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Sunday, February 15, 2009

How Brown (& Flammable) is My Valley

* Drayton Valley in Canada

This is going to be a 'thinky' post, so brace yourselves with a comfortable chair and a cuppa. It may take a while. NB: I will just warn you that I have a slightly inappropriate sense of humour. The way my family has dealt with tragedy and strife in our lives (and we have seen a fair bit of it) is to laugh and make light of the situation. That is not to say that we don't feel and that we don't care, it's just a way to relieve the tension without imploding or just dissolving into snot and tears. It offends some people.

We have spent the entire weekend preparing ourselves for possible tragedy. I know. Terribly dramatic isn't it? But certainly no less true for that. With all the horror of the Victorian Bushfires fresh in everybody's minds and hearts, it has been all systems go for us getting our home 'Bushfire Ready'. (Hopefully this will not be interpreted as an invitation for a bushfire to come and raze our property to the ground any time soon).

This past week or two have been a truly sobering experience for me. Not that I was giddy with naivety about the needfulness of such plans but still I was naive to think that it was something to be only marginally aware of. I am still wearing so many people's suffering on my heart and to be so close to the (very hot) action, has been both frightening and intensely motivating. We were, thankfully, not near enough to any of the danger for it to be a direct threat but there was a fire just down the hill from us and our suburb and the one next to us was put on evacuation alert in case they couldn't put it out. Thankfully the brave people of the CFA managed to put it out before it caused too much damage but seeing the damage it did cause was quite shocking. It was all around the train station my hubble catches his train from and it was quite extensive for a 'small' fire.

And so, this weekend was dedicated to preparing and putting into action our 'fire plan' as we live pretty much surrounded by and on top of gorgeous trees in every single direction. Plus, we live at the bottom of a hill with no-where to run to should things get dicey. We have spent time and energy figuring out what we would do if we got 'caught out' by a fire that we had no idea was coming or that started suddenly. We have planned our escapes and safety zones, borrowed the correct fire gear from relatives (anything longsleeved and made of natural fibres - cotton flannel shirts and jeans are good teamed with a solid pair of leather boots to prevent your feet from burning, gloves to protect your hands and a wide-brimmed hat (which I've still to get). Our shopping list this week consisted of: Goggles, 7 smoke alarms plus batteries, indoor sprinkler misting system for under the house (because embers can blow in and start burning the house from the basement up), proper masks (to deal with smoke), blankets (for wetting and wearing if we have to hide or run), metal buckets with wooden handles (because we read an account of a man trying to use his plastic bin in the fire and the handles melted off in his hands), oven gloves (because we may be handling things that feel like they've just come out of the oven), several hoses for both indoor and outdoor use (to combat embers and to put our fires), torches and batteries (for if we can't see because of smoke and we're trying to hide or run), pump driven water pistol, wide brimmed hats (to protect our heads and necks) and batteries for our radio so that we can hear it if the power goes out.

We then proceeded to clear the gutters (which we had already done once since moving in a mere 8 weeks ago) and the roof of all leaves and tree debris, fill the downpipes with little sandbags and then go and savage our beautiful garden in order to remove all brown, dry and tinderlike plant life so that our garden doesn't just incinerate in minutes the moment an ember lands in it. With a 12-year drought on our hands and a week of unseasonably hot weather over the 43 degree mark, there was a lot of that to remove. My mother-in-law generously donated all of her weekend to help us in the endeavour and even sowed little pillow shapes for the sand to go into for our pipes. She's a mighty useful in-law that one! I think I've raked up a squillion dead leaves, cut the brown useless branches and fronds off a million trees and ferns and picked up my bodyweight in firewood. And I know that in just a few short weeks, when Autumn is welcomed to Victoria with body and soul, the ground will be littered with enough leaves from our oaks alone to create a magnificent floor length cape and train for the Green Man himself.

The work has been backbreaking but satisfying in some strange way. It has also made me tetchy, nervous and paranoid. I know it makes absolute sense to do what we have done and is very sensible in view of the fact that we have a bit more summer to go and there are (seemingly) an innordinate amount of very troubled people about. It's just that it seems so prophetic somehow. As if on some level I am expecting things to go very badly wrong. Everything that's happened is so vivid to me, so clear and sharp and real that I feel almost like I'm inviting trouble by even beginning to think that I am 'ready' in the case of a real emergency like the one experienced by so many. Some part of me doesn't want to be ready. It just doesn't want to face the possibility of such disaster happening to me, to our little family. Yet here we are - knowing what the options are, knowing what choices we will make should things get dangerous, knowing where our hoses are kept, what clothing to wear and having enough supplies to battle it out if all else fails. Let's hope all else doesn't fail us.

