Climate Emergency: Australia on Fire

Sydney November 2019

It’s been a massive Summer and it’s not over yet. I slipped out of an impending Winter in Europe and returned to Australia to see friends and family. Within days of arriving in Sydney the city changed from blue-eyed beaches to a smoke haze that caught in my lungs. It got worse.

Mystery Bay NSW December 2019

Drought and fires have been a given in Australia but now it Is obvious that climate change Is driving a Summer of extremes. Our capital city, Canberra, recorded temperatures never recorded before. Precious North coast forests were ablaze and the smoke haze slipped down the continent and settled in the city. I fled to the South coast for some clean air and Christmas with some of my besties. We kept our eyes on the horizon and our ears tuned to the National broadcaster for weather reports and fire alerts even as we feasted on fabulous food and friendship.

I lay in a smoke-filled tent as the year came to an end, scrolling through stories from friends in the face of the fire. The places I loved most were devastated; ancient Eucalyptus forests and Rainforest that had never burned before burned ferociously. There was no point in waiting, surrounded by tinder dry grass and leaves, beneath a heavy canopy of trees. I was totally unprepared. So I packed my scanty possessions then began knocking on caravan doors and calling at tents. While a blood red sky cracked the night, people packed up everything that represented the perfect holiday and began to leave, still uncertain whether to drive South or North. When someone called out ‘Bermie has been evacuated,’ the decision was made and we headed North in a convoy of controlled confusion, our headlights searing through the thick brown air.

The next few hours were exhausting. No-one had slept more than a few hours as fires roared in from the North and the West, creating their own weather patterns of volatile cloud that shattered the air with loud explosions. The town’s power was cut, mobile phone and internet coverage suspended by the emergency authorities, shops and petrol stations were closed due to fuel pumps, automatic doors and tills no longer operating. We bunkered down in preparation for the worst. It didn’t come that day, even when the sky flared crimson then blacked out at 3pm.

Narooma evacuation centre New Year’s Eve

The resolutions I made that night were to hug more, to say I love you and mean it. I also want people to know that climate change is real and to work toward realistic strategies like community building and sustainability.

I’m writing this after evacuating from the South coast inferno, to Canberra where the air quality index went into catastrophic, then on to Melbourne where I’ve been battling a lung infection. My story is small compared to friends who have lost their homes, to 22 people and the millions of animals who have died in the path of the fires, to the loss of the magnificent Australian forests and the global consequences of this disaster. While Governments seem intent on short-sighted policies that encourage fossil fuels, deforestation and deplete scarce water reserves for industry we have to make our own future in the best way we can.

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The Fish

I return from walking the dogs (I’m house/dog sitting again) feeling like a fish in an over-heated pond.

It’s 11 am and there’s a bag hanging from the door handle. While the dogs run for the water bowl, I discover a gift of sweet plums.

At 12, the waft of cologne announces an elderly gentleman from the village. I invite the mystery bearer of gifts inside and talk in broken down Spanish. When a wheel falls off I open the translator but he’s no mechanic. He’s a musician, a poet, and takes paper in hand. Ciruelo: para comerlos 1. lavar las y la piel setira con el hueso.

It’s 2 pm and he’s wearing a freshly-washed shirt. He places almonds on the table. ‘Son de mi arbol’ he announces showing a good set of teeth. He mimes that they are for eating, that I need to crack the hard shells. I show him my hammer before he leaves.

By 3pm I’m thinking about lunch, just like most of the Spanish population, but I’m wilting. Perhaps I’ll eat the plums. ‘Henne?’ comes the version of my name in castellano from beyond the plastic fringes at the doorway. ‘Entrer,’ I reply in mistaken French.

He places the hot silver-foil package and cold can of beer on the table, then disappears into the afternoon.

P.S. I’m vegetarian.

Yikes! I ate the fish!

… Global temperatures are higher than ever recorded. I’m worried. But I figure that the only way we’re going to get through this cataclysmic era is to connect with people and smile as we step lightly.

The Dog

This was going to be a story about sandals, weaving in the importance of recycling and keeping stuff out of landfill but the dog got in the way. He’s not mine. I don’t like the idea of owning an animal but it seems that he likes the idea of owning me. His person is away and I’m doing the feeding and walking so I have become the love of his life.

This week we took to the mountains when the heat of the day had dropped a degree or two. ‘Climate change’, I told him. ‘Walk!’ he replied. So we did.

Yesterday I crossed the range, up, down and across the rocky terrain until I came to the village of Pitres. Lucky followed me, in spite of every trick I had to make him stay. He raced along the roman paths, played in the stream and chased lizards amongst the medicinal herbs and dried grasses of the Alpujarra. It was the perfect dog day until his luck ran out. I put out my thumb and when the first car stopped I left him there. (Remember, I had tried love, my best communication skills, then insults and even throwing stones to avoid this moment of abandonment.)

Today I returned, tired after hitch-hiking in forty degrees heat. ‘Climate change,’ I told the driver. ‘Si, cambio climatico,’ he agreed.

And there was Lucky. In the plaza… waiting.

Stepping Lightly

Being truly, madly and passionately in Love with the Earth takes a bold and beautiful soul.

It was an idea. That was all. Why not? Everyone else was doing it. Perhaps that was good enough reason not to. But Climate Change was kicking in big time. How could I travel and still step lightly on the Planet?