It is still very raw. The atmosphere is heavy – loss and fear wreathing the valleys like the lingering smoke trails of containment fires.
The stillness, eerily silent after the chaotic rush of wind and flames, accentuates the sense of unreality. Did it really happen? I have been fortunate. The conflagration left my village intact, but like the god Pan it has galloped through the forest, leaving panic in its wake.
I left the Mountains before the full impact of the fires had reached its climax. The cool gardens of the North Shore were a world away from the stench of smoke and reddened skies I had left behind. I watched the terror unfold on my computer screen, while lorikeets chattered in the trees outside my window, a solitary boobook chanting its solemn cuckoo notes as darkness fell. Frogs chirped in the wisteria as I lay in bed, wondering whether my home would still be standing upon my return.
I journaled, seeking solace in pouring out my fears upon the page.
The crisis past, one morning I visit my niece in her apartment overlooking Parsley Bay, watching the golden-green shallows enclosed by sandstone walls rearing high above the tranquil inlet.
The sunlight glints on the water, throwing dancing reflections on the walls. How could this be the same world? The scenes of devastation on TV, the exhausted faces of the volunteers, the choking miasma settling over the mountains, the smoking ruins. I am there and yet not there, caught between two realities. My mind refuses to accept it but my body knows; my very bones ache with the horror of suffering in my community.
I write this late at night, at home once more in my own domain, secure because of the skill and dedication of the many fire-fighters who risked their lives to keep us safe.
This week I listen to my clients as they pour out their anguish and odd tales of survival. I hear of the duck, found sitting on her eggs among the agapanthus in the charred remains of her owner’s garden; of single houses left intact while others were razed to the ground.
In the silence and solitude I process my own experience of this event. I think of survivor-guilt, the lurking sense of shame that others have lost everything while I sit comfortably in my chair, outwardly returned to normal life. I mourn the many animal lives extinguished in smoke and flame. I dream of death. I ponder the misery of displaced persons around the world, the victims of natural disasters, the refugees of famine and persecution: all those for whom security is a distant dream.
I am grateful, deeply, unendingly grateful for all that I have; and my heart aches.