“It is my joy to have zucchini, eggplant, beans, cauliflower, chili peppers, sweet peppers, melons, fennel, strawberries, black currants, chard, beets, pumpkins, green beans, crosne, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes … everything grows!!!” – Cecile
When Léandre and I took our first small steps out onto the road on Earth Day 2019, we scanned workaway.info for places in the Pyrenees where we could live in service to everyday earth healers. In a sea of almost nothing, Cécile’s place stood alone at the top of one of the peaks close to our route. A series of events would lead us to pass Cécile’s place, but in a twist of fate she reached out to us anyway.
Although we couldn’t offer her our physical help, we are inspired by her journey, her tenacity, and her mission. Her story gives us hope that no matter where you may be in your life’s journey, there is always time to take action for your dreams and for our earth.
Here is Cécile’s amazing adventure through a life that would bring her finally to L’arch’en ciel.
Cécile’s story is our seventh story of hope in the Limitless 2020 Earth Day Hope Raiser (like a fundraiser, but for hope)! Join us every day until Earth Day (April 22), as we share 22 hope-inspiring stories of the adventures everyday people across our planet are taking to build a better future on a thriving earth.
My name is Cécile. I am French and have traveled through Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Germany, England, and Benin. I lived in Algeria for 6 years; Belgium for 38 years; and Martinica, Dominica, and Guadeloupe (all part of an archipelago in the French Caribbean) for 4 years.
For the past 3 years, I’ve lived in the Hautes-Pyrenees, an isolated region in the mountains sitting at 1400m (~4600 ft) of elevation. In moving here, I am realizing my dream of living with respect for nature. I’ve created a permaculture vegetable garden and orchard, eat a vegetarian diet, and want to share what I’m learning as I work to achieve my lifelong dream of living self-sufficiently.
My dream for L’Arch’en ciel is to create a place of abundance, sharing, and peace.
My journey started with a punishment, and ended with me choosing to make my own dreams come true.
When I think back to how this all began, it was actually with a punishment! When I was 13, my history teacher made me read and present to the class “L’Afrique noire est mal partie (roughly: Black Africa is off to a bad start)” by René Dumont. This book was a revelation for me, and I would go on to inhale other René Dumont books including “L’économie du gaspillage (roughly: The economy of waste)”. It was with this that my desire to live self-sufficiently in the countryside became well-established.
As a result, I can remember feeling like an alien for as long as I can remember. During my years living in the pristine nature of Guadeloupe, I felt really good. However, after returning from this life, many judged me as antisocial because it was so hard for me to reintegrate into society after being very often alone in nature
In trying to live my dream, I attempted to integrate myself into a so-called “self-sufficient” community in Belgium. The idea was in alignment with how I wanted to live. However, I came to realize that most of the inhabitants there unconsciously recreated the status-quo patterns of the world. With the power play, manipulation, hypocrisy, intolerances …and even violence, I experienced a great sense of disillusionment. I had to escape!
I decided the way forward was to realize my dreams on my own. Thanks to the partnership of my daughter, I was able to find a barn on 2.5 hectares (6 acres) of land just a two hour walk from hers. It was here that I found my place. Although my place is a 30 minute walk to the road and a one-hour drive to the nearest village, I live here not in solitude, but in fullness!!!!
My very first step at L’Arch’en ciel was researching and then planting a permaculture garden.
In creating my permaculture garden in the Pyrenees, I used my experience growing a 2 x 2m (6.6 x 6.6 ft) garden in Belgium. I also did a lot of reading, and chose permaculture because of Phillp Forrer, who I found on YouTube. My journey through permaculture brought me to discover the alpine permaculture work of Joseph Holzer whose land sits at an altitude of 1500m (~4900 ft). His work inspires me and keeps me in this challenge of growing a vegetable garden and cultivating an orchard at 1400m above sea level, against all opinions
I love challenges, and I like to set a high bar for myself. If someone says “impossible,” it motivates me! I’ve cultivated two vegetable gardens despite the difficulty of the altitude. One I planted myself, and the other I planted with the help of a young woman who helped me dig a 5 x 1m (16 x 3 ft) hole and fill it with rotten wood. I extend this garden regularly and it produces abundant harvests!
