Yesterday was hot. Oven hot. Even as the sun went down it was hot. Last night was hot. I woke from my final bit of restless sleep and, thirsty, reached for my cup of water. The water had become tepid overnight.
Today will also be hot. I sit in the shade with my breakfast and enjoy the light breeze – cool, disarming – while I can, before I’m forced into the house, blinds drawn, seeking out any habitable corner.
The bush is quiet. A small flock of birds flies overhead, quietly. Are they in mourning in this heat-scorched landscape? Lucky not to have burnt, large patches of trees are nevertheless covered in dead, brown leaves. I can almost see how the waves, the billows of heat came off the fire, landing in this patch, and this one.
A kookaburra calls. A deep throaty call. There is no reply. None of the hilarious groups of chuckling I was hearing a few months ago.
One of the good news bushfire stories I’ve read recently is about a group of lyrebirds sheltering in a dam while a fire raged around them. I’ve seen a photo, the lyrebirds in startled poses dotted awkwardly around the dam’s edge. The wonder is that they got there – fiercely territorial, they would have had to walk through each other’s territory to reach it – and the other wonder is that they stayed there, jostling, overcoming their innate competitiveness. Maybe ‘jostling’ is the wrong word. Maybe they were more like magnets with their same sides facing, only reaching a certain point of proximity before being repelled, maintaining a bare minimum gap. I look out at this silent bush around me and wonder if any unseen scenes of miraculous behaviour occurred around our muddy little dam. Last night, standing on the deck in the slightly cooler air, a sickly half-moon of cream-yellow above the trees, I heard a wallaby or kangaroo crunching through the leaves. I saw the quiet flight of an owl, felt a tiny bat shape its dive around my head. Did they all survive near the dam, each hunkered down in its own sweet way?
But I’m wary of these good news bushfire stories, these images of impossibly coloured leaves sprouting from thickly blackened trunks. Just as I’m wary of conversations that start with ‘We’ve always had fires’ or ‘This is how I remember summers in childhood.’ I’m wary of them being the beginning of a smoothing over, a covering up, a pretence of normality. A shrugging of the shoulders that accompanies a statement like, ‘Ah, nature! She’s a bastard.’ I want the agitation of emergency to endure. My little neck of the woods is safe for now but others aren’t. When Greta Thunberg says ‘Our house is burning’ she’s not talking about her family’s house, or her country’s house, she’s talking about the planet’s house. It seems to be human nature – and not an aspect of it that we can be proud of – to think small when we think of ‘our’, and to use ‘our’ as an exclusive force against ‘their’. The first – and maybe the hardest – step to take against climate change seems to be that we have to see ‘our’ in a different way. We have to quell the basic human desire to improve our lot at the expense of others, where ‘expense of others’ might mean exploiting others, ignoring others or using up the resources of others. If lyrebirds can challenge their instincts in order to survive, why can’t we?
Thanks for that, Kathy. well said and beautifully written