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  • Writer's pictureJanetJoanouWeiner

A River Runs Through

Like many European towns, large and small, St. Hippolyte du Fort grew up around a river. While we tend to take water for granted, coming as it does straight from our taps, it is needed to sustain life. Whether for drinking, washing, agriculture, or industry, we cannot exist without it. 

And I would argue that beyond all that, a river nourishes our souls. What is it about running water that is so mesmerizing and calming? Whether it moves gently, sedately–revealing smooth stones and tiny fish beneath the surface, or as it splashes and crashes over boulders in its way–it speaks to me. In this, I am surely not alone.

The shepherd poet David wrote of his shepherd King: "You lead me by peaceful streams, you refresh my soul." I often think of this as I walk beside our river in each season and observe its many forms as it flows through town. Deep and wide or narrow, shallow–each variation has a different message. I love to drink it all in! (Figuratively!)

Our river is called the Vidourle, and it runs wild and crazy this time of year. After torrential rains the past few days, the waters swell over the banks, rushing and roaring along. The scorching summer heat reduced the river to a trickle, and I can almost feel the earth and vegetation sigh in relief to be so deeply nourished and cleansed. 

These "episodes Cévenols" as they're called in our area, produce pounding rain, cracking thunder, and flashing lightning. It is an impressive display, but often with dramatic consequences. 

Local pompiers (firemen) spent last Saturday night in vigil over our river, ready to sound the alarm if the banks overflowed into nearby homes. Thankfully it didn't come to that. After our big flood of 2014, care has been taken to keep the river clear of growth along the banks that could dislodge and create dam-like barriers or block water flow at one of the low bridges along the way.

Our Château home flooded that year. Seventeen inches of rain dumped out of the sky in two hours. We were stunned as our backyard turned into a gushing stream, a foot deep, that cascaded over the garden stairs into the street below, where it joined a two foot deep torrent surging down the road. 

Water also poured into the Château as it rushed off the mountain behind us. And it rose from the ground, seeping up between pavers and erupting into a geyser at one point in our cave (cellar).

Alternately alarmed and amazed, we were grateful for the brigade of young people here with strong backs and arms to bucket water out through the windows for hours. Some dug trenches in the gravel entry area to divert the flow towards the overworked drains. All sang as they worked–starting with worship songs ("Let it Rain" was forbidden!), then onto show tunes; even some patriotic ballads were thrown into the mix. Later, townspeople told us the voices sounded like angels as they floated across the swollen river.

We watched as the river, rose about 20 feet, and edged into our neighbor’s garden. Afterwards, he told us that his VW van was washed away–found and recovered a few days stopped by a bridge downriver. Thankfully, the rain lessened, and the waters receded before adding to our already inundated Château.

Unfortunately, the waters did overflow into the ground floor of many homes throughout town. For days afterward, piles of soggy belongings appeared outside, in often unsuccessful attempts to dry them out. Most affected homes now sport wooden barriers across the lower portion of their doors every time we experience an "episode Cévenol."

Despite occasional hardships, damage, and danger that floods bring, overall it is a delight to experience daily life around a river.

Oh and did I mention the waterfalls? Here are two of my favorites...

I'm sure that I'm not the only one in our little town who is happy to have a river running through.

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