Learning to love summer
We’re into our 11th year of living in Castlemaine. It has felt like home for years now, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Hopefully (a long way off) I’ll end up in the ‘hippy’ section up the back at the Campbells Creek cemetery, among the trees. But in the meantime, I have heaps to do. I fell in love with this dry, hot, cold, stony old country long ago, but the last piece just fell into place in the last 18 months.
As I often say, Castlemaine is perfect except for its lack of nearby 3 to 4,000 metre peaks. And the summers are brutal. I am a cold climate person. My brain and my body work best below 7oC, and summer makes me want to hide in the dark, watch ski films and drink beer. After the autumn break, the land breathes again, and I feel my internal life open up. Winter is glorious, a season of frosty mornings and sunny days, and spring is a blaze of life and colour. But my body and spirit shuts down as the heat pushes in and the land goes into its seasonal torpor. It’s like my body goes into ‘standby’ mode all through those long dry summers.
But now things have changed.
Two summers ago, I sat on a mountain in the Alps, and watched a range burn, as it had twice before in less than 10 years. Huge pyronimbocumulus clouds rose above the landscape. The forests I love are being torched by climate change driven fires. They are changing before my eyes. I knew it was time to put my shoulder to the fire-fighting wheel. I went home and joined the CFA.
I signed up out of deep climate despair. But the experience of fighting fire has helped my feelings of despair about the world in ways that surprised me. Fighting fire is immediate and real. Its tangible. The first time I helped defend someone’s house from a wildfire I felt deep joy. In contrast, environmental activism sometimes feels like fighting the long defeat. Every win is just putting off the next fight or the next loss. Getting on a truck and heading to a fire feels inherently good. You win or you lose that day, and then go on to the next fight. And every time you stop that fire, that forest lives on. I feel proud to serve my community and the land itself in this way.
After a long day on a fire last December, I wrote this:
‘When at a fire I constantly think that this is our future: longer fire seasons and ecological break down. But I also feel heartened by the solidarity of people helping each other, of community resilience and good will and mutual aid. And by the resilience of the land. The CFA has a conservative base but I see the values of solidarity hard wired into its DNA, even if they don’t use those words’.
This is the spirit that I see embodied in the actions of the CFA and the other frontline groups like the SES. I love working with a range of people, many of whom I never would have met otherwise. It has deepened my connection to my community, and I feel way out of the left/ green bubble that I live in. It deepens my connection to place.
It has also made me love summer. Fire season means I’m out at fires. A lot. I’ve worked in conditions that have felt like hell. I still suffer. I still complain. But weirdly I have grown to love the summer time, as that’s when I need to stay sharp and focused and ready for the call. It’s been a strange and unexpected gift, and it has allowed me to experience the land – my country – in a whole new way.
In January 2010, I moved to Castlemaine, in Central Victoria with my family. As someone with bioregionalist tendencies, the change in my life-place has been wonderful and interesting, and I thought I might record some of my reactions … This is the latest installment. The rest is here.