This house is build on the footprint of one that burnt when all this country burnt. Oh Crow, we humans were different before. We were innocent like animals, waking each morning to sunshine or no sunshine. The only complication was the mind playing with its abacus.
Well, we are still simple, sound of body, but with burnt edges, the mind a chaos of new growth and charred wood. But Crow, what we were before, we’re not. Is that why you surround this new house with your songs of life? Yours is a dark beauty but your vision of life springing from death is as true the magpies’ who melody about love in the skeleton trees on the ridge.
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Another crow poem. There may be more from now on because:
Before the fires Ervin fed magpies. We watched generations grow up, witnessed the shifting power structures when a dominant pair died, were entertained and delighted. One year we even raised a baby. We were magpie people.
Since coming home (and it does now feel like home) no magpies come. Crows have taken the space, they come for the meat morsels, they sit on the railings of the deck and drink from the birdbath. So far, and surprisingly, they have not crapped there.
Magpies fly by with indifference.
I don’t understand much, but, for the want of better words, it is like the totem of the land has changed.
We have changed. Perhaps when you traverse the threshold of trauma something essential changes. For some unknown reason it seems apt that crows would be the dark messengers of growth for me at this time.
If, when you see the eagle pair making their way across the sky with the rudder of their wedge-shaped tails angling slightly according to the updraft, and you take your drum outside and beat it for them, and if you climb the rise to better see them circling away and keep drumming, they will know it is for them and will come circling back and hang in the air as still as the rabbits who watch them. They will listen for a while as the drum sings the heartbeat of Other, and then they will loft away in the circles of their life with not the slightest beat of their wings, and your heart will be big enough to fill the sky, and the drum will speak for a while to it and the sky and the sacred earth underfoot.
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How truely marvellous to have this eagle pair frequenting our valley.
For those of you wondering how we’re going, we are settling into this lovely house. We are learning which light switch works which light. We come home and step inside and it feels like home. The ghost house behind the tangibility of this one, is fading to sadnesses, rather than being omnipresent. I am given to occasional howling and the odd day when I can hardly move, but what can one expect.
Most days I get my hands in the dirt. We were given quite a lot of succulents, a few fruit trees and a few natives. A team from Habitat for Humanity came and planted them and mulched them with tree chippings. They worked so hard, barrowing the mulch from the bottom of the hill. I am SO thankful. It made a huge difference to the summer, controlling most of the dust, not to mention helping the plants. I have been shifting some of the succulents to make the design easier to get around with the hose. It is true, proven even, that earth is good for the psyche. We rather badly need decent rain, and once we have it, the autumn planting of natives can begin. Habitat for birds, that’s the main aim.
Last week we had the fireproof roller shutters installed on the front verandah. It is the last big thing. There are only a very few things to do on the house now, small tinkering jobs.
And here is another piece of loveliness about birds. Before the fire Ervin used to feed some shrike thrushes who are all called ‘Bob’. You can’t tell the Bobs apart, you see. Well, one of the Bobs was very game and would come into the lounge room and sit on the door and make his ‘take notice of me’ whistle, and Ervin, who was very well trained, would take a little meat outside for him to eat.
After the fire, in those stark days when we were all trying to deal with the broken trees and rubbish, our neighbour asked us about a little grey bird who liked to hang around when he was working. We thought it might be one of the Bobs, but weren’t sure. But when we moved in, that little grey bird started coming into Ervin’s new studio space. Sometimes he wouldn’t even touch the meat that Ervin would dutifully put out. He was just there for the company.
And I can tell you there is a Mr Bob, a Mrs Bob, and a Baby Bob!
Sometimes, when I despair at this view, this wide and beautiful view that once was the intimate domesticity of trees, I go and lie down under the blackened corpses of giants, amongst the groundcovers and mosses, the lilies and the weeds, and I feel their thrum of life, their steady growth, their complete lack of judgement or grief, and I think that I too could be as simple as that, and I too could just get on with growing.
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It’s a long process, fire recovery. Before Christmas I was involved in an exhibition at Fabrik called ‘Regenerate‘. It was gorgeous, as their exhibitions usually are. I had some art works in it, some brown paper bags on which I had drawn little things that I had noticed during the year since the fire. And I wrote and performed a poem about keeping on going through this long and involved process of recovering your life. It was not just for those who had lost tangible things to the fire, actually, but for everyone, because the whole society is suffering a level of trauma after that year, 2020. I made people cry. Great. Job done.
But anyway, the process of thinking towards that poem had me thinking about the word ‘regenerate’. It is a word we often think about when we think of the bush after fire, but I felt the word was not quite on the mark somehow. I thought, ‘This growth isn’t RE-generation. It is completely new.’
