Broken Bella Donna

{January 20, 2016}   Welcome to my world

Welcome to my little patch of the world. I exist in rural Australia, and here we take the good with the bad; the highs and the lows.

It is Summer, and we are in drought.

I venture outside into the furnace onslaught that comes with the hotter days, where you can feel the hot breeze blast against your bare legs as you step out the door and I find my world has turned brown. The only green thing left on my lawn is the hose: every blade of grass has died, every introduced specie has withered. Only the native flora and fauna survive, after many, many years of developing and evolving to suit the climate. If you stand outside on a still day (and there are many) you can hear the cracking and tearing of the eucalyptus trees as they shed branches; a survival technique carefully developed to ensure the trees survival through another hot summer. The native bush here is intelligent beyond words; the trees shed branches, bark and leaves generate leaf litter, which burns hot and fast and allows the seeds to break from the carefully designed pods that protect the precious seed from wildlife. Even the bush here understands that it is a matter of time before it burns, and it is survival of the fittest.

In an Australia summer, your sense of smell becomes your best friend.

Every time I leave the house, I find myself scenting the air like a hound. Squinting at the horizons looking for smoke. We live in permanent fear of bush fire during these months – either by lightning strike, campfire, accident or the most frustrating and dangerous – the arsonist. At this time of year something as small as a spark from a train wheel, or something as uncontrollable as a dry storm can cause untold havoc. You take what steps you can to prevent it happening to you – you can clean your gutters from leaf litter. You can make sure your pump is attached and primed ready to go for your fire fighting water tank. You can clear all excess debris that could burn from around your house. You can keep your lawns short. You can keep a dedicated paddock for stock that is bare of any matter than can burn, in hopes that even if you get them in there, you don’t lose them to smoke inhalation, panic or shock. You can create a fire plan that outlines what to do at the last minute, where you’ll go if you evacuate, what to take, how to prepare. You can make sure you either have all of what you’ll need if you’re staying to fight, or have your bags packed ready to go. But it doesn’t matter what you do at the end of the day because you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and if that bitch wants you to burn, you’ll damn well burn.

Here in Australia we’ve had two fires in the past five years that have burnt so ferociously they have created their own weather. They have literally been so hot they have changed the weather around them. They made their own thunderstorms immediately above the zone, and the lightning zapped down to create more fires. Ain’t that a peach.

I’ve been lucky (so far) in my neck of the woods. My property is blanketed by smoke at the moment but it isn’t from fires local to me. The smoke has drifted across and covered part of the state and settled in like an old friend. An old friend you’d like to leave but just wont take the hint.

There’s something truly insidious about bush fire smoke. Especially old smoke. It gets in to everything. You can keep your doors and windows shut tight against it but it seems to creep in all the same. If you go outside you can see the haze like a dirty fog (and if you’re close enough you’ll get ash and burnt leaves rain down like lazy grey ghost confetti) and you can just smell it. That acrid tang that catches in the back of your throat, drying your mouth and leaving you feeling hoarse and raspy. If you make the mistake of hanging your washing out on the line you’ll be washing the smell of smoke from your clothing for weeks. You’ll be reminded of the fire every time you change your underpants until you workout where the smell is coming from. Of course, you’ll be entirely aware of the smell. How could you not? It’s pervading and perverse. It’ll hit you like a slap when you walk outside. When you touch your face you’ll smell it on the skin of your hands, it’ll get into your hair. But after a day or two you’ll stop noticing it so much, only remembering when you come inside and you’re not breathing it anymore, and when you notice your throat is sore. And then you’ll lay down for a nap and wake up and have a strange taste in your mouth and you’ll wonder… what is it? And it’ll take you a minute to identify it. The smell is no longer just a smell – now it has a flavour too.

Maybe it’ll rain tomorrow. But more likely it will not.

et cetera