Thursday, March 5, 2009

Try not to let it consume you....

I know that the bushfires seem to be all that anyone talks about these days, but I thought you might appreciate a personal perspective, along with a little (long) story.....

On Sunday the 8th of Feb, I posted about the night of the fires, and some of those that I knew that were affected. As a quick update, I am pleased to let you know that the horses were found miraculously safe and (not so) well, but have now been transferred to (literally) greener pastures to heal.
My mother is safe, though she was on tenterhooks with her bags packed for 3 weeks, ready to leave if she had to.
And Jack...well, there is a story....

A bit of history to fill in the picture:
Jack and I had been together - on and off - for around 4 years. He is 10 years my senior. I am totally and utterly consumed with the man. Always have been. Don't know if I always will be. He is what one would term a "Commitmentphobic". After 4 years, I wanted the diamond ring, white picket fence, 2.5 children, and the dog named spot. He said he did, but never did anything about it. I wanted a future vision - and we nearly had it. I introduced him to Flowerdale. I had been keeping my eye on Flowerdale for the past 6 or so years. It was always my dream, and I shared it with him. We would go there on Sunday drives, and slowly he warmed to the idea of buying a weekender there. And that was the turning point. When it came to us making the offer on a property, he couldn't do it. We broke up.
A month later, he bought it on his own. Was I shattered? You bet. Did I deal with it? I had to.
He worked on that block of land. He worked his arse off. It was the first time he had ever invested in anything - physically and emotionally. It was symbolic. Yes, we were back on talking terms during this time, but talk about Flowerdale was taboo - I couldn't go there, it was too painful.
Then the fires came and razed the land, and cleared all that had gone before it.
I always said that I would never go back there - not unless Jack and I were together again and it wasn't just his, but ours. But last Saturday, I just needed to go. And so I went.
And now, the experience of driving through the devestation to get to Flowerdale:

It sounds cliche, but it really is indescribable. The photo's and stories you have seen in the media do not come close to what it's really like.

We drive through Whittlesea, stop to get our wristband (they are still only letting locals up there), pass the roadblock, drive around the corner...then bam, there it is:
Nothing. One minute there is something, then there is nothing. No colour. No leaves. No sound.
It's not long before I see the first brick letterbox to signify that there used to be a house on that site. It draws my eyes to the background to see what remains of that house. Maybe there is a chimney, most certainly there is corrugated iron. That's all that's left of the houses. The Fire was so hot that everything literally melted and evaporated if it wasn't concrete or iron.
Not far down the road, I see the first of many Australian Flags that now fly proud outside many properties. It's like they have replaced the police tape with the flag to say "it's ok, I'm still here and I'm ok".
We pass the Kinglake General Store - well, what is left of it. I need to take a breath, knowing we are on the homestretch to Flowerdale now, and I'm about to see a stretch of road I no longer recognise. Funnily enough, I do still recognise it, I know each bend and turn in the road. I know what each house that has burnt down used to look like. We round the corner and there is a massive green oasis - somehow the nursery and it's surrounding trees seem unscathed as if it was covered with a dome when The Fire stormed through. I can only imagine that the owners put all of the sprinklers on and hoped for the best. The sign out the front reads: "Come in, we are open!". Like anyone will be planting pansies this weekend! Still, it's reassuring to see normality in such a disrupted, not normal environment.
One thing I can't stop noticing along the side of the road is the metal safety barriers. There are notches in them. Dints from where trees came down across the road. Each dint represents another tree, and another barrier that stopped so many trying to get out.
There are some houses still standing, but it only adds to the confusion. Why did that one survive? You try and make sense of the direction and behaviour of The Fire, but you just can't. It was indiscriminate in what it consumed.
We hit Flowerdale, and turn into to Jacks property. I am glad that I am there, and I get out of the car and walk up the hill on my own. It's so quiet. The air smells thick with ash. I reach the top of the hill to look at the view that I so often dreamt about. I brace myself thinking : "This is the moment, this is when the grief will hit me". To my surprise, it's ok. In fact, it's more than ok - it's still beautiful. It's just in sepia tone now.

I thought that I would cry when I first saw all the destruction, but it's literally so unbelievable that you can't relate to it, you can't get it. You need to sit with it a bit to understand just what has happened. And you need to appreciate the good stuff - the changes it has made to people and their priorities.

That night Jack and I sat under the stars, in the still of the night. Glass of wine in hand, sitting in silence, I almost felt bad that I was so comfortable. But I didn't. Jack and I were sitting side by side, and we were at Flowerdale. For the first time in many months, I felt like I'd come home. Despite the damage to my two loves (Jack and Flowerdale), we were together, and perhaps the damage that has been done can now grow into something more beautiful than what it was....

Silver Creek before...

Silver Creeek after.....

The fire moved with such force and speed that you can see the direction it moved in by the direction of the leaves on the trees. It's like they have been mummified that way now. There are also saplings that have been bent to the ground in the same direction. Bizarre...

What is left of the cottage. We figured out that the cottage would have burnt before the tree fell on it.

The view from the top of the hill is still beautiful - just not so green anymore.


Andrew said...

A lot of the leaves looked like they just dried out and not burnt. Very moving.

PI said...

That really brings it home. No matter how the earth re-invents itself and repairs the damage with new growth it can't replace the homes that have gone, let alone the people.
Such a beautiful spot and it will be beautiful again and I pray people will be spiritually renewed and have the strength to start again.

Brian Hughes said...

"Then the fires came and razed the land, and cleared all that had gone before it."

At least now he knows what it's like to put your heart and soul into something only to have it all destroyed, I suppose.

Jayne said...

That is just so....heart breaking, Deb. Words can't describe the magnitude of this horror...and my eyes are welling up again just looking at your photos.
There's a blog about Flowerdale if you're interested
Flowerdale Survivor Spirit

Deb said...

Andrew: It's bizarre how the fire acted in many different ways. Just up from Whittlesea there are no leaves on any of the trees, however, in Flowerdale the fires moved so fast that it litterally swept past and some leaves didn't have time to incinerate. They have all dried out now and are falling everywhere!
Pat: You are so right. Let's just think of it as new beginnings and lets keep those prayers up!
Brian: Indeed he does - a very steep learning curve for us all!
Jayne: True it is heartbreaking, but there is really so much "wonderfulness" that has come out of this. And thank you so much for the blog link - it's wonderful! I'll be keeping my eye on it from now on and will pass it onto Jack also.
It will be so nice in 20 years time when I can take my kids to Flowerdale and tell them how it was all burnt to the ground and was then reborn.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my darling girl. I knew you'd been working on this post but I didn't know you'd posted it.

It's beautiful and says everything to me about how you feel.