Desolation Consolation

Sunday, November 12, 2017 0 Permalink 0

Grande Crue

On Monday 03-03-30, a major disaster struck our region, which I have written about before in these pages.

A spring flood swelled the Tarn River, but the debris in the water was more than usual, and that debris collected against certain railway bridges which then acted like dams. When those accidental dams finally burst, walls of water inundated whole villages, killing hundreds. The flood reached 19.5 meters in places.

To this day there are plaques commemorating the high-water mark with a single horizontal line under which is written simply “March 3, 1930.” And this event is why the Tarn today is so heavily dammed and so well controlled. Out of bad, good. Out of memory, rebirth. Out of awareness, safety.

Let what has passed never pass this way again.

The windows of our house look out on that same river. I wonder what we would have seen on that tragic day. They say our cave has never flooded, despite its proximity to the water’s edge, but how could it not have? Did the other side of the river, with its gentler slope of the riverbank, bear the full brunt of the flood? Is that why all the houses on that side of the river are less than a century old?

It would have been almost impossible to find any good in that devastated landscape as the waters began to recede. But it was there, nascent – the will to improve the future.


I think about la Grande Crue often – you cannot help but be reminded of it consistently around here – but it was not until today that I realized that Ash Wednesday fell on the 5th of March that year, just 2 days later, and that of course is the Ash Wednesday evoked in T.S. Eliot’s famous poem Ash Wednesday 1930.

What a stunning convergence, at least for me, for whom both facts are of primary historical importance. These villages were not even dry yet, when the penitential day was eternalized by one of the great works of literature: “Shall these bones live?”

Yes, they shall.

We All Fall Down

This autumn season at the house with our fireplace roaring already (yes, ash=dust) is the very opposite of Lenten spring, but I think the invocation fits, and not just in the garden, but at the close of an entire season: What is done is done, and what is not yet done never will be, at least not in this cycle – Any future will have to be started from scratch.

The season of green and growth is over. The fields have gone to seed. The flowers are scattered in the wind and rain. Grasses slump in decay. Leaves fall. The Fall. A descent into ashes.

And yet… yet. We had four new chicks born this week completely out of season, peeping and hopping like it’s still Eastertide, somewhere. They are an unseasonal reminder of the future.

Listen through the fog and mist, and you can hear them in the poulailler, under warm cover of maman for the rest of winter, calling in a young, high voice. It is probably the same voice, could we hear it, of seeds and firepits and inundated plains.

And it’s in this awareness that I am pleased with the onset of fall this year and the death of the garden. It is a cyclical undoing. Maybe even a rest.

There is some great peace to be had in the aftermath of things, whether good things or painful, and a lack of hope does not always mean despair. Sometimes it is only born of satisfaction with the present, not needing to look ahead past this place, right now.

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
– T.S. Eliot, opening lines of Ash Wednesday, 1930