“Life in the Seven Kingdoms is never dull . . .” 

–Jen McConnel, School Library Journal


When Helping Feels like a Festival

sunny valley in fall with church steeple below
Breathtaking beauty of Mayschoß, before the flooding.

Being part of the hope is the best kind of vacation.

A Comfortable Way to Help

The volunteer effort was so well organized! We were asked if we had lunch with us–we did. Others on our team got a hot meal.

Our vintner said that the whole village was receiving meals. Who can cook with no fuel, no clean water, and no refrigeration?

When we came back on the bus, the organizer checked that everyone was accounted for, asked if there were injuries (there weren’t), and invited us for a free evening meal.

The headquarters included tents for COVID tests, first aid, work clothes and gloves, drinks, Haribo, and sandwiches on a roll.

There was a separate tent for coffee, and yet another one for the main meals. The cake was already cut into small portions and packaged in a tower of clear plastic boxes.

At the end of the day, our contact person admitted that he was also a volunteer. He’d taken vacation to help out.

He shrugged and gave us a might-as-well smile. “It’s not like we can travel anywhere right now. And this has a festival feeling.”

Yesterday, I was a worked in a vineyard!

My friend, Heike, found out where to help people who’ve had their homes and businesses flooded out in the Ahr valley. It’s an area with many small vineyards.

removing grape leaves in the vineyard

We drove to the Haribo plant–the place famous for gummy bears and other gummy candy.

Everything was set up for volunteers who wanted to help in the flooded areas.

  • Parking areas
  • Tent camping
  • Mobile home parking
  • Showers + toilets
  • A sorting area, where volunteers with clipboards sorted more volunteers into the 600 jobs that were available for that day.
Bus, tents, food, first aid support for volunteers

We were assigned to Weingut Nelles, a vintner in the village of Heimerzheim.

Others took their power tools to help remove the wet plaster and concrete inside a local business.

“Stemmen” is the German word for pile-driving the walls and floors, so the embedded electrical channels can be renewed and new plaster and concrete can be put in.

Each affected village had a stand-up sign. My favorite village of Mayschoß also had a one.

Heike was made team leader and given a paper with the name of the vintner, complete with QR code. We got on a bus and rode to the drop-off point in Heimerzheim.

house below vineyards with water line from flooding under the front window

Four weeks after the flooding, tidy bags of rubble and trash are set neatly outside every house. The water left a clear line right under the window of this house. It’s one of the highest houses in the village–only the vineyards are higher.


What I Want to Remember About the Vineyards

Our job was to thin the leaves on the grapevines, so the grapes get more sun and air, but not so much that they got sunburned.

We got to work in three different vineyards–a Riesling, a red wine grape, and a “Grauburgunder” (the German name for Pinot gris or Pinot grigio).

The grapes really do have a gray cast, with a beautiful blush of pink.

grapes on the vine

I’ve hiked in many of these valleys and always wondered what it would be like to work in between the rows. What do I want to remember?

  • Snap of stems and the rustle of leaves as we thinned them out–it sounds like The Very Hungry Caterpillar at work.
  • The pink blush on the gray grapes. Fine champagne hanging on the vine.
  • Friendly laughter and conversations floating through the vines.
  • Jokes from our vintner after showing us how to thin the leaves. “It took me 15 years to learn, but you’re instant vintners.”
  • “Nicht zu nackig” Don’t make the grapes too naked. Leave some cover so they don’t get sunburned.
  • Four weeks after the flooding, it still doesn’t feel real to those who saw it. The what-happened-here feeling is new every morning.
  • The rough, brittle, gritty feel of the leaves.
  • The sturdy trunks of the vines. Grapevines are tough!
  • I think the leaves smell like grapes too. Green, growing things with a touch of bitterness in the air.
  • The feeling of vineyards all around, even in the distant valley.
  • Rows are longer than they look. And it’s easy for inexperienced people to lose their place. #don’taskmehowIknow
  • Some people are faster than others.
  • I felt like there was a front and back side to each row. One side was definitely more complicated than the other, with more shoots criss-crossing. The grapes were hidden deeper in the vines.
  • “Ein Dorf hält zusammen.” A village sticks together. “Auf jeden Fall.” “Definitely–in every case.”
  • Step-by-step. Looking too far ahead can be overwhelming. One day at a time might work better for me too.
  • I really want to write some organizers into a story one day. Inspiring people!
removing extra leaves to let in the sun and air
I really enjoyed helping in the vineyards.

The world feels better when we do a little bit . . .

Lately, we’ve all been grieving over each new “hard thing.” It’s easy to be overwhelmed.

We could probably all use some rejuvenation, don’t you think?

This morning, I read a section from the Bible about re-building after everything had been destroyed.

"the old men who had seen the first temple
wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes,
while many shouted aloud for joy;
so that the people could not distinguish
the sound of the shout of joy
from the sound of the weeping of the people,
for the people shouted with a loud shout,
and the sound was heard far away."

That last line really touched me: "The sound was heard far away."

Disasters, near and far, are in the news every day.

The shouts of joy or the weeping for joy? We don’t hear about them much.

But the joys are still there.

Many people broke down crying when they finally were able to get vaccinated against COVID. There will be more tears and shouts of joy when the flooded areas are put back together.

After one day surrounded by people who also wanted to help, I felt much lighter and more hopeful about our world.

Hope can grow.

And the sound hope makes will be heard from far away.