After the first September rains, new shoots begin to push up: wild crocus, cyclamen, iris. New grass hazes the terraces and Niko the shepherd lets out his sheep from the concrete pen where they have lived on hay for the summer, to graze.
We get thunderstorms too, in the autumn. A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of the night, we had a serious storm, several hours of torrential rain, the sky flickering daylight bright, stupendous thunder and the rain absolutely roaring on the roof of the wooden house.
In the morning when we crept out, it became clear that this had been something out of the ordinary. The track which passes below the house was blocked in both directions by landslips from the terraces above. In one place an olive tree had come down with the mud and was standing in the road.
Herbert our Austrian neighbour appeared, clambering over the heaps of muddy earth, clutching his digital camera. He had walked down to the coast a little earlier and he showed us photographs of the flood damage: cars and trees in the sea, cars overturned in olive groves, a parked cabin cruiser turned over and smashed, mud and debris everywhere.
The storm made the main Greek TV news in the evening, with video footage of mud filled houses and sound bites from farmers who had lost livestock, carried away by the deluge.
The next day Niko appeared with more gossip: the road to the village had gone entirely, revealing the ancient paved donkey track beneath. Widow Kokonas’ donkey had been swept away, a fate shared by turkeys, sheep and goats around the village.
Six days after the storm, Niko found old Kokonas’ donkey in the top of a tree, where the flood waters had deposited it, still alive.
Niko felled the tree with his chainsaw and the hapless animal tottered off, unharmed but very thirsty.
A detail I didn’t mention in this piece, is the damage the flood water had done to the big house, which at that time was at an early stage. Our land is not flat, it’s very steep, and so, in order to build a structure of any size we had to make a level space.
We built a retaining wall from concrete blocks and the plan was to pull down earth from above into the void behind this wall, thus creating a platform. The wall had been partly built but no backfilling had been done. What we had was a dam. During the night of the storm, the space behind the wall filled up with, it must have been hundreds of tons of, rainwater. At some point the wall failed and a deluge of mud and debris burst down the slope in front of the building. We found a concrete block a hundred metres away. Had I known, I could have knocked a hole in the wall and allowed the water to escape at a sensible rate.
It put the building work back some weeks.