We moved to the village as the millennium drought dug in.
While not strictly climate refugees, the seed of our decision to move to the district had been planted because of the weather.
About a year earlier, we'd been returning from the coast; the psychological fog of Sunday afternoon matched by a meteorological fog which had enveloped us from the second the car tipped level after the steep climb up the escarpment.
Our rented home still a good hour away, we stopped in a shrouded, alien town and emerged from our air-conditioned capsule awe-struck by the temperature, or lack thereof. Elsewhere, the Earth was baking in January madness, yet the Goldilocks zone into which we'd stumbled was cool and comfortable; near wet, near perfect.
We returned to our Mazda parked across the street from where our unborn children would one day attend school and decided, as Talking Heads put it, this must be the place.
Around here, the mist is familiar but seldom taken for granted. A combination of elevation, climate and topography means the venom of summer can often be diluted by the dense fog which is blended in the mysterious spaces of the apothecarial mountains before racing up the granite cliffs and coming to settle across the flat grazing country like a billowing, white tablecloth.
The locals greet the mist with the casual agreement of a reliable train pulling into a station. Here she comes, they might say, as those first, smoky tendrils choof across their property.
Although having racked up a couple of decades and a few kids in our village, my wife and I are not really locals, a fact reinforced by what remains an embarrassingly overenthusiastic ritual every time the fog rolls in. We'll rush into the house, screaming for the children to Come and see! Come and see! as if something truly spectacular is happening outside.
What is it? they ask, wide-eyed and clambering to get their boots on.
The mist! The mist!
Is that all? they gripe, having already experienced a plethora fogs in their short, blessed lifetimes. They return, unimpressed and slightly offended, to their own devices (i.e. their own devices).
The kids, unlike their parents, really are locals.
Years before, in childless bliss, we were several weeks into in our new digs and, as the drought intensified, I wandered down to the spring-fed creek which pools a couple of hundred metres behind our house. It took me so long to explore the spot because getting there meant negotiating an almost impenetrable patch of Br'er Rabbit briars. Once past the thorns, you struck the Scotch broom, which, regrettably, still clings in hold-out colonies to the gully above the creek; stunning dashes of invasive yellow.
In the sickly heat (no mist that week, although teasing bouts of inadequate rain), I stood at the top of the barranca, watching wrens and flycatchers dance in the void above the gooey, brown water. Other than the low-level twittering, all was quiet, until the silence was broken by a kind of erratic clicking. Once I'd homed in on the odd noise, it seemed to be everywhere, as if the place were under siege by unseen ordnance.
Snap, crackle, pop.
It was the broom, specifically, the plant's dehiscing seed pods. They were splitting open and shooting thousands of projectiles into the air, on the ground, into the water.
Turns out the place was under attack.
As we battle broom, blackberry and any other manner of weed in rude health this fertile spring, the locked-in magic of seeds has become something of a locked-down obsession. Like so many other housebound homebodies, we've turned our attention to horticulture, meaning, once again, we're raiding the seed bank, which, in the helter-skelter of pre-pandemic times, was only accessed sporadically and a little half-heartedly.
Now, able to mingle dirt with the time on our hands, the results have been varied.
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Having wisely given up on the children, we've become expectant helicopter parents hovering over trays and trays of moist soil. Inside, outside, inside, outside; a trickle of Seasol here, a splash of Charlie Carp there.
Germination is exhilarating, equal to the despondency brought on by the inactivity of a barren vessel. The prick of failure is a constant in the garden.
As with any subculture, once you enter the underworld of seed-raising, you find like-minded zealots sprouting all over the joint. Seedy people are online, down the street, across the paddock. We've swapped packets, signed up for catalogues, entered forums.
It's early days, but, so far, we're most excited about the watermelon plants we've raised from seeds supplied by a local farmer a couple of years ago. Back then, as the fires bore down, the brown paper bag seemed a package of precious hope when growing fruit and veg was the last thing on anyone's mind. Those donations stayed untouched in the shed, a promise for when things improved. Now they're growing into something, we trust, may be quite special, a little symbolic.
We've no idea what type we scored, but the seeds are huge and remind me of Paul Newman eating slabs of watermelon in 1958's The Long, Hot Summer.
Although, overshadowed by the similar southern concern, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, released only a few months later, The Long, Hot Summer is memorable for Newman's breakout performance as alleged "barn-burner" Ben Quick, rivalled by that of his co-star and wife-to-be, Joanne Woodward (it's also a toss-up who has the more beautiful eyes).
Other than Orson Welles' fake nose, one thing that always struck me about Martin Ritt's film is just how big and black the seeds are in Newman's watermelon. It looks like the crimson flesh is infested with giant cockroaches and one wonders whether such a variety is even extant in our delicate, pipless age of princess-and-the-pea sensibilities and primary produce perfection.
As Newman munches on the fruit outside his shack, Woodward's character - the daughter of the district's rich, white patriarch - crosses a field with a little African American boy. They're carrying a rug from the plantation house on which Newman had contemptuously wiped his muddy boots after an encounter with the family's lazy scion, played by Anthony Franciosa.
"Summertime, and the livin' is easy," Newman spits - along with the seeds - as he greets the pair, reciting the famous lyric from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.
If only that were true. Mist or not.
- B. R. Doherty is a regular columnist.