Today we ran out of water which is just as well because it provided the first line to a piece I’ve been putting off since since the mercury overdosed on too many degrees. Call it procrastination, meltdown or depression, but the question remains the same: How to start when the conclusion is the end?
Before I worked outdoors I had the luxury to ignore it. As a city dweller I was plugged-in to the bad news cycle, but to slightly adapt the NIMBY acronym: there was Nothing happening In My Back Yard. I recycled, I donated. My Facebook has long been algorithm-ed away from friends’ feeds since no one ‘likes’ ecological disaster and my wall has become an E-totem to it. But: normalisation. Business as usual. And anyway, places like The Amazon (burning), Siberia (burning), The Arctic (burning), seemed far away.
And then my backyard burning became my every day.
Thank God the headlines have scared off would-be guests because I’ve nailed the extra bed sheets across our windows
The Ardèche didn’t get blowtorched like the Hérault did, but as the earth blazes are we really going to split hairs? Those who don’t have time for empty talk are looking to plant heat-resistant grape varieties – if they get the chance: any plantings this year fried. The market for north-facing slopes is hot. The ‘best’ terroirs, those with deep bedrock and shallow soils, are now where the burn victims are the worst. The sun here has long been considered more a sniper than a friend – the vines stretched along trellises almost seem to be waving a red flag screaming ‘Here I am!’. And the hot weather is holding our night hours hostage: growers are already spraying at 2AM.
For the longest time no-one knew whether harvest was going to be super early (grapes picked before maturation in order to hang on to at least some acidity), spread out (pick some grapes green to mix with those deeply concentrated) or late (because of arrested development from water stress). Everyone shortened their holidays, and now the grapes are blocked and they sit and wait.
I complained last year of the heat but I take it back. 2019 is hot — no real rain since last year and 46 degrees. Searching for water to swim in is a full time job so thank God it’s too hot to work, and thank God the headlines have scared off would-be guests because I’ve nailed the extra bed sheets across our windows. Breathing is like sucking dregs through a straw up your nose. The heat feels solid enough to grate. And this year it’s not only dish water: since May we’ve been saving every drop with which we wash our hair, clean our faces and brush our teeth.
Don’t just take it from me. Ask the old families with their generation-long memories: do they remember the well being so dry? Remember seeing so many flies desperate for a drink? They’ll tell you a story that amounts to ‘No’, look at the sky and shake their heads.
But: normalisation, and during the second heatwave I told myself it’s ok, hang in there; it’ll soon be over. Except it won’t. We don’t have the luxury to hope. The earth is angry, she is burning: this is not a drill.