Jan. 6th, 2013

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The heat has now baked into the ground and even the cool breeze is warm by the time it reaches me. This is bushfire weather, and the news reminds me of that every other minute. I'm avoiding the news, not just because the Tassie situation is so worrying, but because it's almost ten years since I was enclosed in this flat, without power, not knowing what would happen.

The worst happened and Canberra burned, but the wind changed direction and my bit of Canberra got through almost unscathed. On the other side of that wind, however, a friend lost everything, several other friends lost almost everything, a church a friend had built burned down just metres away from a plastic playground that wasn't even warped. I have pictures of some of this and they make me weep, every time. I didn't take pictures of the kangaroos by the side of the road, blackened and hurt, but still alive, looking for water and safety.

The only bird near me to get through fire was the evil magpie who swooped us every Spring. Right now I can hear mostly cicadas, but we have a bell bird, and mudlarks and galahs, and various rosellas and I swear I saw a silver-eye the other day. There's a big black raven that caws like a baby crying and reminds us who's boss. There's a huge flock of sulphur-cresteds two blocks down. What there aren't are many European birds: they never repopulated after the fire. Pigeons are finally coming back (lots of crested pigeons, for some reason) but I haven't seen a sparrow here for ten years.

He finally died of old age, that magpie, but he was the toughest bird I've ever met. He survived conditions that killed every other bird in twenty miles. Every time he dive-bombed me after the fire I didn't know whether to celebrate his survival or to wish that fairy tales were true and that the wicked got their comeuppance: he wasn't a nice magpie. He was determined to get me in particular because I was friends with the neighbour who had fed him, and I refused to take on that role.

His replacement looked me up and down on Thursday and kindly hopped aside to let me pass. The new magpie never knew Bev and so doesn't bear me a grudge. I hope he's as much of a survivor as his predecessor. He deserves to be, for his courtesy and because he doesn't sing strongly at unholy hours. The tough bird was a beautiful songster and knew it. The only sound for months after the fires was his spectacular performance. It was unsettling. As if all humans had been destroyed except for a single soprano, determined to fill the emptiness of the world.

Even I didn't escape entirely unscathed. The big evils didn't happen to me, but I developed a nasty series of illnesses because of my allergies.

I'm coming out the far end of my down payment for still being alive and having all my possessions, and it's bushfire season again. It's also Les's yahrzeit. I took my sick self (doubly sick, for I was at the second worst stage of the whole shebang by that time and also had a raging fever) on a day exactly like today, and had to work out how to get from the airport to the hospital where Les was in a coma. Public transport and much asking for directions worked, and my brother was there to take me inside.

I said my goodbyes and we stood vigil. I missed Les's actual death, because Mum sent me home to rest (which shows how ill I was) but I stayed for his funeral and for mourning (until Mum sent me back to Canberra, for people insisted on bringing fish into the house as part of traditional mourning and Mum didn't want to remind them of my allergies and she didn't want to lose me to them, so she packed me up and sent me home - that was a hard week for all of us).

Before I even got out the door, Victoria was on fire. Les's emergency care bed was occupied by a series of burn victims. The young counsellor who had been so good to us worked long, long hours while his home was entirely burnt out. He delivered his own child as he and his wife were fleeing the fires. I don't know what happened next, for my life became more difficult than I tend to admit. It wasn't until a year later, when I got back from Melbourne again, after the consecration of my stepfather's grave, that my body decided it had been through enough and I went to hospital and and the real healing finally began. The treatment to my eye this year is a part of that, hopefully the end of a long cycle.

When I write it out, and see the candle flickering in memory of Les, it makes me realise what an epic journey it's been. It also makes me realise why I hate the news right now and worry about everyone in bushfire territory. Bushfire are always with those of us who live in this part of the world.

May 2013

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