This time two years ago, the skies above Canberra were filled with smoke as places we all knew and loved were consumed by an apocalyptic fire, following years of brutal drought.
I vividly remember driving down the Cotter Road with the sky ablaze to my left, boiling clouds of orange and black pouring out from Namadgi and wondering, aloud, when it would ever end. Enough. Enough death, enough suffering, enough pain.
Petrichor is the word for the most glorious perfume, that of rain hitting dry earth. Two years on since the yellow and grey smoke hung like a shroud in the air we have been blessed, literally, with two remarkable seasons of soaking rain.
The bush is green around us, the rivers and dams are full and there is abundant new life. Birds sing and breed, kangaroos and wallabies are full bellied with their young and even in the scorched forests, the owls are calling again and lyrebirds scratch through the leaf litter.
Trees plunge their roots deep into moist soil, sending out growth that will sustain them for decades to come. The eucalyptus at home on the South West Slopes are bowed down with blossom and in a century’s time, the bunya pine I planted last spring will tower over my descendants’ heads thanks to these two glorious years of rain.
It’s a season of plenty like few we’ve ever seen.
We’ve had COVID-19 in the interim too, of course. The big national disaster obliterated our regional local disaster remarkably quickly although houses remained unbuilt down the coast and communities staggered to remain upright in every sense.
As the pandemic rolled on, it edged closer and closer to home, pushing families apart, damaging some businesses fatally and ratcheting up anxiety across our community.
It will be dry again. I’m old enough to remember other hard droughts where everything seizes, dries and thins, the relentless harsh light and the parched whispering of the grass. The anxious waiting for the wisp of smoke on the horizon, the steady daily decline in the creek or the water tank.
The bush will burn again, and if the forecasts are fulfilled, with even more intensity than the Black Summer brought us. This wave of COVID-19 will roll through and there will be other challenges, more or less deadly.
After every natural disaster, we look anxiously for lessons, ways to do it better next time. We talk about climate change, about forest litter and road maintenance, about communications systems and apps and householder preparedness.
We worry about vaccination boosters and isolation measures, the effectiveness of masks and the value of lockdowns. We look urgently towards the future when we will make things better, because we must.
This is all to the good. We need to take action where necessary to nurture and protect ourselves and our community. But first, as the year ends, pause to make sense of it all. Weave it into the tapestry of our lives at this hinge of the year.
Amid the sadness and pain there’s also been much that is good. People have fallen in love, babies are being born, other good things are happening. My cousin’s daughter recently sent me a photograph of her blooming bump, her face lit up with happiness as she awaits the birth of her first, much anticipated, baby in May.
It’s all one. The mess and the destruction, the golden beauty, the growth and life.
Before we leave 2021 (and 2020, for that matter) behind in our haste to slam the door on them as 2022 begins, let’s sit still.
Rest awhile these holidays, look up at the stars in the inky blue summer night skies and fit these last two years into the story of our lives, the story of who we are and how we lived here. Happy New Year.