It’s a beautiful morning. Soft. Calm. The hobo dog is asleep at the end of the bed. It’s exactly four weeks to the day that our big-sky mountain-world was turned on its head; tilted and toppled from its axis and everything changed.
Exactly four weeks ago the air was charged with smoke.
Out by the bird bath as I filled it for the neighborhood animals that had been drinking there more and more often as the moisture in the atmosphere disappeared during the last week of Winter, a single flake of black ash lazily drifted out of the sky.
I caught it between two fingers and deep in thought, rubbed it into a smudge.
Then I climbed the long ladder onto the roof and crawled around cleaning out every gutter of leaves and twigs. Something felt terribly wrong.
By dusk that Friday, September 6 2019, every single resident of the Summit and Timbarra neighborhoods at Binna Burra had left. Evacuated, often with teary hugs, by our local firies.
I heard later how eerie it felt for them during their patrols through our empty streets, keeping watch over our empty homes. Bless them a million times over.
Binna Burra Lodge, the old heritage-listed guest house founded in 1933, was empty of guests and staff too.
Our mountain stood poised upon its cliff edge. Waiting.
Overnight it came.
A 10km long, 2km wide wildfire spotting ahead of itself by 4km.
Through the unique, world-renowned, world-revered subtropical rainforest of Lamington National Park – home of Jurassic era plants and rare, vulnerable and endangered species of life – it roared.
As our local ranger said this week, it came so hard and fast it left a cascade of death in its wake…so many animals gone, too slow to escape. So many plants and ferns and mosses and trees gone when that beast roared through this protected and passionately-loved place.
When it hit our ridge, the cliffs below our neighborhoods held it back for a while and it crawled around the base of those blessed rocks.
In our first sleepless night of displacement, scattered between the Beechmont roundabout and Bangalow, we hung onto every morsel of news from our firie friends. We imagined those fingers of flame seeking purchase across the cliffs while fire trucks and quiet heroes prepared for the onslaught above; like an old-fashioned battle of David and Goliath proportions.
We will never know exactly how desperate it must have felt when the westerly wind whipped up to 60-70km and hurled a firestorm of embers and flames over our homes.
We do know at one stage the Rurals retreated because their equipment wasn’t built to cope with that level of ferocity.
We do know the Urbans stepped in with all they had but even so, endured at least one burn-over where they were forced into their shuttered trucks to survive.
We do know that some eight homes in Timbarra burned to the ground. One still partly stands as an eerie skeleton, some are piles of tin and twisted metal, some have been cleared already and all that is left to show of the years, the decades of life and love are split concrete slabs.
Numerous sheds and outhouses burned.
On Mount Roberts just up the road, Binna Burra Lodge, the former manager’s house and the Groom family home “Alcheringa” are ashes.
And my sister’s home, intact from the outside, was gutted and everything lost internally from an ember attack.
Our neighborhood lookouts and ridge, where so many of us found silence and solitude on golden afternoons, is scorched earth and an agony of fallen trees.
Slowly, very very slowly over this past week, we have begun to ever so tentatively, ever so tenderly, reach out and connect as new and old neighbors and friends.
This catastrophe has burned us all up emotionally and we know we will never be the same again.
Our two small neighborhoods of perhaps just over 100 homes overlooking Lamington, has been brutally thrust into the frontline of climate collapse in a country governed by Pentecostal climate-change-deniers.
We are in deep shock and deep grief.
We are only now, finding the wherewithal to look for the methods, the processes, the practices that might begin to heal us.
We feel so very raw but we are trying things like deep breathing, acupuncture, afternoon tea, counselling, information sharing, shy hugs, bear hugs, house cleaning, video storytelling, social media-ing, painting, research, walking, music, bits of work and study if our minds allow it, and of course, the practicalities of rainwater tank testing and insurance-driven demolition, rebuilding, renovation.
Small and big things that help us take one breath, one step. One breath, one step.
This week I burst into tears at Spec-Savers when the nice young assistant there asked for my address.
I’ve spoken my address so many times this past few weeks as a place of household carnage, that this time, sitting in the brightly-lit store in the home of mega-consumerism that is Robina Shopping Town, I was tipped over the edge. Our family property, our spiritual home feels contaminated right now with so much sorrow and grief. At the moment just the hobo dog and I live here and it feels ever so lonely.
So here we are, four weeks on to the day, from that fateful day.
The “deer in the headlights” trauma has left my body this week thanks to Wim Hof breathing and acupuncture.
I’ve had three decent nights’ sleep in a row – a miracle of epic proportions.
I’m writing again and preparing to return to a full load of work next week.
My family is alive and well. This past week there’s been a wedding and news of a healthy, happy, planned pregnancy. I am, as of this week, a sister-in-law and Nana Sal in-waiting.
In amongst this slow, tender recovery there are signs of life, like the tiniest bright green grasslings appearing out of the scorched soil. I feel myself returning to life; a new life that holds the deepest sorrow and the deepest soulfulness at its core, alongside the potential return of joy.
It’s a beautiful morning. Soft. Calm. The hobo dog is asleep at the end of the bed. It’s exactly four weeks to the day that our big-sky mountain-world was turned on its head, tilted and toppled from its axis and everything changed.