I face many challenges with growing at altitude and getting the resources that I need.
When I first started planting my orchard, I ordered 15 trees, expecting them to be fairly small. I dug holes for small trees, and traveled to the valley below my property to pick them up. These trees were not small. In fact, they were taller than me! I will never forget the trips back and forth up the winding pass with these trees, nor the process to enlarge the holes to get these huge trees planted!!
When the spring came, and the trees began to bloom, my joy was immense. The apples, pears, and cherries began to grow until a day’s freeze on June 4th. Despite putting up a protective veil the day before, all the fruit fell to the ground. I cried! And then I quickly told myself that it was a victory they had all grown in the first place.
On July 12, I tasted the only two surviving cherries, relishing in the promise of future harvests. With this year’s spring coming very early, the pear trees are already in buds. It’s March, the cold has returned, and I will see how the trees do this year in early April…
Another challenge that I faced is with creating beehives. After researching, I chose Warré hives. Unfortunately, the cost of pre-made hives was too high, and I haven’t found a sawmill to cut the proper size of untreated douglas. I also will need to create a pulley system, find an adequate space for an ecological apiary, and bring in a swarm of black bees at a reasonable price. I will have to postpone this project to a later date as a result of these challenges.
Despite the challenges, my gardens are thriving and I am living in harmony with nature more each day.
- It is my joy to see that everything works fairly easily and that many vegetables grow when left alone. Despite the heat waves, the vegetable garden remains green despite never being watered!
- It is my joy to see the flowers and insects …. and to see that my vegetable garden has not been eaten by the deer nor rooted by the wild boars.
- It is my joy to plant the potatoes thrown away by the organic store.
- It is my joy to taste what I plant and savor a flavor that is better than industrially grown produce.
- It is my joy to give and exchange the surplus of what I grow.
- It is my joy to have vegetables that survive the winter.
- It is my joy to have zucchini, eggplant, beans, cauliflower, chili peppers, sweet peppers, melons, fennel, strawberries, black currants, chard, beets, pumpkins, green beans, crosne, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes … everything grows!!!
- It is my joy to photograph the hundreds of different flowers that grow all around me and learn their names.
When I look back, the best parts of my journey have been…
- becoming a vegetarian after meeting the gaze of a calf at a slaughterhouse
- eating only when I’m hungry
- talking about permaculture
- being minimalist
- BEING instead of APPEARING
- going to the essential
- a voluntary return to simple life
- showing hikers the place and showing them they can accomplish the same thing
- learning edible plants (a journey still in progress)
Here is my advice to you.
There is no light without shade. So when taking action, it’s important to take time to think before you act and to be clear about the dark side of things as well as the light. When you act, act in respect for yourself and for others.
For example, eating organic is a good action, but if you’re eating organic strawberries in the middle of winter (when they are out of season), is that in alignment with the light side of your intention?
Another piece of advice is that doing things that are difficult can take you on a path to liberation, especially for those that are used to perpetual comfort.
While I must replace the water we use by carrying it up in buckets from a pool 100m below the house, shower outside using water warmed by the sun, and wash laundry and collect firewood by hand, I have such happiness in the way living with nature allows me to listen to bird songs and enjoy the landscapes.
We asked Cecile what help she needs to move L’Arch’en ciel forward, and here’s what she told us:
- Carpentry – specifically for windows
- Electrician – for installation of a wind turbine.
- Construction – to help repair interior walls, build a clay bread oven, and create a pedal-powered washing machine
- Water Management – to install a thermosyphon bath
Cecile says that she is interested in creating a win/win system of exchange for those who help her. In addition to what you’d learn about living in harmony with nature, she can help those experiencing difficulties in life and/or health, and can help those who don’t feel they have a direction for their life. She also tells us that her property is ideal for hikers, and with the nearest town of Gavarnie only 5 km (3 miles) away, there are amenities like swimming pools, ice rinks, climbing walls, and a tourist office.
You can learn more about L’Arch’en ciel on La fabrique des colibris.
Thank you Cécile!
Thank you for sharing your story with us, for taking steps to live in harmony for our earth, and for persevering with your dream across the decades and the setbacks. You are such an inspiration to us, and we hope you get all the help you need for L’Arch’en ciel to become the place you dream!
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