We didn't really get our summer this year. I can tell by my feet, still winter-soft as autumn officially begins when they would normally be tough enough to take on the piping hot sand and a bush track barefoot. Summer feet, we say, with a certain amount of pride, bearing testament to the time spent running up and down to the beach or fossicking along the rocks. This, of course, is the least of what has been lost here this year.
The fires started in December, burning right up to the edge of the tiny community we cherish, where the forest of towering gums meets the turquoise sea. Burning all the way to the water's edge, turning all that was once green to ash. Access was cut off for weeks, fires burning beyond control to the north and south for weeks and then months.
We were further north up the coast on New Year's Eve, when day turned to night in the mid-afternoon, charcoal and ash raining down as the sun was blacked out. Our paradise burned for months, our summer lost to the flames. Our friends and neighbours stranded, strangers risking their lives to help. We were fortunate we could escape the flames, but not so the smoke that filled our city and our homes for weeks.
It had been so dry for so long, those flames didn't hesitate, not even for a moment. They swallowed anything in their path, crossing roads and containment lines on a whim. All were at the mercy of the wind, and none stood a chance. The only hope was rain, the kind of rain we hadn't seen in years. The kind of rain that floods. It came in February. I was with a neighbour on the street and her toddler had no idea what it was falling from the sky, he had no memory of rain.
Once the roads reopened, we could get back to our little paradise. The blackened landscape is endless, kilometre after kilometre between our home in Canberra and our place by the sea. The lush forest now a graveyard of blackened stumps, the contours of the land visible where once they were hidden by the bush. How vastly different it is now, a new landscape that we know so well.
We've just come home after a couple of days down the coast, to our place that was worst hit by the fires some two and a half months ago. Our lake is filled with run-off from the rains that finally beat the flames, leaving it almost reddish in colour. But the land that was so desperately dry has been quenched, and already there is life forcing its was back into place. Green leaves shoot out all along the blackened remains of the gums, a natural dressing so soothing, so revitalising. Viridescent ferns shoot upward once again from fire-ravaged stumps, life taking its rightful place once again and calling the birds and animals to return.
Two glorious days of snorkelling in the crystal clear water of the north end of the beach, of finding warm rock pools to dip into, of surfing those perfect little rollers with barely another person in sight, just us and the endless beach with the forest alongside fighting back to life. Revitalised, finally. Getting to work, at last, on our summer feet.