There’s a tide in the affairs of men,
A moon in the affairs of women.
Death and Nightingales - Eugene McCabe.
Without respite, a month’s worth of rain fell over a day, through a night.
Unrelenting from lead black skies, in truth, it felt like a judgement of spite.
After the flood waters had fallen, I walked the debris-littered river beach,
tattered plastic festoons hung from trees branches, fluttering, wind strewn.
Where white-grey sand had lain, once flecked with old red sandstone,
brought down from Pen-y-fan*, to rest and lie for a while on the river shore.
Now all is gone, a few bared stones hang on, a tree trunk fallen long ago,
exposed by the floods scouring rip and roar. And everywhere,
the signs of man’s disrespect, of careless stupidity, for the hills, for the rivers,
and the old meadow lands, where I walk each day, raked by desolation now.
The heron has taken up its usual quarter, eating anything that moves nearby.
But the salmon avoids its spring run to the reds, where they were born.
The moon commands the spring tide to rise and stem the waters flow,
and cleansing will slow, so maybe the salmon will stay far out at sea.
The woman, walking the river shore, hunkers down on her knees,
places the blue river glass she’s found to her eye and feels once again,
the coloured glass in her hand, shaped by the sand and the rivers flow,
smoothed over months and years, while the silent ghost moon looks on.
*Pen y fan is the highest mountain in South Wales.
In February 2020 a storm hit South Wales. A month’s amount of rain fell in two days. Pontypridd town was flooded, and so many homes and shops were devastated by the floodwater. Three Bridges were closed — thankfully not the Victoria Bridge, which carries one of the main road arteries connecting the town to the motorway network. Shops have moved to vacant premises which are above the flood zone. It’s a slow process. And even now many retail premises are closed, and the town has the feel of a place that is going through hard times and an unstoppable decline.
Homeowners who suffered the worst of the flooding were those whose homes had been built along the sides of the river, but sometime back had been flood-proofed and thought safe. Such was the scale of the flooding on this occasion, no flood-proofing stood a chance of holding the floodwaters back. It was a warning that, with climate change and the ominous reality that flooding on this scale in these narrow spate river valleys will become regular events, we had better be prepared and change so much of what we do.
Mountains stripped of trees by clear-felling so that the ability of the mountains to “hold” water and slow its movement to the river are seriously impeded; together with farm land left bear over winter so that there is a continuous erosion of soil and, again, no holding back of rain water. And everywhere the concretisation of large areas so that water just runs off even more swiftly into a river already gorged with flood.
The town is steadily pulling itself back together. I’m constantly amazed by the resilience folk are showing in the face of what has been two devastating blows, the flood and Covid19. But the struggle to survive the hardship life throws is at the heart of valleys people.
But like Covid19, the floods and extreme weather events, such as the floods of February 2020, have been a warningthat lifestyles and industry have to change. Its dismaying to hear of the call for a return to the old days, when the economy will get back to “normal” and the destruction of Earth continues. The announcements of the release of the vaccines has been accompanied by a call to return to normality. But what on earth does that normality mean? And at what price?
The floods that besieged Pontypridd, a small town in Wales have also been replicated all over the world. A flag is being waved. Sit up and take note.
And we wait for February’s rain whatever that will bring!