According to national news broadcasts Germany has just experienced the worst storm in ten years. High winds which swept through Netherland in which large shipping containers at harbour ports were seen blowing over like a child toppling a stack of Lego bricks. In Germany warnings to avoid ‘non-essential’ travel, especially by train, were announced. Footage of collapsed signs on the Autobahn, and downed trees over rail and road filled the network news.
In all my time living in Canada I don’t remember hearing about people being killed by falling trees. Given that there are a lot of trees in Canada, the stories of ‘death-by-tree’ were more mythical warnings about ‘widow-makers’ – dead trees that still stand waiting to topple at the slightest breeze – trees that concerned those in the forestry industry rather than the average citizen. Unfortunately, death by falling tree seems much more probable in Germany.
My immediate geographical surroundings are almost pancake flat, with a barely noticeable, slope towards the Rhein. Despite being within walking distance of some of the ‘larger’ mountains of the Black Forest, the scenery, especially in the winter months, is flat and wide. Now that there isn’t a cornstalk in sight and the only thing growing in the numerous fields surrounding our house is ‘feldsalat’ also known in English as Lambs Leaf Lettuce, and the winter barely, or rye grass that leaves fields looking like freshly shorn sheep with a green stubble poking up from the ground. The dog has his winter coat on, which I suspect is more fat due to his inactivity, so I have started to walk the dog further into the fields. At times we will go via bicycle; the dog tied to the bike running along side me, while we travel down busy bike paths, or areas close to the busy streets. Once in the fields, with nobody around, the dog is off leash, and he can easily sprint past me. Stop to water a bush. Rush ahead again to jump on some poor unsuspecting field mouse. We can easily cover 5-7 kilometres on one outing. The dog would happily do this three more times a day if possible, but that has yet to happen.
Riding by bike with a dog running along the field roads that network their way over the land I notice that I can get a lot closer to the hawks that sit in the fields scanning the horizon, and edges for signs of prey. There are rarely trees on which to roost, so the birds of prey either hover in air, tirelessly flapping, or they sit on the ground. When I walk through the fields, the hawks, and other birds, usually take flight when I am a good distance away from them. Perhaps it is from generations of interactions by which the birds are wary of humans. However, while riding a bike, the birds remain on the ground for much longer periods before being spooked by my presence. This reminds me of canoeing and gliding silently up to all sorts of creatures as if you are just part of the natural scenery.
The weather extremes must do something to the bird populations, as wind storms surely push migrating birds off-course. There is also the temperature differences that must make it difficult for birds. The severity of temperature fluctuations gives people migraines, and it is not unusual for one day to be 16 C and the next -3 C. My wardrobe is not large enough to contain four seasons worth of clothes at one time, and it feels as if I am going to open up my box of summer shirts that is stored away under the bed, only to find myself running for a parka the next day with a cold wind that feels like it has come directly from Siberia. On one of my recent outings with the dog and the bike – Murphy’s Law – I find myself the furthest from home when all of a sudden the weak low angled rays of and early winter sun have been replaced with horizontal slashing rain and snow. As I pedal my way home faster and faster, I must soon stop as my rear wheel spins in the slimy mud.
The mud is different here. I grew up with a ground that seemed almost sponge-like, where 58 days of continuous rain did little to make the ground muddy. Huge cedar trees would suck up the moisture, and most of the water would flow into cascading streams and rivers. Even in Victoria, mud was rarely as thick as it is here. Certainly pools of water could form, especially in the rocking outcroppings where grass and sea salted stunted trees grew. In German fields, the ground is a thick clay like mud, which has the unique ability to be both slimy and sticky at the same time. It is the mud I imagined when watching old movie footage of Canadian soldiers in war.
A large crater has formed at the front entrance of our house in the last week. Eight hours of near continuous drilling that vibrates the floors and has shook pictures from the walls is part of the landlords scramble to prevent flooding and mould from spreading in the basement suit. The workers heads protrude from the ground, and shovel blades heave mud and debris from the hole that will soon have new perimeter drainage pipes. The workers joke that the dirt contains rubble from World War II, and that they hope they don’t find any unexploded bombs. I hope so too!
During yesterdays storm, while the weather conditions here were nothing compared to elsewhere in Germany or Europe, it did feel for a moment like some battle raged around us. The window blinds screamed a high-pitched whistle, the mounds of dirt, brick and debris was piled in a few locations around the house like we were living in a bunker, a tarp rested over the hole in the ground at the foot of the stairs like it was a grave prepared to accept a body, and the ducks waddled their way around the garden like some sentry patrol – only that they seemed very happy with the wet weather and all the drowning worms that wriggled to the surface of the grass.