Suddenly it was May and very nearly the end of the ski season and it felt like we’d barely arrived. I hadn’t ski’d enough. Or eaten enough patisserie – the shop was going to shut soon…
Plus we were heading towards the start of our third month and the girls weren’t speaking French, much to my frustration. I felt we should be doing more to help and I bought paper and wrote up lists with little pictures to try to encourage them.
I thought back to the Spanish children who’d arrived at the girls’ school back in the UK with barely any English. They had seemed to be speaking English pretty quickly. What was wrong with my girls? Then I realised that as far as I knew no one in the UK school spoke Spanish to those children. Here in our resort town the English kids – a small minority but a significant one – gravitated towards each other. There were English teachers at the school, and others who spoke English willingly. My kids weren’t being forced to understand or speak French, and were getting away with it. If only we’d picked a remote village out of the way of these pesky Brits and their annoying language!
Meanwhile, with the approach of spring people started mentioning how they’d spent the day at a play park in a settlement a little down the mountain, which sounded like a lovely change of scenery. The snow had started to melt more down there, apparently. I discovered that to get there we needed to take two buses and then a chair lift down. Adventure!
So (slightly randomly moving into the present tense so you can properly join us on our sunny day out…) one Sunday when the husband is away we pack a picnic and venture down the mountain.
It’s glorious! The chair lift down is a lovely ride in itself, and we arrive in warm spring. From the chair we spy a couple gathering something-or-other on the hillside and the moment we ‘land’ Daisy is pestering me to go and find out what it is.
‘Dents de lion’ the lady tells me, and shows me the little shoots she’s collecting in a muslin bag. Daisy quickly becomes expert at spotting clumps of the small green shoots, and when I can eventually persuade her away toward the play park and picnic tables it’s with the promise that we’ll collect some for ourselves as soon as we’ve had lunch and emptied a container. Thankfully I’m in French practical mode and am carrying my Swiss Army Knifeso I’m ready to forage (I know it should be an Opinel, but I don’t own one of my very own just yet – though as a family we do have a couple).
Daisy’s eagerness over the foraging is all part of her and Isla’s plans to live in ‘The Wild’. This is a plan that’s been around for a good year or two and is a regular feature in their conversations. It’s all being gradually planned out. They will have clans, with strict hierarchy and rules and special names. Daisy’s in charge, obvs. Discussions are usually around who will do what, the things they will need and how they will get them, plants they will grow and enterprises for getting money, power etc. I’m allowed to visit – as long as I help out! At one point I suggested they might charge people to come and stay – so they can get money for other things they might need. The price seems to be going up each time it’s mentioned… Since arriving in the Alps some scoping has been done for areas suitable to set up camp. And now skills are being gathered so they will be able to eat. It runs deep, I think, this plan…
After a long picnic and play, I draw them away towards a path on the other side of the babbling river to explore. Before setting off we look for dents-de-lion in a sunny meadow. There are lots. I promise we’ll gather some before catching the chairlift back up.
Such an easy way to occupy children – a walk. We just meander along at no great pace. They make up stuff about what we are seeing and take turns to be ‘the guide’. I get told off if I overtake the leader of the moment, so I keep my rank! There are little waterfalls, hidden icicles in still-cold nooks, birds and leaves and stones. We feel refreshed. The girls are in heaven. Any niggles about school and missing friends disappear and they are just in their element.
On our return we collect our dents-de-lion. We aren’t actually a hundred per cent sure what we’re doing and whether we’re aiming for the root or the leaves, or both. We go for shoots with a bit of root attached, which is what I think the French couple were doing. Then it’s a last play and up and away on the chair lift (which is fairly steep and a lovely way to travel – quite exciting even, when you have the advantage of childhood).
The next day I cook the Dents-de-Lion after a bit of Googling. Silly me – of course, they are Dandelion shoots. D’oh! The lady had mentioned having them with eggs and there are all sorts of recipes on line. As I wash them I end up removing most of the earthy root and decide that next time I’ll go for more shoot than root. For my recipe I go free range with a packet of lardons I find hiding in the ‘fridge, along with cream, butter and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Bingo – it’s delicious!
Contrary to my expectations the girls enjoy them too. ‘When we live in The Wild,’ they say, ‘we will have dents-de-lion and….’