Ardèche in summer: bleached stone, green rivers, shadows in flight.

After putting my last bit of strength into one final climb, I picked my way down to the river snaking below the cliffs, tripping over stones and reaching out to crush rosemary needles between my calloused fingers.

Harness and helmet stashed in a shadow, I walked along the pebbled bank until I found a bend with enough privacy to strip down unseen; some urban prudishness kept me from taking off my underwear. I slipped into the cool water, giddy and grateful, wet cotton clinging to my hips.

Above me, the stone ruins of a church warmed to gold as the sun slid into that evening angle that magnifies the pulse in everything. Tiny silver fish darted just below the river’s clear surface. A bird glided past, scanning the shallows for dinner. Bobbing along on bent knees, I tried to blend into the scene before me, knowing I had little to offer the actors but admiration.