Living on the edge of the Australian Bush the possibility of fire comes with the summer heat. Not every year, but those with days when the air seers and the wind is up, bending the tops of the trees, when the understory is brittle and dense and especially when El Nino exhales across the continent.
My first experience came not long after I moved into my home. A large fire dropped into the Grose Valley sending it along and up onto the ridges. The horizon glowed orange and I could feel the heat of it still some kilometres away. It rushed toward me burning through everything in between.
I guess it is the mark of a life lucky to be lived in safety but it was also my first experience of gut churning physical fear. As the fire threatened, I huddled with my neighbours in their bathroom, but In the end there was a shift and weather and landscape swept it elsewhere..to somewhere else..inevitably..to someone else.
Like a canary in a coal mine it did make me sensitive to the merest whiff of smoke smell on a hot summers day. It made my brows knit with worry at the sign of a plume over the blue waves of the mountains. It made me long for soaking rain during vulnerable months.
Through all those years I had stayed put when threat was imminent. I had done what you do..cleared gutters, raked leaves, filled buckets and bath, stuffed wet towels under doors, checked hoses and waited.
17 October 2013 was a day foul with stifling hot air and intense, gusting high winds. It was a day to hold your breath for the danger to pass.
It didn’t but instead struck suddenly scorching with a speed and intensity that shocked and devastated. Almost 200 homes were destroyed nearby. There was no prospect of rain and no let up in the weather. The advice was to evacuate in advance of an anticipated worst day. Living in a small older house not safe to remain in, I decided to take it.
Coming home, after the danger had passed I opened the door. It was the exquisite bliss of a thousand homecomings. I thought of Evans Walkabout and ran my hand down the wall taking it into my senses.
Later, I lay on the deck and let the clear calm smoke free light seep into me. The leaves flickered green against the crisp blue of the sky, the branches of the angophoras twisted up and out from their salmon pink trunks. Blooms of lichen spread across the grey of the rock.
I was conscious though, that I was one of the lucky ones. For so many there is a trauma that will resist any return to ‘normal’. There is the hard daily slog of finding a way back