Penelope La Montagne

little waterfalls
sprouting from the roadside hills
Cooking Up a Storm
There is nothing like a flood to meld the Burg together. Mother Nature finds a way to keep us moving shoulder to shoulder. She gets our attention in the most compelling way. On this dawnless Sunday morning of Jan. 8, I know before I open my eyes that the river, my neighbor to the east, is mighty high. I can hear her breathing. Coffee is the first line of defense. Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend, black.
A friend comes over and we peruse the banks together. The river is up several feet since 6 a.m. when I walked out on the deck with my headlamp. Oh yes, a woman who lives on a river always has a fully charged headlamp. Back in the house, I turn more lights on than usual, and crank up the heat before I start to make a spinach, jack cheese and shallot omelette. I serve it with yesterday’s cornbread and tangerines salvaged from last week’s frost. All the while I am talking to the river. It is so important to keep a loving relationship with her, even when flood waters threaten.
After breakfast, it’s out again to move the lawn furniture to higher ground. Intuition comes into play as to whether to move this bulky stuff just up to the high point in the garden, or up the hill. In 2006, while I was in Mexico and happily oblivious, we had a near flood and my neighbor Cece Garcia, who didn’t even know me well at that time, moved my adirondack chairs, unbidden, up 18 steps to safe ground.
People are texting and calling to make sure I am alright. My friend Cynthia calls and tells me about a homeless man who came to the door of the Healdsburg Center for the Arts, and asked for a couple of hours to be inside. His hands were the temperature of a metal railing, “or something inanimate” she said. She gave him art supplies, and he drew like the river flows. When he left, a docent complimented him on his artwork, and he gave it to her.
People are posting flooded places on Facebook to warn others. Susan Mall is giving us the hourly forecast. Folks are sending me photos of winter creeks they have never seen before. Friends on the Truckee and Yuba rivers are sharing my vigil with ones of their own. Longtime locals and stunned newcomers are down at Memorial Bridge, taking in the river’s roiling and roaring.
I am not sure this is going to subside. I start the fixings for a lemon almond tart. And tea, damiana tea. It’s good for the nerves, they say. St. Paul’s is opening up as a shelter for the homeless, with aid from North Sonoma County Services, and James and Elizabeth Gore and several locals donating food.
The tart has scented the whole house. It is done to perfection. A good omen. On this, the anniversary of being in this house for 20 years, once again the rain may subside and we will be unscathed by our small but formidable river.
People are filling sandbags, linemen are restoring power, firefighters are helping the less fortunate evacuate. Everyone working for the common good.
I put a kabocha squash in the oven, a volunteer from the garden, with a little butter and Moroccan spices.
In the face of a cataclysmic storm, grind coffee the night before, keep your headlamp charged, reach out to people and let them reach out to you. Cook comfort food and, above all, keep the faith.
Penelope La Montagne is a former Literary Laureate of Healdsburg and is a Realtor at a local real estate brokerage. She can be reached at [email protected].

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