I think that is worth thinking about. We seek to get things ‘back to normal’ because we are uncomfortable. But what if we can create something new that is better than what was normal in the past?
This new house is a skeleton on another skeleton. It’s as if the old house still exists in this space. I walk through its walls. I stand in the bedroom beside the old bed. If I close my eyes I can look out of the old window at the vibrant plum tree and into the eyes of cattle that have since become meat.
It’s odd. The memories dissolve into reality: the cool concrete underfoot the quietness of double glazing and fine joinery. The wind flutes across the chimney louder and longer than the old one. It’s a sad sound, like mourning. Well, of course there is mourning. That prior life is just below the surface of now, all the lost things, the sunlight on the bathroom wall, for example.
But, lets face it, it was trouble, that old building, with its moving joints and broken things. This new one is attaining soul slowly but surely. One makes a home by sleeping there. And the presence of the old building, its warmth, and the love in its crevasses, are still there, just out of sight and sometimes, I walk through its walls.
The hollowness of a cave, our voices resound in all of its corners. This summer sunlight streams in, as blinding as the darkness of mind, catacombs remembered, all the lost libraries and bones, skulls as clean as this new house where we tread with our charcoaled feet, ground memories, things you can’t place or find. Never mind. We bring the stuff of a life: cushions, slippers, doonas, the hard backed chairs, wooden spoons. What to do now? How to think? How to clear the charcoal from the mind? Hang pictures, place trinkets, bury self in days of solitaire, wait for the cloud in the fish tank to settle. There is no fish tank, that’s a metaphor, but there is a lot of dust. The topsoil is lose, windborne. That is true, but it’s also a metaphor.
Come now heart of mine, settle down here, you have been walking through miles and miles of charcoal and bones in glaring sunshine. But now you are home. Now you can draw blinds, close eyes, rest your head on feathers. Sleep. Dream. Wake.
Here, another game of solitaire?
New House 2
I don’t want to whinge because everything is hunky dory. It is. Couldn’t be better. Probably this agitation is a habit of mind and will pass. But I don’t want you to think that when it’s over, it’s over. There is still cutlery to put away, and other trinkets, and the mind is a vast cupboard. Where did I put the chopping boards and how did I end up with so many saucepans, none of which work? But look, here comes another saviour bearing pots that do. Thank the living for saviours. I plan to become one soon. What else is life for?
Come, saviour, my friend, my loved one. Have coffee more delicious than ever before from this new machine. Sit down here on this new old chair. Help us fill the beautiful corners of this building with what it is that makes a home. Laughter is good, but if it’s too early for that, then love will suffice.
New House 3
At home in a house made of some unknown material that you could take a blowtorch to, I briefly mourn that I can no longer say, ‘my little wooden house’, but what’s gone is gone. My dead stand behind me with their hands on my shoulders. They instruct me to loosen the muscles in my neck, to lean towards the sunshine like it’s a friend, to take what’s now and make poetry of it. Poetry, according to my dead, is life in black letters, and they crave it. Even the dead have desires, they tell me, and instruct me to live as if I would die next minute: that alert, that open, that excited. They say it is lovely that I once had a little wooden house. They say, tell us one thing that is not made of earth, and instruct me to take the house that is made of unknown materials and live in it as if I would die next minute: that alert, that open, that excited.
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A year and a bit ago I began this record of the life of one fire victim and I feel the need to see it through. I can’t speak for anyone else, not even my husband, because when you’re close with someone through a trial like this, you do a lot of surviving. As a couple you try to support each other and you also try not to bring the other down. So sometimes you don’t share everything. It’s a delicate line to walk. Of course we’ve walked like this before, Ervin and I, when our son died for instance.
But I feel some obligation to continue to plot this path of recovery on this blog. As I said in poem 2, everything is fine. We all love happy endings, and our story has a happy ending. But there are still the vestiges of trauma, certainly in me, and I suppose it will take a while to heal. Perhaps endings are like the fringe on the end of a rug, not clearly defined.
Moving into a new house is just plain weird! Every now and then I wake up and realise this is MY house. I tell you, it feels weird! Good, very good, but weird. We need to grow into each other.
I feel as if I need to continue to talk about this stuff not so much for me, but for other victims because the expectation is that everything will be fine as soon as you move into your new house. But each experience is unique and we all need to support each other even when the reactions are unexpected.
I guess what I want to say is, life is messy, so don’t expect too much of yourself. Just take it as it comes and do what you need, even when it’s not what others expect. Find a way to express it and someone to talk to about it. Also listen to others. Have compassion and zero expectations. Accept.
