After the Fires: Our Multi-Coloured Backyard

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After being home for a few days in the wake of a month-long evacuation due to the Victorian bush fires, we hear/smell/feel/see something that makes our hearts sing: rain. It pours overnight, and drizzles through the next few days. Although naysayers worry about erosion and the negative long-term restorative effects of too much rain, we all (naysayers included) sigh a large breath of relief as the bush fires across Victoria are either extinguished or rendered controllable.

This post was originally published in 2009. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

Towards the end of the day, a few friends stop by. “We’re going bush; wanna come?” comes the invite that can’t be resisted. As the locals determine the route to be taken for our four-wheeling adventure, we realize that we are in for something of a morbid drive. In fact, we will be going over the very range where almost a month ago, we spotted smoke on that fateful day.

With a combination of trepidation morbid fascination, we pile into a few vehicles for our excursion.

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This marks the first time I have even ventured south of Taggerty, and seen the street where we used to live, the bush retreat where I used to take yoga, and other landmarks that have survived the fires, but where all recognizable terrain has been altered. The large grouping of trees I used to use as a guide for the turnoff towards the Cathedral Mountains is gone. Instead we abruptly come upon a T-intersection that I only barely recognize as the turnoff towards a place we used to call home.

After getting over the initial shock of the changed landscape and burnt terrain, I close my eyes, opening them with a fresh perspective. I erase all the memories of the place I used to know, and witness my surroundings with new eyes. I choose not to mourn for this building, or that forest, and instead look at the scenery for what it is right now. No judgments, no pre-conceived notions.

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And as we climb higher and higher over the range, and delve deeper and deeper into completely burnt out forest where unprecedented cyclonic winds created havoc that nobody could predict, we all can’t help but notice something. It is something that we are almost ashamed to admit, and nervous to vocalize. It almost seems wrong, and yet we are all overcome with this feeling: nature is still (and always) beautiful. When the human cost of the fires is not apparent (ie: the loss of property and lives), deep in the bush, mother nature prevails.

Where there was once lush green forest, there are now autumn reds and golds. Golden leaves (albeit singed leaves) blanket the rich red soil; soil that none of us knew was so red for the foliage that formerly covered it. The blackened tree trunks are a stark contrast to the rich gold and red, and a distant landscape of red, gold, brown, and even the occasional spot of green makes our new backyard a truly multi-coloured one.

Kelly and I feel oddly at home in this reminiscently autumn landscape, even though we know that these colours are largely uncommon in Australia. We inhale deeply, and are rewarded not with the scent of death and burnt ground, but instead the smell of re-growth. The damp and decomposing leaves on the ground remind us of nature in Canada preparing herself for a snowy winter with a blanket of natural compost that protects the ground and vegetation through the winter, and emerges mineralized and rich for spring growth.

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So while we are reminded of autumn colours (and it is indeed now autumn in Australia), we are also feeling nature’s surge of energy and life that represents spring after a cold Canadian winter. Even five weeks after the bush fires broke out in Victoria, while the ground continues to smolder in the rain, we see how life perseveres; in the green bracken growing out of singed old bracken, the sprig of new growth wiggling out the top of a charred fern tree, the kookaburras that sing us their charming song I had gone without for too long, and the kangaroo that hops across our path.

And as the rich negative ions of fresh rain flood our senses, we realize something very, very important in the wake of the devastating 2009 Victorian bush fires: life goes on.

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4 thoughts on “After the Fires: Our Multi-Coloured Backyard”

  1. Norah, your pictures made me cry. We moved to Canberra after the 2003 fires, so I have no before memories, but the first time we drove to Stromlo, it looked like pictures of Mt St Helens. Armageddon.
    I cried then too.

    I didn’t expect to see so many trees standing in your photos. I think it helps. When we climbed up to Stromlo, it was amazing to see the shape of the land, with all the trees bulldozed into contour banks to stop the erosion.

    So thankful for rain. You’re right, this landscape is resilient, and life will go on.

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  2. @Kazari – I must say, these pictures don’t capture the true feeling and raw (very raw) beauty of the matter. (Damn over-exposures and lack of proper lenses)! It is tragic, truly so. But even while things still smoulder, to see something green is absolute magic. When we are beaten down, we take heart in some of the tiniest beacons of light.
    I too was surprised to see so many trees standing. I don’t know if bulldozers will come through the truly devestated areas (like in the pictures) or not. Other areas faired much better, where the fire did not crown above the trees.
    Today, I am going for a drive through (formerly) one of the most beautiful sections of subtropical rainforest I have ever seen (The Spur, near Healesville) to get to Melbourne. This road was only recently re-opened since fire blew through here too. I am nervous about what I’ll see (to say the least), but at least to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

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