one year ago this day we were in Merimbula visiting Zoe Kean and Frankie, Kingston was with us. Frankie was four then , Kingston nine and not feeling well – sore stomach – probably anxiety – living in a thick atmosphere of smoke and threat of fire over many weeks.
Zoe checked ‘fires near me’.com – the Badja fire was growing bigger – time for us to leave.
Back home we prepared – roof swept, gutters cleaned out with rags stuffed in the ends to hold water, pumps filled with petrol, hoses connected around the house spraying water over verandahs, sweeping tidying gathering – on and on it went under thickening smoke with black embers dropping into existence above our heads.
Last summer was hot and dry so very different to this years cooler temperatures, heavy cloud cover, drizzly misty with exciting afternoon storms and green green green, dams full and rivers gurgling. The scarring of the fire on the ranges is still very evident , a bald look with a stubble of charred pencil trees standing lonely in once was forest.
We laid out clothes selecting wool long sleeves heavy soled boots, tried on our new beaut face masks made adjustments, checked the app repeatedly, listened to ABC radio, drank cups of tea, ate some dinner, gave everything a good soaking and went to bed. In the middle of the night a fierce Roaring woke us – on our bedroom verandah facing west we came to the realisation that we could hear the Fire.
Kinda like sitting in a 747 revving up on the tarmac maybe louder.
Hopped in the car and beetled out of our forest through Christa’s paddocks to vechiles, a ridge top with views east south west ,meeting our neighbour Keith Fish out for a look. The sky was lurid- oranges pinks yellows blacks – a sickening mix and swirl of colours that looked wrong maybe 25-30 km west of us- a monster blaze – huge flames visible. I don’t know what we discussed with Keith – good luck probably fingers xxx, back to bed and sleep.
Waking again around 4 am – another listen – yep still roaring though perhaps not as loud ,another drive out to vechiles – this time the sky a murky blanket , activity difficult to spot and for those brief moments I thought that the blaze has gone behind Wandella mountain away from us and our valley.
Wrong wrong wrong.
I checked fires near me.com saw the evacuation alert for Cobargo – rang the daughters – leave now. There had been no preparation for this , no inkling that a village could or would go up in flames. The baby was only 2 weeks old. And so through fire and flames on either side of the road the two families along with hundreds of other people made their way to Bermagui. There beside the ocean under a malevolent sky and air so putrid with smoke that breathing was difficult they were befriended and given a place to stay. Kind souls poured out of their homes to help the refugees.
Even now we all experience a timeless disassociation where we cannot fit the events into a linear time frame, where our trauma racked minds and bodies slide off images and grasp uselessly at memories that float just out of reach.
Satisfied they were safe – little did we know the fire was already eating the village of Cobargo – we decided on a cuppa and toast rather than bed but before we could raise a cup John felt the pull to start the pump down at the dam and I masked up. By the time John returned hoses were squirting water onto our verandahs and fires were slowly creeping into our bush munching ferns grasses vines, whooshing up trunks of trees, crackling snapping rumbling.
A few times I crept down the track from the house to watch the fires journey on the other side of the dam. There is a fascination with fire –it is a mystery, a wonder, an attraction, something impels us to move closer to it – we cannot grab it but within its flames are worlds dreams and visions that beckon some primal instinct within us. And yet when we get too close it becomes a menace a monster a flaming scary beast.
The shack near the dam caught alight- windows shattering metal roof screaming – a motorbike in cold storage exploded – and so the fire moved inexorably closer and closer engulfing everything in its path. The house filled with smoke – I realised that if the fire didn’t get me asphyxiation might. I had heard the stories of oxygen being sucked out of the air ahead of the fire and how the very air can combust far in advance of flames and heard too of firestorms that are like tornadoes twisting and uprooting trees cars buildings and flinging them for miles. We watered as the fire rained down upon our home ;embers flying, gardens and sheds burning, gas bottles exploding.
I had lit a candle on the altar, incense and prayed – ask and ye shall receive it is said and so it is and so it was that I was answered held and safe.
I am not an island alone eking out a physical existence – there is a whole journey behind and ahead of me , lineages of ancestors and wisdom keepers, a universal web of connections to which I and You belong. If it was my time to depart then I would not be writing this story – instead I lived to tell the tale again; with deep deep gratitude in my heart and body for still having this shelter, this beautiful mud brick castle I call home – this beautiful family of friends children grandchildren, this beautiful forest that burnt and lives regenerating generously with grasses vines flowers and plants I have never ever seen before.
I take the example of this forest and apply it to my life – its capacity to hold and to give, its courage and humility, its fearlessness and innate strength of Being,
One year on :
still dwelling in a choppy sea of emotions as we make our way , as we endeavour to return to lives forever changed by this experience. If there are lessons to be learned from this it is about how we care for each other and how we care for the earth. There is no separation – as we do to each other so we do to the Earth.
There has been enough cruelty and suffering. We know we can do better; that we are light as well as dark and bloom best under kindness and good will . This new year let us reflect on the light we see within each other on the care we take with each other and the love we share.