Same old, never same old

Point of departure — the view of Mont Blanc

It’s the same path I usually run, 4.5 km in a loop that starts and ends at my doorstep; always the same route, never the same run.

It changes by the day, the week, the month. Out the door and along the stone walls of the French village in the foothills of the French Jura mountains.

Fog creeps over the Jura mountains to the west

The old walls are bare or snow-topped in the winter, green and mossy in spring and autumn, alive with blossoms and grasses and ferns the burst forth in summer.

Typical dry wall

My husband and I relocated to the region from Germany and California, respectively. I started running this path when we moved to the village almost twenty years ago. I wasn’t always faithful, I tried out other local routes over the years, but in the end…this is the one true path.

Leaving the village. Or arriving, depending on your perspective. Entrance to the farm that once belonged to the château

Along a couple of meadows and apple orchards, filled alternately with grazing cows and sheep, and for a couple of weeks here and there, a derelict white bull when the season is just right.

The white bull & sundry cows

On the opposite side of the road, an 18th-century château, a small one by French standards. Neglected and dark when we arrived, it’s since been sandblasted, renovated, brightly inhabited by a family of horse-breeders.

This area is a finger of France that stretches between the mountains on one side and the Swiss border on the other. Lake Geneva is a fifteen-minute drive from here, but in another country. It was once one of the poorest regions of France, even after the philosopher and humanist Voltaire took up residence here. His château, a much grander one than our village manor, is down the road in Ferney Voltaire.

In the winter I can see every detail of our little château from the road; now, in late spring, the green leaves of the haphazard hedge are growing, weaving a tapestry that will hide the lower floors until autumn, when the château will be framed in deepening amber until the leaves fall.

On to the small valley that runs between the small hill where our village sits and the higher perch of the next village over. A crooked rift in the fields here traces the course of a brook that runs heavily in winter and spring, regularly overflowing and flooding the road.

Jura view

My husband used to be amused by my loyalty to this path. I’m fickle, I don’t like repetition, regularity grates. I told him: It’s never the same journey.

Another apple orchard, first bare, then blossoming, then green and burgeoning, then harvested. When we moved here, all the trees were gnarled, aged and covered clumps in mistletoe. One by one and two by two, the farmer replaced them all, the final two old friends reduced to piles of ash earlier this year, now reborn as saplings.

This last apple tree is now gone, replaced by a fresh sapling

Opposite, my favorite meadow in the world, the one with one, two, three, four, countless types of wildflowers until the first cut that marks summer, special fodder for the horses that live a couple of meadows higher.

Up the steep hill, a pause at the stone village fountain. Its annual filling is one of the first signs of spring and its emptying one of the first signs of winter. My daughter used to complain every step of the way up this hill, and insist on a long and exasperated rest stop at the fountain. Now she sprints up the hill and waits for me, not even out of breath by the time I arrive.

Now downhill for a kilometer, past the ugly new suburban houses that are set far enough back from the road to ignore, down into the next small valley, the road cutting between a golf course and then a small forest. The golf course, abandoned, blanketed in snow, sometimes deep drifts, for several months of the year.

The path between meadows and golf course in winter

Then heavily populated with greenskeepers, golfers and all those stray balls my neighbor’s kid likes to collect. Up to the top of the golf course, and then along more fields. Sometimes wheat, sometimes corn, always against the everchanging backdrop of Lake Geneva and the Alps in the distance.

Finally, after a few years, my husband started running the loop with me over the course of a couple of weeks. Now it’s his loop, too.

Jura at sunset

Sometimes we just walk it, slow greedy strolls that let us drink it all in. Sometimes, over the years, I’ve had to walk it during various recuperations — from illness, from injury, from loss. It never fails to comfort.

How can an adopted home in a foreign country become so familiar, such a trusted companion?

Almost twenty years now, I’ve run this same path, both of us changing with time. The transformations of the path are cyclical, mostly. Mine are more permanent.

It’s the same path I always run, the loop that starts and ends at my doorstep; both of us always the same, but it’s never the same run.

Wheat field, Salève mountain beyond Lake Geneva, and a receding storm

All photos: PK Read

I’m a writer and environmentalist, living (obviously) in France. I blog at