I can't help but compare it to what it must have been like for all those people in the 50's who really lived with the possibility of a nuclear war. Building their backyard bunkers, saving food and staples to 'wait out' the passing of the poisonous gasses, which in all reality would have killed them once they stepped outside the bunker door. I'm not saying that a bushfire is as catastrophic as nuclear war but it is still pretty catastrophic for the people who go through it. We are preparing for that catastrophe in case it happens to us. That's not a good place to be.

Doc's beautiful and thoughtful post on the aftermath of the fires (though aftermath isn't really the right word as there are still fires raging uncontrolled as I write) has added to my thoughfulness today. I agree with her that we cannot simply carry on and pretend that nothing has happened. It is still happening, there are people suffering great losses, there are people trying to get their head around rebuilding their lives, there are people without homes and without hope. I can't just turn my head away from that. There but for the grace of God... Unfortunately, we do have to go on. Whilst we must offer our hands and our hearts and our strength and do what we are able or called upon to do, we must also feed the children, organise lives, attend to businesses and jobs, deal with family shit - life goes on - always. It feels uncomfortable, even wrong, to do it and yet all we can do is help where we can. We can never be sad enough to end someone elses suffering. I think its a Zen proverb that says, before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Like Doc says, we must hold on to our empathy, to our sense of community, to our desire to let our hearts lead our heads and to help in any way possible, but we must also chop wood and carry water in our own lives. Hopefully, we won't lose the open-heartedness that we have experienced as we have grieved with people who truly know loss and sadness. I think that is honestly the best we can offer.

As I write, we have had news of a fire right opposite our old home - its currently at 5 hectares. The CFA has issued a warning that embers may come this way as it has already entered National Park nearby. We literally lived on the road opposite the spot where the fire is currently burning. The hubble is upstairs packing a bag and we are about to decide whether to evacuate or to stay and potentially fight. I am torn between a desperate desire to have a complete meltdown and let the panic that has been slowly building, explode out of me or laugh hysterically and drive like I imagine Animal from the muppets would if he could drive like he drums.

I think it might be time to climb in our caravan and not spare the horses.

* Psyche's Journey Home

Between my strong desire to flee and my desire to not panic - we sort of hovered. Indecisive but true. Hubble barely raised an eyebrow, he simply went outside wet the underside of the house, filled up buckets, readied mops and put on a check shirt. (He looked quite dashing). I went into high stress mode. I am, after all, a fully fledged drama queen and postgraduate of the Adrenal Exhaustion Club of coping.

We listened intently to the ABC updates. It was actually quite serious. We are still on the alert for embers or ash blowing this way but we don't appear to be in any real danger.

Can I just say for the record. What the...? Was I not just saying that it seemed vaguely prophetic to be preparing for something on the offchance? Well - it looks as though the PTB (Powers That Be) have once more got their belly laughs at my expense. Har de bloody har.

I am so NOT stay and defend your home material. My greatest fear is that we will go to bed safe in the belief that it is all 'under control' and it will creep up on us in the middle of the night and poof - my short unrealised life will be over. I know I'm being a bit dramatic but still - this is the second time in two weeks that I've have genuinely worried about our safety from fire. It's getting harder to feel safe in my beautiful home.

So, we are still here. Our caravan is primed and ready but we are planning on staying for the moment at least. And this has been, yet another, reasonably stressful weekend. I will be genuinely glad to feel the cool wet kiss of Autumn.

* Valley photo from here
* Psyche's Journey Home by Susan Seddon Boulet


docwitch said...

Oh sweetheart! I would feel worn to a thread with all that. It's that feeling of constant hyper-vigilance that people describe in these situations. It's exhausting.

But I'm very glad that you are well prepared, and have done your homework. It does make a difference doesn't it?

I so hope this time passes, and the fires abate rather than worsen, and that you and your little family reman untouched by it all. Roll on autumn, with its gorgeous chilly mists indeed.

Huge hugs to you m'love.

Moonroot said...

And there's me whingeing about Valentine's Day. Typical bloody Pom, eh (me, not you!)?

I agree with DocWitch, no wonder you're feeling uptight and exhausted.

Thinking of you and hoping all is well.