I had the privilege of being born in the South of France, where the mountains cast their shadows over sunny beaches. Although I was born in Nice, my father’s family resided in Peille- a small commune perched on a rock between Monaco and Menton in the Alpes Maritimes. Peille is a magical village made up of medieval houses huddled together on a hillside and surrounded by beautiful forested hills. Its narrow streets date from the 12th century and its vaulted passages lead to several religious monuments that leave memories in the hearts of many tourists. But for me, Peille’s charm doesn’t lie in its aesthetic nature, it lies in its culture, which has been passed onto me by my grandfather. My grandfather is the smartest man I know, but I think everyone says that about their grandfather. They’re so full of wisdom and oh so full of love. I remember countless moments of walking through nearby forests holding my father’s hand, with my grandfather by our side; the smell of wild lavender and the crunch of leaves under our feet. When my father passed away in in a car accident in 1999, my grandfather was what I had left of him. The same deep stare in his eyes, the same passion for helping others and the same love for nature. I want to share with you what my grandfather taught me about nature.
- Nature heals: I moved back home to re-connect with my roots in 2013. It was freezing upon my arrival and I caught a pretty wicked strep throat. I called my grandfather to see if he had anything in his medicine cabinet he could provide. He said, “Jarrive” which translates to “I’ll be right there.” He walked through the door and immediately began pressing lemons. He then put some sea salt in warm water and handed both concoctions to me. He told me to snort the salt water and gargle the lemon, because nature heals. But nature doesn’t just heal us physically. Two weeks later, I had the blues from missing home. I wallowed over to his house and rode with him to his farming land. We walked through his olive trees and listened to the sounds of the mountains. He stopped beside a smaller tree and asked me if I knew what I was looking at. I shook my head. He explained that he had grafted a branch from one of his cherry trees when my father passed away, to keep his spirit alive. Fourteen years later, the tree was strong. I knew deep down that this had helped heal his own spirit.
- Change and movement are a part of life: Most animals in this lifetime are migratory. They do so because of climate, local availability of food, the season of the year or for mating reasons. In each scenario, migration is a behavioral adaptation that helps animals survive. My grandfather taught me a lot about moving out of my comfort zone. And he taught me even more about disappearing into nature in order to reflect. He found it selfish when people took their problems out on others and always encouraged my cousins and I to walk away with our emotions and come back only when we had love to share.
- Sustainable Living: My grandfather wouldn’t drive into town to go to the dentist- complaining that the dentist didn’t know what he was talking about and he was tired of being given chemicals to treat his problems. He would however, drive into town through an hour of traffic if it meant getting his hands on his favorite chocolate. He lived for the small things. I have vivid memories of walking home from school with my cousins, skipping through the cobblestone streets. There were plenty of times where we would stop dead in our tracks because of the smell coming from my grandfather’s kitchen. We would always look at each other and ask, “ What is grandpa making?”, with a look of disgust on our faces. My grandfather was notorious for cooking up the weirdest things you could think of. Pigeon? I’ve had it. Rat? I’ve eaten it. Snake? A bunch of times. Frog, small river fish, porcupine (yeah, I said porcupine), and the list goes on. My grandfather makes his own olive oil, his own wine and his own vinegar. He grows his own vegetables and you bet he’ll make a scene if you don’t finish your plate. He taught me to give to the Earth more than you take from it, and he set the perfect example.
- We can lead a simple life: To this day, my happiest moments aren’t the day I got my license, or my first paycheck. In fact, I can’t say that my happiest moment has anything to do with materialism. I’ve found that my happiest moments have occurred sitting by a campfire with friends, laying on my grandfather’s chest listening to him read Pagnol’s “My Father’s Glory”, or watching my mom cook me a meal after a long day at work. My greatest joys in life have always been in the company of the ones I love and in the company of mother nature.
My goal isn’t to have you reinvent the way you live, but rather to take a moment for yourself to reflect on the times you’ve shared with nature. Whether you’re out on a hunt, or teaching you child to plant a seed, it’s worth reflecting on. There are so many things we can learn from our elders, and there is a lot of opportunity to appreciate nature.