But I guess that advice holds true for any situation in our strange human lives, and any minute now I, also, will heed it.
Dear Friends, I am bone tired. Happy and in our new house, but bone tired. I guess it will pass.
The house is very beautiful. Hana (our daughter) has designed such satisfying spaces and angles. It’s all white and soft grey and pristine.
This building was built with such love. Yes, it’s all new and modern and not remotely rustic, (like our old place was), but it’s also cool and warm, quiet, and has a sort of gentleness, like a warm hug from a stranger.
Three of our grandkids came a couple of days after Christmas and, while their parents helped with unpacking and reassembling things, they went hunting for treasures in the dirt and then painted the walls a little with their exuberant small hands, but I’m not sorry.
Yesterday they got so blackened from our charcoal soil that they had to have a bath before they went home, a very exciting happening because their bath at home is leaking. Small, and lovely joys.
I can’t tell you what it’s like to be truely home. Settled and earthed. I do feel like I can rest now, though I am still a bit awkward and restless. Perhaps there is healing to happen. Perhaps I need to find out who I am, now, because there are things that have changed. I really feel like I have been through a threshold of some sort, been remade, like the myths tell.
After the Great Undoing
After the great undoing: time spent in timelessness, the body doing its body things, the mind away on business, the heart a bruised petal from a rose that bloomed only days after fire had burnt it brittle. The will to life, so strong, so strong.
I don’t know what I’ve been since then or what I’ve done but now I have a roof and walls. There are windows that open and shut. My body has a place to belong but the wind howls across the treeless places and whatever I was before, I’m not.
The shamans speak of this. The initiate is torn asunder and remade from bits of feather and bone tatters found amid charcoal and ashes, blood of earth, hair of grass. ‘Before’ is made of memories pasted into a story that changes with the telling. Useless, really.
So you bring the one who always wanted to be you and you make you. And then you begin the work of ‘after’.
I just wish all the ‘total losses’ could be in their homes soon. We are quite early among them, within the first ten of sixty (or so) who intend to rebuild, and it feels sad to know that, to know so many are still grating their noses against frustration. We have been so very lucky.
Have I sung the praises of our builder on this forum? Alex Barnard of Barnard Constructions is a big heart, a good heart. He is also very clever and brilliant at organising everyone. Way back at the beginning he said he would have us in by Christmas and anyone who knew anything shook their heads in disbelief. Then we had rain and more rain and a bit more rain. Everything was delayed. Then the sky’s cleared and they had a really good run at it.
But in the 3rd week of November we had a sudden COVID shutdown here in South Australia. It was meant to be for a week. Alex said, ‘It’ll take a miracle to get you in by Christmas now.’ I said, ‘Oh well, never mind. But miracles do happen.’ Two days later the Government announced it was opening most things up again because the shutdown was based on miss-information, and Alex rang me and said, ‘You have your Christmas miracle.’
And it is a miracle. They all worked so hard on it. Builders and tilers and cabinet makers and electricians and solar power specialists (we are off grid), landscapers, floor grinders, painters, plumbers, civic workers digging ditches, you name it. Four or five teams all working on different things at the same time.
Sometimes miracles are made of determination and organisation and graft.
With the help of some good friends, family and a couple of removalists, we moved in on the 24th.
Here we are. Grateful. Incredibly grateful.
And tired. But look. It’s nighttime. Here is a comfy bed in a lovely room in a beautiful house that gets more cozy each day. Here is my sweet man. We settle and soon, we’ll sleep.
having been burnt to its roots the parsley thrives and I take it as a metaphor
the wagtail on its wings of frailty expresses in its flight something like joy
sometimes my dead mum comes wearing a sun hat flowers and secateurs in her hands
the heart that breaks and breaks and breaks until there’s beauty even in that
a seedling weed it’s virility pushing towards seed what will I plant now in the burnt garden of my heart
these happy flowers of the onion weed nod their heads and here I am with my murderous intent
twittering out of sight some unknown bird about its business of eating and loving
following the heart’s happiness I find I quite enjoy hanging out washing
that I am earth lying here on it gazing at the sky sometimes the mind needs rest, and so …
By Sunday, we will have a roof on the structure that will be our home! Lock up next week. Wow! It looks enormous perched on the hillside on its piles of excavated dirt. With the partly enclosed veranda it is a slightly larger floor plan, but is actually a little less tall than our old house, but because it has no trees around, it sticks out like … a new build on a bare hill. The old house nestled in like it wasn’t there. It was, in fact, just as visible but no one noticed it. Now we have people saying, ‘Dean called me out to the veranda the other day and said, “Look over there. We can see Ervin and Belinda’s new house.”‘ They always could because I looked, standing there one day.
