When Dickens began “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, he must’ve imagined something worse. If that’s even imaginable.
When Frost said he held with those who favoured fire as the cause of world’s end, he must’ve envisioned something more gruesome. If that’s even possible.
For over the past few months, this country has been ablaze.
When Australian winter gave way to spring, as it does every year, gently sliding away into the darkness where it hibernates until next June, summer barged in, as the uninvited plus one of your second cousin twice removed. What should’ve been the sweet celebration of blossoming season, of wattles dancing on sidewalks, of white gum trees waving as you ride past, quickly turned sour in the scorching heat. Overnight it went from whiskey weather to ice-cold rieslings, leaving no chance for temperate rosés.
Dark clouds retreated, much further than they’d ever before. Sunshine glistened on afternoon beverages, shooting hopeful rainbows through clinking glasses, as if wishing for a pot of rain at its end. Magic.
As Floriade ended on a heatwave, summer thrusted herself on stage well before spring had had a chance to take a bow. It was all so sudden. No one had the energy to mourn for spring. Half the country was on fire already.
For summer, in all her glory, with all her vitamins, had brought with her along with the cancerous touch, a flame thrower. And she didn’t hesitate to use it. Day after day, the nation awoke to news of decreasing houses, wildlife, and vegetation. Stranded on highways, truck drivers slept in their vehicles, comfortably and safely parked in traffic that remained unmoving for weeks. In their carriers, food rot and fuel sat. Full and useless.
Volunteers strode into flames, rasping, gasping, metaphorically bleeding as they hosed down beloved backyard branches—plants they’d once lovingly pruned and cared for. They didn’t care anymore. When our love burns and turns against us, hatred and distain drives us to extinguish it. It becomes a disease. When dry and angry leaves scorched their roofs, dogs, and horses, people retaliated, brandishing a gush of precious water, desperate to contain the disaster. This wasn’t a barbecue. It wasn’t as easy as turning a knob or pulling a log off. This was bush fire, and we were nature’s BBQ.
Humans ran. Birds fled. Koalas slept on, most never to wake again. Gum trees leaked as they shot up in blazes, taking with them the sweet smell of comfort, of home, of Australia. Native plants, insects, and animals watched as death leapt at them, future doomed to destination unknown.
Tourism suffered. Economy hurt. Politicians spoke.
Baked beans, cereal, milk, and bread; soaps, shampoo, sanitary napkins, and tooth paste; clothes, and millions in money shipped off from unharmed areas to protective shelters. Donations and fund raisers rained as people’s hearts overflowed with the moisture this land had been deprived of.
It’s the worst of our times. Also the best. I wonder if Dickens knew.