The heat from a new angle
It’s late-ish at night here… I should be relaxing with my husband in front of the telly, after putting the kids to bed, but instead I am still waiting for him to arrive back from the paddock.
After a hideously hot day – I measured 37 degrees Celsius at about 3pm – a fire (which had broken out in a couple of our paddocks) was discovered burning too close for comfort to fire breaks in our heavily timbered country to the north of home.
And after spending the (very early) morning driving the grader to clear more breaks, then mustering some steers and drafting them up, my husband and my Dad headed back to the fire front to try and prevent the flames leaping into our scrub country.
It possibly sounds confusing to those who aren’t used to maintaining grazing land, but there are times we want to burn, and times we don’t. Now, when it is SO hot, is not a great time to burn especially in thickly timbered country. Slow cool burns are ideal – early in the season, soon after rain, or at least when rains are forecast.
But you don’t always get to control the timing of these things.
And I sit here tonight with my mind working overtime, worrying about my 71-year-old Dad and my hard-working husband, and ponder how very different the same things appear, when viewed from a different angle.
To this ex-photojournalist, fire will always be an extraordinary and beautiful thing. Not only does it have a mesmerising life of its own, the smoke does amazing things to light which are impossible not to photograph. And (in the old days when I was sent out by editors to cover bushfires for the news) I loved the sharp ebb and flow of action around fires, and the surge of tension as a fire got too near something it shouldn’t.
You could literally FEEL that SOMETHING was about to happen. Something gorgeous and (very likely) dangerous. And while I was aware (and sensitive to) the devestation it could cause, I was still very much drawn to it, back then.
Now, by contrast, when my own family are out there, somewhere, without me, dealing with it… it’s less appealing. I will categorically state that tonight, fire is not providing that adrenaline rush – it’s just annoying and inconsiderate and a little bit scary. I know very well that few people in this state have more experience with fires than my Dad. He’s an adrenaline junkie of much greater proportions than I. And no-one is more strong and capable than my husband. But they have to be tired. And I am worried…
Everyone needs wise words and years of experience, he will be well looked after.
I hear the Toyota ute drawing up beside the house. Two very grimy, smokey, tired men climb out and make their way inside to inhale 3-hour-ovened fish and chips and coleslaw… and shower as much of that black smoke from their skins as possible. A couple of large glasses filled with their favourite spirit and coke washes the much-needed food down.
The fire is now under control. But my Dad is full of stories of THIS moment when flames and sparks went 40 feet into the air over their heads and THIS tree falling an unexpected direction… I imagine trying to drag him away from the action before he calls ‘All Clear’. I’d say that would be the very definition of impossible.
He makes me laugh with his enthusiastic retelling – I think tiredness mixed with scotch has helped with the colour of the descriptions being bandied about the kitchen bench. We count the favourite fire-related phrases:
It nearly went from being a great servant to being a terrible master.
A bit of ‘red steer’ does the country a lot of good... long as it rains.
All men in bed and deservedly snoring their hearts out. I have finished cleaning out tucker boxes (normally a job I make them do!) and making tomorrow’s smokos and lunches for them. I know they have to truck steers at 7am (helping the truck driver safely load our stock for market) – so have to carry out their fire watch before 6am.
I believe 3.30am was mentioned as a ‘start time’.
I ♥ my sleep almost as much as I ♥ having my menfolk safely accounted for.
So tonight, their lunchboxes are sorted.
Here’s hoping tomorrow brings a cooler change, no stray sparks and an early mark for the boys.
Will keep you posted.