Une épreuve: Do you know the French word?
Remerciement + A gold medal from the French government!

How to say cane (or trekking pole...) + photos from French Alps

Golden retriever dog stick
Our golden retriever, Smokey, and one of his many sticks. In today's story, Jean-Marc searches for the perfect bâton along the sentier to Fontenil, high up in the Southern Alps. Read along and learn a dozen useful French terms including a funny word for perfectionist...

Today's Word: le bâton

    : stick, cane, staff
    : le bâton de ski = ski pole

Sound file: Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French and in English.Un alpenstock est un long poteau en bois avec une pointe en fer, utilisé par les bergers pour voyager sur les champs de neige et les glaciers des Alpes depuis le Moyen Âge. Les alpinistes francophones appelaient cet objet un "bâton". An alpenstock is a long wooden pole with an iron spike tip, used by shepherds for travel on snowfields and glaciers in the Alps since the Middle Ages. French-speaking climbers called this item a "baton".

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Le Fignoleur (The Perfectionist)

On a hike with Jean-Marc in Le Parc National des Ecrins, I discovered my husband's rare perfectionist side. This quirky behavior began after he picked up a fallen branch and, snapping it in two, carefully fashioned a walking stick. Advancing along a trail of faded pine needles, my guide reached for another branche d'arbre, examined it thoughtfully, and tossed the one he had been using.

Tu veux que je t’en fasse un? Would you like me to make you one? Jean-Marc offered.

Non merci. I needed both hands to fall on as we advanced up the rocky ravine, even if I felt surefooted in my tightly-laced bottes de randonnée.

Kristi at Ecrins national park

C'était dommage, Jean-Marc remarked, to have missed the changing colors of the beautiful mélèze trees. The leaves on these conifers were now a dull brown, but there were other vivid scenes to enjoy: the clear blue sky and the candy red berries on the trees in the fields we'd passed earlier, where the moist earth was upturned by wild sangliers in search of bulbs. 

"I didn't know there were wild pigs in the Alps...." I said, reaching to pick up one of the bulbs the boars had left behind.

Eh oui, my Montagnard replied, wrestling with yet another found branch. His foot pinning it down, he pulled one end of the branch until it snapped in two. Voilà! As he measured it against the previous stick, until the length was to his liking, I was about to tease him for such fastidiousness. Instead, curiosity won out. I wondered, was there a specific term for this stick Jean-Marc was so obsessed with? 

"C'est un bâton," Mr. Finicky answered. Such an ordinary word compared to these synonyms I would later look up, like alpenstock or trekking pole or shillelagh! 

"A good one should come up to your chin. Comme ça," Jean-Marc demonstrated, leaning against his latest find. "High enough to balance a pair of jumelles...." Too bad he had forgotten those binoculars. On second thought, Jean-Marc was so intent on finding the perfect bâton, he couldn't focus on much else—though he didn’t miss the chamois, when it clipped past, some 200 meters below us. Regarde!!

The fawn having disappeared from view, my husband began smoothing out the “handle” of his (6th? 7th? 8th?) bâton, using the rough bark of a larch tree to saw the tip. Running his fingers over the edges, Ça y est! It looked like this would be the one!

I watched my mountain man set off now, down the canyon, over a deep bed of crunchy autumn leaves. And it made me smile to see him stomp down with his feet, and tap the ground with his bâton, rien que pour le plaisir, just for the pleasure of hearing the sounds of fall. 



le bâton = stick
le sentier = path, way
le fignoleur/la fignoleuse = perfectionist
la branche d'arbre = tree branch
bottes de randonnée = hiking boots
c'est dommage = it's too bad
le mélèze = larch tree
le sanglier = wild boar
le montagnard = mountain dweller
les jumelles = binoculars
le chamois = fawn, goat-antelope
Regarde! = look!
ça y est = that’s it
rien que pour le plaisir = just for the pleasure

I regret not getting a picture of Jean-Marc with his beloved bâtons! For the moment, our roving perfectionist is busy finishing up his chapter, dotting every i and crossing every t, in hopes you will follow along with his (and our) vineyard story.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Merle Minda

Glad to see Smoky looking so well after his bout w cancer last year. When I told you then that our Sparky had recovered, I am sad to say that it came back and finally finished him off at about 14. And thank you/ merci for your nice note about our anniversary.


Loved the blog & photos - thank-you. Stay well & keep safe.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,
We love to use our trekking poles when we are hiking in the Shenandoah National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway. They really help me when I am descending and it is rocky!
I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving if you still celebrate it!
Take care!

julie camp

With the myriad remarks you could have said to your Alpine conductor, it was your restraint that made this story just right. You always delight, Kristi. Thanksgiving blessings and love from julie.


What a beautiful hike in the mountains. A breath of fresh uncovid air. Happy thanksgiving to you and your family.

Cheryl in STL

Such beautiful photos! I lived in Grenoble for my junior year in college and fell in love with the Alps! This girl from the flat cornfields of Illinois never got tired of looking at them, being in them, cross country skiing...loved every moment.

Happy Thanksgiving!


One of the highlights of ma vie was hiking in the Swiss Alps a few years ago. In August 2016, the snow was still thick on the Eiger, Monch, and Yung Frau mountaintops, but at the 7,000 foot level and down, it was a gorgeous emerald green. The sun was shining, weather perfect (the week before, it had rained everyday on visiting tourists). Brightly colored flowers poked out of crevasses in the rock. The sounds of cow bells was charming as we made our way along narrow paths traversing the incredible mountain range. We could imagine Heidi, and Peter the goatherd, walking just around the bend. Your story brought back many happy memories.

Linda Darsie

I have several hiking "sticks," although I don't hike very much anymore. I always call them my "third leg." A very handy thing to have when needed, especially when your bad knee decides to give out! Good for city use, too, but with a rubber tip rather than a metal spike!


My carbon hiking poles go everywhere with me in the mountains. I missed on an opportunity to hike once in Le Parc National des Escrins. Your photos make me rue that missed opportunity.

Judy Feldman

Love the photo of Smokey! He may appear in a painting!


Bonjour, Kristi,,
Today’s blog, made me smile because one of my prayer buddies gave me a walking stick some time ago. I confess to not
using it right away, but after some practice I see it’s value. I take it with me whenever I plan to tackle a steep incline or a trail on a very uneven downward slope. I hope you give J-M another chance to outfit you with an Alpenstock.

Leslie NYC

Happy Thanksgiving!
Smokey looks as if he is playing the flute!
He has such reverence and affection for that stick.
Thank you for a year of open-hearted writing.


Thankful for your stories and listening to Jean-Marc I felt he was in the room with us. Thankful for the times we’ve been together and looking forward to traveling again. The word sentier in your story brought back lovely memories of the signs I’ve seen while roaming around the Haute Vaucluse near your first vineyard. Lovely memories of travel and the people I’ve met along the way.

Jeanine Woods

Thank you for your story about simple pleasures. I'm focusing on gratefulness today on Thanksgiving and the simple pleasures are what truly bring joy and peace. Merci Kristi!

Joan  L.

I was another girl from Illinois who spent time in Grenoble during my junior year in France (1971-72) . The family I stayed with, during the 6 week orientation program, lived in a huge 3rd floor apartment overlooking the Isere river and the entrance to the "T" cable car that took people up into the mountains. It was beautiful. The rest of the University of Illinois Year Abroad in France Program was spent in Rouen. The whole year was life changing for me.

Suzanne Dunaway

Hey, mountain men are the BEST!


Mr Finicky! You’re such a cute mix of sweet and humorous in your writing! What a charming couple you are!

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