Summer thunderstorms, are wonderful things. Frightening for many but glorious to watch in safety! Once, when I was maybe 16, I got caught out in the open spaces of the local park on my bicycle when one thundered down. That is the wonder of them they can appear in moments and turn sunshine brightness into silver rain and noise in seconds. I peddled for all I was worth to reach the safety of home. Arriving drenched to the bone but thankful, I hurried into my bedroom to change only to be scared rigid by an enormous crack like dynamite and a tumultuous rain of bark being hurled at top speed against the window. The Oak in the front garden, I had passed moments before, had been hit by lightening and stripped of a great deal of bark which had exploded across the drive and cracked the windows.
My lucky day:)
In this, my second garden, that of the hidden places, there was a small stream running alongside, traveling then under the road to what was a small wood on the other side.
Ankle deep normally, for a child, these summer storms would turn it into a roaring river in minutes. Too deep for the small culvert that took it to the other side of the road and so it would spill out over the small wall Dad had built on our border, about 3ft high on top of a 2ft bank, where we entered the stream to play, and rising to about 6ft near the culvert.
To begin with the water would rise up over banks and walls in moments and inundate the garden, fascinating and kind of exciting to watch from the safety of the window. Increasing in depth every minute, we were safe because the house was another 2 foot higher. We would watch as the lawn and the rose bed lost any semblance of their purpose. Paths vanished and we had a lake. Within about half an hour the lake would have attracted ducks from goodness know where. Who would sit serenely upon the waters, searching, maybe for our gold fish, my frogs and any other goodies they may chance upon.
One could conjure up adventure stories that pleased one’s imagination sitting by the window. Stories of derr and do, of rescue and saving the day. Very satisfying. I wasn’t a gardener then, so how would I mourn the drowning of hours of work.
The garden would remain so for a day, maybe two. The tops of the roses becoming more prominent as they breathed again. No great harm was done, although over three or four of these floods we lost all the fish; unlike the frogs and newts they had no place to run. The plants would survive for a few days in water, the wild life emerged damp and ruffled, but there would be more food available for them all.
I feel desperately sorry for farmers who get flooded especially in winter floods, we had the advantage of the summer heat and the knowledge that if plants died we could replace, no livelihoods depended on their survival. Also ours were small floods from a small stream in comparison to mighty rivers overflowing.
Then one year the wood, which had served as a flood plain, was brought up for development and a road, houses and small pocket sized gardens arrived. The first summer storm that year showed us how valuable that wood had been. The floods tipped over the wall, over our steps and raced through the house. I was about 13 when I was woken by Dad who said I had to come down and help.
It was exciting.
Seemed like the middle of the night.
I was playing in a real life drama.
By the time I left home, for college at 18, I no longer found this yearly inundation exciting.
We had flood doors built and at the merest suspicion of a thunder storm whoever was home would have to slide them in and begin evacuating goods from floor level to waist height. They couldn’t all be rescued, our bookcases went from floor to ceiling, records were in cases on the lower shelves, and carpets couldn’t be lifted in the time. To this day I have books with flood stained covers and prune wrinkled pages. Again the advantage of the summer is that we could drag everything out onto the terrace to dry. Everyone had to turn too and help with the drying, another good reason for not finding it exciting anymore.
The last flood I was involved in the garden was the deepest we had to cope with. I had been up in the West End visiting art galleries, arrived home to find the water pouring out of the gates.
‘Cant go past there’ a stranger said putting out his hand to stop me. I informed him I needed to get in there – so he offered to carry me through the flood to the door. The water level was above the level of the door so he decided he would take me to the window cill instead. I forgot there was a rose bed in front of the window! Vanished, as it had been, under the water. My Good Samaritan fell headlong, as did I, and with a great deal of effort refrained from swearing at the stupid girl who could forget such an important piece of information.
It was my last time with the floods and it was almost the last time for one of our dogs also. Mum sent me off to make sure the animals were okay. We had inherited a miniature Peke from my grandmother. I found him perched precariously on a patch of carpet, which had been pushed up to a peak by the water underneath, and he was sitting, head up as high as he could with the water lapping at his mouth. The other dogs had escaped and I found the cat had climbed into the loft for safety.
We moved from that house a year later, breathing a sigh of relief not to be next to a stream or river again.