The devastating bushfires of this summer have changed everything. There’s a whole new context for our lives in Australia - and everywhere. The planet is crying out for our help and people the world over can no longer deny it or think weather disasters won’t happen to them.
I used to love summer. Long warm days and evenings, light clothes - the fewer the better - and bare feet. In the depths of winter I longed for summer, its carefree holidays, simple salads on the deck watching birds flitting around our garden.
We live at a semi-rural beach in South Australia, the blue waters of the gulf St Vincent visible from our front windows and 300 hectares of natural bushland 100 meters to the east.
Living near a Conservation Park, while it offers enviable opportunities for nature walks and wildlife spotting (yes, kangaroos and echidnas wander into our garden), also poses risks. We never go away in summer because of the fire danger. Why would we? Where could we possibly go at this time of the year that would offer us more pleasure than being at home?
Last summer, after watching out-of-control bushfires elsewhere in the world in 2018, we invited an education officer from the Country Fire Service to address a neighbourhood meeting about fire risk. When she asked about our bushfire survival plans, many neighbours thought they would ‘just go to the beach’. She explained the danger of ember attacks and radiant heat and suggested other safer, more practical options, such as decamping to fire-safe places, carrying woollen blankets and water in our cars and having valuables packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Since then, as the global effects of climate change have become indisputable and the risks of bushfires heightened, we’ve added more essentials to the case we packed sixteen years ago when we moved here. We’ve updated our home and contents insurance, set up a local iphone bushfire alert group, borrowed keys to friends’ homes in fire-safe zones and, at considerable expense, erected a 22,000 litre water tank linked to a sprinkler system on our roof. We’ve done all we can to reduce the risk of losing our home and prepare to leave. I even reverse the car into our carport, ready for a quick getaway.
So I expected to sleep more easily this summer. Then Australia caught fire.
So far, we have been spared the devastation of fires threatening us but we have watched in horror as regions of our state and the rest of Australia have burnt. Lightning strikes in drought-stricken grazing or bush land, sparks from machinery, arsonists could just as easily show up in our back yard.
As the full devastation of this summer’s bushfires in Australia unfolds, with it comes the awful realisation that this is the new normal. Or worse, that this is just a taste of what summers will now mean. I’ve been lying awake, listening for sirens, with the phone nearby in case of an alert, and keeping an eagle eye on the local fire alert app. Gentle rain on our roof last week sounded like the heavens crying. When the temperature dropped 20 degrees overnight to a cold grey day, I felt relieved - a reprieve before more catastrophic fire danger days and sleepless nights ahead.
I lost my mojo. I lost my love of summer.
As I gazed at the scrub, I saw not a beautiful nature park but a massive fire hazard filled with innocent animals and rare species of flora, fodder for a greedy bushfire when our luck runs out. It used to feel like ‘if’; now I think of it as ‘when’.
I'm anguished by the hostile dependence evident in our blaming and expecting government to fix everything.
Then I read a galvanising quote from Albert Camus:
“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.”
That's when I realised it’s up to me.
I can choose a response that will lift my mood and my energy by focusing on the needs of others. I make another donation. I list all the things I will do to minimise my carbon footprint, to play my part in reducing emissions. I get started. There’s not a moment to lose. I feel better.
I choose to love summer again.
In the new summer, we are all vigilant, fire-safe, we discuss our bushfire plans, support each other and the people responsible for managing our environment and continue to coalesce and engage as communities to help and sustain each other.
Because out of the ashes, compassion and generosity have become the new normal too.