Smoke on the Horizon

21 June 2009, 8:12 am

 

kites and fire

We’ve had the man from the Country Fire Service around to look over the property.

 

“Don’t plant any more trees,” he said. “Don’t you know how dangerous it is to live uphill from a gully?”

 

No more trees.

 

A hard ask when it’s so hot in the summer.

 

We’re doing what we can.

 

 

 


When there’s smoke on the horizon, as there was earlier this week, I get to remembering how frightening fire can be in the bush. All my neighbours know this, of course. And my “fire” experience has to do with a very different bioregion: the Top End of northern Australia.

 

Everything is different there from this subtropical paradise: dramatic thunderstorms, fierce winds, endless periods of rain and dry in strongly defined seasons. The Aboriginal people say there are six: Yegge, Wurrgeng, Gurrung, Gunumeleng, Gudjewg and Banggerreng.

 

My first bushfire was in August 1991. In Humpty Doo.

 

I can still smell the fear of it.

 

I remember the dramatic differences in the “before” and “after” landscape.

 

sv fire xanthostemon 06

After the Fire, 1991

 

And I still sense in my body my own terrified response:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





In the middle distance I spotted dark smoke rising above a wall of orange. The horizon, formerly hidden by a rich woodland understorey, trees and shrubs, now expanded for acres, revealing the scarred landform’s idiosyncrasies: stream banks, hillocks and depressions. Scattered across this moonscape were burning and smoking stumps, charred skeletons of acacia, woolly butt, kapok bushes, ironwood, carallia, billy goat plums, some without leaves or branches. Only the tallest retained a thin green canopy crowning their blackened branches.

 

The black, twisted stumps of leafless cycad ferns like amputated limbs. Large birds I’d never seen before spiralled overhead, wheeling and diving on insects and small animals seeking refuge at the fire’s margins.

 

And the sound of it: the tearing and thudding of huge trees crashing into the earth.

 

I feel like my life is about to be burned down. With me inside.

 

That day a hundred acres of neighbours’ bush burns a quarter-mile from my house. Cause unknown. Spot fires burn everywhere, as far as I can see.

 

Spot fires burn in my heart, burning all my raw places, burning away my shell, exposing vulnerable new places.

 

Flames are spreading with every breath, spreading throughout my being.

 

Our neighbour to the west, Trevor, has just planted twenty new shrubs to give us a bit of privacy from each other.

 

Neighbour Lis, a horticulturalist, bought the plants and Karl helped Trevor with the mulching. I hope they won’t be a problem because we really need to shade the western wall of our new house.

 

Like Robert Frost, we believe that “good fences make good neighbours”. In this case, trees, rather than fences.

 

So we try to be prudent and meet our other needs. It’s always this way for us new ones on the block: a sort of awkward, inexperienced, balance … a searching for some sort of equanimity in this rural place …

 

I try to be reasonable. But I know I’m not reasonable when I smell gum trees burning.

 

I was too close to that once and it really frightened me.

 

You can download the full (true) story of “Watching the Fire” by clicking here: Watching the Fire

Fog in the Valley

19 June 2009 at 9:09 am

 

 

 

When there’s morning fog in our valley – as there is today – I go inside. I can no longer see the sacred mountains my activist neighbours saved from logging with fierce campaigns in the seventies and eighties.

 

My daily glimpse of a politicised landscape to remind me what’s important.

 

What we’re fighting to save.

 

My forest.

 

Even my tiny glimpse of the neighbours is blocked this morning. The fog even seems to silence our tiny ephemeral creek that, this year, is running in the so-called ‘dry’ season.

 

I go inside.

 

I stay by my window, inside my memories.

 

I sit at my desk looking into a wide, grey expanse. Breathe. Then it all comes back.

 

Vancouver fog in my home town.

 

I grew up on the boundary of a big city, right at the edge of a dark forest. Most mornings I awoke to the sound of fog and foghorns…

 

 

 

 

Hoooo hoo.

 

 

There were no trees in my suburb. The original forest had been shredded and pummelled flat in response to someone’s unrealistic expectation of building a landing field for small planes. I could not see single living tree growing by the new houses. Not one, not a single one.

 

In the early days, in the forties, when the houses were brand new, the mountain lions … or were they cougars..? who could say? … still crept down from their forest lairs and along the river banks and wandered the dark winding streets.

 

Afraid of them and their wildness, prudent householders barred their doors against their shadow-presence. They dreamed of chasing them back to the river. Chasing them back to the remaining vestiges of forest high on the mountain.

 

 

After some research, I discovered why we had so much fog in Norgate Park in the early days.

 

The sawmill not far from our place was still operating and there were few controls on emissions in the forties and fifties.

 

When the sawmill closed down (they’d cut down all the forests), the fog stopped.

 

No more mournful foghorn tones in the morning.

 

But I was gone by then – to seek adventures elsewhere.

 

What do these musings have to do with fog in Nimbin in 2009?

 

I’m not exactly sure.

 

We saved our forests in the Northern Rivers.

 

Fog is natural in the Rainbow Region.

 

But this cold winter – colder at night than Vancouver – with frost in the valley- my neighbours – and even our small household – are burning timber in fires and stoves.

 

How ‘sustainable’ is that?