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8 March 2009 ·

fires & philosophy

As most people know, the Australian state of Victoria has had horrific fires over this past month. My family and I were lucky: we live in a high fire danger area, but the only fires we’ve had this summer were small and quickly controlled, mainly because of the vigilance of the CFA (the volunteer firemen, including Tom) and having Elvis, the water-bombing helicopter nearby.

With so many people losing lives and property, most of us here feel almost guilty for how drained we feel simply from the tension, but that tension’s been real. The advice for most people on two days last week was to evacuate, and although of course in the end the only things that matter are the lives and health of the people you love, I found it very confronting to think of losing the home we’ve built, and the ‘stuff’ in it. But we had several days warning, and packing the car I was intrigued at how much I was able to put in that was important to me: samples of different parts of our lives. I felt that I had a core from which we’d be able to begin again.

But I can’t say how grateful I am that I don’t have to find out if I was right. The worst of the danger is over for the year; Tom hasn’t been sent away to one of the big fires for over a week; the car is unpacked (the house is chaos!)and life is returning to normal. I’m finally writing again instead of being distracted by raking up the leaves and branches that rain onto the lawn on hot dry days, or wondering where I’ve packed the tax papers.

Grateful that I can look out into living bush and eucalypt forest; grateful to see an echidna on the path yesterday; grateful for the books I had to send to the kids who’d lost everything; grateful that we can put aside the tension with the rain and have our lives go on as normal.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio