Last Friday I drove up to Newcastle for the weekend. It was hot but no hotter than it had been for some days, perhaps weeks. During the day the flat stays cool until after lunch but then, as the sun westers, it starts to warm up. Sometimes in the afternoons when I went to lie down, the sheets on the bed were hot, even though no sun enters that room. In the evening there would be coolness outside but the day's heat lingered on inside. I slept with the fan on, not simply to move the otherwise inert air but also to confuse the odd mosquito that had somehow got in and survived. A friend mentioned that when the temperature exceeds forty degrees Celsius, spiders die. So that it was some kind of a relief to be in the air conditioned car heading north on the not-too-choked-up F5. There were bushfires ahead, I could see that from the orange-stained horizon, the smoky light, the haze in the air; but it wasn't until I was north of Doyalson, on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie, that I ran into a real fire. It got very dark very suddenly and I could see in the murk a row of fire engines on the other side of the road, the men in their yellow suits rolling out hoses and getting ready to descend the hill into the inferno in the valley below. Then it was gone, I was past and in the clear again. Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, as I returned the same way there was just the strange greyness of burnt out bush on either side of that stretch of road, the crisped leaves still attached to the branches of the trees, the ground below a field of ash, the desolate wet black smell that rises from a watered-out fire. The weather broke later on that night, a gusty southerly came through about nine or ten o'clock, rattling the blinds and lifting the curtains. By then I was ill, whether from a bug, something I ate or just heat and stress I don't know. I could do nothing but lie in bed, sleeping and waking, for the next fourteen or fifteen hours. I had a persistent sense, when I slept, that I had become square, I mean a square entity, legs tucked up, arms hunched in, like a box. Two days later and there still hasn't been any rain to speak off, just clouds loured down over the city, a few isolated fat drops falling. On the radio I listen to a woman psychologist saying that, while arsonists do not lack empathy, they very rarely show remorse and thus are always likely to re-offend. It's peculiar this after-bushfire weather, there's a melancholy to it, even a sullenness, as if the land itself were ashamed for what it has done to us, rather than, as perhaps it should be, we for what we have done to the land.


Elisabeth said...

Hi Martin
Here in Victoria we're still caught up in bush fires. The worst in recorded history. For me it's not just the grey ashen landscape, it's the ghosts trapped within. The death toll here is likely to rise to 300, we're told.

At dinner time, we (ostensibly safe here in the city) can't stop talking about what it's like to be caught in a bushfire, with no escape.

Martin Edmond said...

Yes, the ghosts. Terrible ways to die, in a car or in your own hellfire kitchen.