The veranda will be able to be closed with shutters, if it ever has to face down flame again. Otherwise we would have to shift anything flammable inside, not something you want to have to do while running.
Today we will finalise choices on the kitchen cabinets. On Friday it was choosing for the bathroom. All I can say is I am glad I have our wonderful daughter managing all this, and managing me and holding my hand when confronted with a vast array of possibilities, tiles for e.g..
For those of you not on Facebook, an update. We have foundations!
We even have frames!
I hit rock bottom about a week before the foundations. I found that I couldn’t teach a workshop that I was booked for. I just did not have the space in my brain, or the energy to write the learning materials. So I pulled the plug.
The relief was enormous and everyone understood. Later one of the participants said, ‘Thank you for reminding us that it is right to look after ourselves first, when we need to.’ Well, thank you for being so kind, but in reality I had no choice, I would have wept all over everyone, and no one would have learned anything. But what she said is true and I hope many of us are realising it.
Then we got the foundations and like a metaphor, I suddenly felt grounded.
I can tell you it has been a year from hell but also an incredibly rich experience. My faith in humanity is restored. People are rich in empathy. The human race is made up of individuals and most have good hearts, even though our culture, lately, doesn’t foster a sense of community, it is still there.
la la la packing a few things in the line of wildfire
erratic wind with embers, ash, and birds fleeing
to the west the billowing smoke of our undoing
my dead mother lights a candle ‘there’s not so much darkness…’ she says
crumpled buildings the grandchild’s face is white with shock
from blackened trees the charcoal lament of crows
how the very air hurts the throat black lands
metal kitchen knives standing to order in the ash
how delicate the forty years of journals in leaves of ash
celebrating any life at all inch ant
dandelion its face like a spring sun first flower
with eyes that are not wary a kangaroo in the burnt land
tears — they don’t solve anything fire fungi
through the counting of losses starlight
for months walking like a mummy through the gardens of kindness
all the good hearts help us through this I tear my skin on a stick
covid fear I look at my hands
weeding with tweezers so long in the wilderness the wilderness is in me
this grant, that grant we put our life back together bit by bit
tired as a wet rag I’m sick of it all twenty twenty
shards of a five hundred year old ceramic jug its glaze still green
as if the world prepared for this I hold the ones I love
Still trying to make sense of it all by heaving it into art. (By the way, to me, the word ‘art’ means all art forms, including poetry.)
I call this a haiku series but many of them don’t quite stand up as haiku. They don’t even stand up as senryu. But that is irrelevant. They say what I want. As is the case with all my haiku, I will probably continue to tweak them over a period of, well, the course of my natural life. Perhaps those that fall short will get more refined, or maybe will fit even less into the so-called traditional structure of English language haiku. Do you care? I don’t. I want them to carry the source feeling to the reader. That is what is important.
I wrote a series like this after the death of my mother. I think the form suits that weird out-of-yourself feeling of trauma or grief, when you are sleepwalking awake. You see the world in great clarity, but it is like you are completely detached.
a stranger’s nail polish the magnifying glass of shock
And re the recovery, things are going extremely well, not that it means I can stay out of bed all day. Hana (my daughter) has finished the plans, and they are through council, and we have signed a contract! Various grants, not to mention the amazing generosity of souls like so many of you, who gave to our GoFundMe, and other more intimate ways, and less intimate ways (Red Cross for e.g.), and the insurance, have meant we can build a lovely little house, with two small studio spaces.
It will be built to a higher bushfire rating than we are obliged to do. (Effectively, we want a bunker.) It will be off grid, powered by solar. I hope one day to augment that, if we feel we need it, with wind, because if it’s not sunny where we live, it is almost certainly windy! Going off grid, for us, is not a lot more expensive because of the cost involved with getting re-connected.
And some more super-exciting news! We may get a grant that will allow us to build two small shed studios on the slabs at the bottom. It’ll be just like old times, without the junk!
Mentally, I must tell you, it is very hard. There is just so much to think about all the time, so it is exhausting. I am on a few FaceBook groups and everyone feels the same. What we need is to hug each other. It is not the best time to need hugs. I think it is normal after any grief to be tired though. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t the subconscious just wanting time to process. Many ordinary people are going through this as a result of all of the changes of covid, and I feel for you all.
As for us, one step at a time. Our gorgeous builder hopes to get us in by Christmas!
first mess in a dreamed house the detritus of paper stars