Saturday, November 28, 2015

After the cataclysm ...


Gerolstein is a beautiful place. And Wendy and I have made it even more beautiful than it was when I first bought it, what was it? Thirteen, fourteen years ago. But it has been against great odds.

 First came the earthquakes. We were lucky not to suffer as much as folk in central Christchurch and south of the city did, but it was bad enough. When the first one happened, I was in Berlin. Wendy was alone in the midst of 35 rural acres and a horde of horses, who were thankfully more stunned than frightened. And uninjured. 

When I arrived, not long after, the aftershocks were still going on, there were cracks in the houses, antiques smashed (though, lord knows how, not my Picasso ceramics), trees broken apart on the sliding riverbank, and some of the ground had taken on a different shape. But we fixed it. At a cost. The Earthquake commission has never reimbursed me in spite of promises.

The second quake, the devastating one, happened in February, while I was chair-bound following a stroke a week previously. Devastating as it was for Christchurch, it did less physical harm to us out at Gerolstein. Wendy cleaned this one up alone, while I lay in my LaZboy. Oh, surely that was enough sorrow for one little town …

No. For us, there was worse to come. And once again I was in Berlin, and Wendy had to face events alone. A great storm broke out, in the middle of the night … and in the shattered, sleepless morning she was presented with devastation. Where there had been an acre and a half of glorious gum forest, fifty metres from her house, where a thousand little birds used to gather nightly for a dusk chorus, now there was a huge heap of roots and crowns … the beautiful forest had been all but eliminated. Hundreds of trees … gone.

Well, not gone. But lying down. Six horse yards backing on to the forest were nothing but a pile of wooden rubble. Dozens and dozens of huge trees, some with boles big enough to put two arms around had smashed down through the fences and gates and lay there … and that was just the beginning. Everywhere trees had been blown over. Wendy, Jan and Rose went to work with a will and chainsaws and cut up the huge trees which had crashed on to my rose gardens – how they missed the house, both houses, all the buildings, I will never know …

Come summer, and my return to New Zealand, we tried to get someone to come and clear the worst of the debris from the mess of forest. But everyone had their own clearing to do, and the best we could do was get in a few jobless lads who worked superbly, made a winter’s firewood for us (and a bit for themselves) but alas, hardly a mark on the devastated area. 

Insurance? Oh no! This was an ‘act of God’. So was God going to pay for the vast amount of work needed to put things usably right? Even He couldn’t make 20-30 metre trees grow back overnight. Well, if He could have, He didn’t.

Over the next three years we just didn’t look at the ex-forest – reduced to a dozen ridiculously spindly trees -- and the buried, shattered yards. We reduced our stock, closed the area off, and tried not to remember what it had been like before. Wendy remade the gardens, I went through several cheque-books … and went back to Berlin.

And while I was away, Wendy chatted to our pal Nigel Rose of Roseworks, who has trimmed the shelter-belts annually for us since forever. He was semi-retiring and, yes, he would clear the yards for us.

So, last week Nigel and 5 year-old Bradley arrived in his house bus, with trucks and digger and king-sized chainsaw, and ever since the air has been loud with sound of chainsaws ripping through trees, and machines chugging and crashing (and Bradley playing ‘let’s petrify the horses’) ten hours and more a day …

Nigel has gone home for a breather this week-end, and we snuck up to review the situation. The yards are amazingly cleared, and a huge amount of firewood (some for us, some for him) piled in every corner. Oh, we’re far from having our yards back as they were. They will have to be re-fenced, graded, resown ... but at least we have a good acre of land to re-add to our home paddock. And we can start. As soon as I get a new cheque book.

If Mother Nature will just leave us alone for a few years.