June: Flood Season

Last month's view from our temporary lakefront property

Last month's view from our temporary lakefront property

It's late afternoon and I'm writing under our walnut tree. It's leaves are blocking the sun and providing shade against a 34 degree (93°F) day.

It's the second day of summer, but the first day that feels like it, with the sunshine showing up both unexpectedly and almost on time. All the signs of the season are here: mosquitos either buzzing in your ears or flying into your glass of wine, socks an annoyance instead of a necessity, and the tame sprouts of climbing cucumbers, tomatoes and snap peas making grabs for everything they can as they claim garden space and become taller by the day.

I'm claiming my own garden space, under this tree that only weeks ago was knee deep under water. Pouillé's floods were just as unexpected as today's sunshine. I am inclined to welcome one unexpected surprise over the other.

Water levels creeping up to our walnut tree

Water levels creeping up to our walnut tree

I start ramping up for warm weather with an admittedly unwarranted and premature level of expectation. My annual feeling that the survival of February, the longest short month as far as I'm concerned, should be compensated with immediate warm weather, is a source of regular disappointment that I for some reason cling to. I adopt an “are we there yet?” approach to the first sunny months of the year, and ask my loved ones when spring will show up over and over again until the response is “right now”.

But this year spring didn't show up. Post-February felt like every day began the same: with a sky so blank it looked as if someone had cut and pasted it somewhere else, where lucky people sat on blankets in the grass under a blue sky.

The grey and cold weather wasn’t just bad for my tendency to be S.A.D, it was also potentially devastating to our winemaker friends.

I know the weather happens to all of us, and has nothing to do with any of us (man made effects on global warming aside), but I take gloomy weather personally. Having said that, while I moped and looked up California weather reports I was also aware of the larger implications the cold weather announced. The grey and cold weather wasn't just bad for my tendency to be S.A.D, it was also potentially devastating to our winemaker friends.

Including Noëlla, who has a plot of Sauvignon vines across the street from our house.

Our first 4 am rendezvous in these vines was late April. We would be back a second time in early May to do the same thing: lighting paint can sized candles to ward off the devastating effects of violent pre-dawn temperature drops on the vines. We were engaged in the fight against frostbite, resistants in a swiftly shrinking army, as we saw more and more neighboring winemakers share photos of heartbreaking scenes in their vines- mornings that brought frost burnt vines and the end of their vintage.

Anti-frost candles ward of threats from dropping temperatures in the vines

Anti-frost candles ward of threats from dropping temperatures in the vines

It felt like a second February- the summoning of all your forces to get through whatever nature would throw at you. We were cold, we were seasonally depressed, but we were there for the vines and both us and them survived. We made it to the other side, so we were there yet, right? Surely spring was also on this other side. That same unfounded optimism came back. Soon we would be eating lunch outside, I told myself, letting my hopes rise high.

Roads turned into rivers and I sludged through the current on my way to work in the vines, wearing waterproof gear but giving up on gloves that would be soaked within five minutes of debudding the vines that made commendable attempts at sprouting with little encouragement from a timid spring.

But then it started raining. It started raining and never stopped. Roads turned into rivers and I sludged through the current on my way to work in the vines, wearing waterproof gear but giving up on gloves that would be soaked within five minutes of debudding the vines that made commendable attempts at sprouting with little encouragement from a timid spring.

There was something reassuring about this rainfall being the worst the region had seen in 100 years. I wasn't making it up, this was shitty weather. It was the worst.

In Paris the banks of the Seine were under water and in Pouillé our river, the Cher, was drowning.

I say drowning because that's how it felt- not overflowing and abundant but imprisoning and inundated. It's strange how flooding happens, water doesn't come in waves but rather it sneaks in from under your feet.

It mostly happened overnight, but then it was just a matter of hours. We woke up to see that our house suddenly had a lake view, and by the end of the day it was a lakefront property.

I checked our backyard regularly, as water crept closer and closer to the henhouse and then, just a few paces away, our own house. Eventually the water seemed to stagnate within a safe distance of the chickens, but one loss was already apparent. I waded out to the corner of the yard that was home to my vegetable garden, which I had been preparing since we moved into our house in the autumn. My garden was still there, but it was very, very under water.

Post flood potager

Post flood potager

“Maybe it will be okay?” I mustered up some optimism, trying to believe that tomorrow we might wake up and discover that all the water had magically gone away.

“Forget about it”, Ben replied, unable to understand that the survival of this patch of land was the only thing between me and a nervous breakdown.

I crumbled. I was out of perspective and full of feelings. It wasn't just the vegetable garden. It was everything. The mean lady who owned the nearby coop and yelled at me when I touched the avocados. The local farmer who couldn't deliver our weekly vegetable baskets because he barely had enough produce for his market stand and CSA. The fact that I had left my apartment, my Paris, my friends, my habits to move to the countryside where even the most basic things, like buying vegetables, seemed impossibly hard procure.

I needed to go for a walk, but everything was flooded and it was, of course, raining. I could at least say goodbye to my garden, I thought, as I put on my boots and waded into the backyard, which would be shin deep in water by the next day. I went to my little garden, which we had inaugurated just two months earlier, after Ben had built a fence around the patch of healthy soil in order to keep the chickens out.

Pre flood potager dressed up for the inauguration party

Pre flood potager dressed up for the inauguration party

I could see the tips of my baby kale plants, poking out just over the pop-up lake level. I decided I would pick them and have a first and last salad from my garden. Then I remembered that our landlord and neighbor had chosen this corner of his garden, just over the fence from my potager, to be his dumping ground for illegally hunted animal carcasses.

My sweet, innocent baby kale plants- born from seeds brought to me by my sister and planted with love by me and my mom, were now essentially steeping in a deer cadaver cold brew.

I discovered this unpleasant fact one day as I was weeding in my garden and a strange smell led me to investigate further. The odor turned out to be the remains of a deer that was rotting before my eyes.

My sweet, innocent baby kale plants- born from seeds brought to me by my sister and planted with love by me and my mom, were now essentially steeping in a deer cadaver cold brew.

I decided not to make the salad. And to keep feeling sorry for myself.

Things never seem like they'll get better until they do. Ben and his best friend built me a raised bed garden and it's now full of healthy plants. With time, my old vegetable garden dried out and is currently home to a half dozen heirloom tomato plants. And baby kale.

At the time of writing, the sun is out and the sky is blue. I'm watching it all from the comfort of a walnut tree canopy, equipped with a glass of Sauvignon and my 5 euro Barbès bought flip flops and I'm feeling pretty close to heaven. I know that this could change tomorrow and I know that the weather has nothing to do with me, but sometimes you really truly understand how much you need the sky to be on your side in order to thrive.

This, I've learned, is another thing we have in common with gardens and grapevines. Both of which are as fragile and sensitive as we are, and both of which mean more to me than I could understand before thinking of my life here without them. 

Plan B potager, filled with happy plants

Plan B potager, filled with happy plants