Painter and friend Jerzy Michalski doesn’t normally smoke, but today sits jauntily blowing an “up your’s” celebratory smoke back into the eye of a sky that for the past five days has caused an unbelievable level of havoc and torment.
The celebration, even if only minor and personal, is because his home and studio were spared destruction by the fickle flames of a forest fire that showed no regard to plant or animal, the young or old, those innocent or those of criminal behaviour, those praying fervently or the atheist hoping for a bit of luck. Jerry happily accepts this temporary win for himself, whilst compassionately knowing that others, many who were burnt out totally, will require his shoulder to lean on.
Let’s go into the above photo and move back through a portal of time to five days ago when this ordeal began; when these fires stranded thousands of tourists and residents alike on the Tasman Peninsula who had to abandon their homes or travel plans as the fires ground through the forests with their ferocious temperaments; are still grinding as I write.
“Fire’s spontaneity is its freedom. Fire flourishes without a why. Fire has a total intentionality. It is unselective, un-ideological. It consumes without preference whatever lies in tis way.
The democracy of fire is its terror. It has a frightening innocence. Fire is amoral. It shows no recognition of any barrier or boundary. With an innocence that is without mercy or awareness, it will burn anything or anyone.”
It all started last Friday when the temperature reached 41.9C / 107F degrees; the highest ever temperature since record keeping began 120 years ago.
I was in the garden trying to keep the vegetables cooled down when I looked up into the eastern sky and saw this massive wall of clouds arise within minutes. (Notice my neighbour’s house at the top right of the hill.)
These were not fluffy clouds that kids on hillsides look up to dreamily. They were clouds of fearful portent being generated by a massive forest fire developing exponentially in size quickly and with devastating speed.
Two hours later another separate fire front moved into the western sky. The heart shape tear in the clouds poured down an eerily beautiful yet ominous light onto a reddening green blue sea. Just before dark, Jerzy was knocking on my door seeking refuge after forcefully being evacuated from his home in the small sea side village of Murdunna.
My home in this level of heat, though spared the charring of the fire, had turned into an oven and we sat outside in our underwear till past midnight hoping for the best. Fortunately for us, the mosquitoes seemed to be in hiding.
Morning arrived with eye stinging smoke settling softly into the valleys around Roaring Beach. The major fires are now contained but much smoldering and flareups remain. Jerry is still trapped here and unable to drive back to his home because of road closures. All of us residents on the Tasman Peninsula are, thereby, land locked to some degree with access onto and off the peninsula limited to fire and police vehicles on the roads or those willing to take a one-way trip on the emergency ferry to Hobart.
There has been a tremendous outpouring of neighborly and community love and volunteerism. For this my heart swells. Several friends have lost homes, livestock and livelihoods. An active, supportive hope keeps us ticking along. An indication that any future climate change catastrophe will be survived.
When I went back to the garden to tend to my plants, beneath one wilted and ravaged heat stroked pumpkin leaf, another curled upward towards life.