometimes sink to the hips. Two hundred meters of groping through and here I am at the second chalet at 1925m. A chamois flies by sending me whistles of alert. An ermine passes at lightning speed. A little higher, the Plan de l’Aiguille spreads out its magnificence covered with snow. I have lunch in the sun listening to the sounds of nature and enjoying the calm. I do not want to go back down. Nature lives indifferent to the tremors of the human world below. Here, only reality directs the order of things.

Hardly anyone on the trail to the Mer de Glace. The Montenvers refuge looks like an abandoned bunker, emptied of its visitors. The Blaitière chalet at 1900m is still covered with snow. Below, the city center of Chamonix lives at a slower pace. The calm offers the appreciation of the sound of nature usually masked by the hubbub of traffic below.

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