Today, in the Chatham Valley of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, it rained. It’s not an exceptional amount of rain. The land remains dry and bodies of water remain low. But water, instead of the new-normal ash or soot or ember fell from the sky. And that’s progress.
I’ve been one of the lucky people who’s been safe. The closest fire to my lodgings is about 50km away. Maybe it sounds far, maybe it sounds close. The truth of the matter is that these fires are unpredictable. They can occur almost as quick as a flash of lightning and run like a raging bull. According to the “Fires Near Me” app that’s active down here, some have been tamed to “under control” status. Far too many other pinpoints showing the locations of active fires report they are “out of control.” In those places, people are losing their homes. In some cases, people are losing their lives.
Among the human dead so far, there are a handful. At least three firefighters were killed battling the blazes within the last few weeks. A father and son are dead. Another 28 are missing in the state of Victoria alone, only to assume the worst. The death toll, however, isn’t even remotely as striking as it is when considering the animal kingdom. No one can quite say for sure, but the number of native wildlife has been slashed by the millions; so many millions, in fact, that we’re creeping up to the billion mark.
I’m lucky, and so are those around me, that we’ve been afforded the luxury of safety in a country that is, in every sense of the word, going through Hell.
It’s clear the news is making an impact around the world. I’ve had family, close friends, and far-off acquaintances send messages over Instagram asking if all is well. It’s not, I have to tell them, but I am. The worst of what I’ve been subject to is the heavy smoke that hangs outside. To combat that, I got a purifying mask. To combat embers falling from the sky, I’m not sure I’d be so equipped.
The devastation likely goes over many people’s heads. The local news here reports towns in the state whose skies switched to a shade of midnight in the middle of the afternoon; a notably sunny country blanketed in a thick black smoke.
The news, like any time there’s a disaster, also makes it a point to highlight the people battening down the hatches in the danger zone. Maybe it’s to give everyone else a shred of hope that these places won’t be wiped off the map. Maybe it’s to give these people a legacy of having gone down with the ship.
The devastation is unimaginable. It’s hard to fathom a situation that’s worse, but when the smoke clears we’ll be able to truly see the desolation. Entire towns flattened. Millions of hectares of lush wilderness reduced to charcoal. Amongst the rubble–as one Al Jazeera headline puts it–shapes in the ash.
My fairytale move to the paradise down under very quickly turned into a true-life horror. Perhaps a lesson in unpredictability. More importantly, a lesson to live and count every comfort you regularly enjoy.
I’ve been safe, and for that I feel privileged. What makes me feel even more privileged is that, when others in a country in which I’m a guest have lost everything, I can still afford myself some luxuries. Wholly Australian brands have shown me ways that even a money-making business can be part of the community.
Accessories brand JT Luxe made a similar decision by devoting an entire weekend’s worth of profits to Red Cross Australia.
And those are just two I stumbled upon organically.
Dozens of other brands, predominantly those who call Australia home, have also dedicated their proceeds to the cause.
It’s a good way to get back a little by giving in. If you just want to give, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so:
WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc.)
Today, ever so lightly, ever so briefly, it rained. With smoke clouds creating their own weather systems, it’s hard for weather reporters to even predict which masses might bring water. A big part of how this situation escalated in the first place is that the country’s been in drought. As an American, the rain here is nothing like the rain I’m used to; the ones that pound on the windows for hours and soak the front of your pants even on a short walk. The drops are small, politely tapping on the roof of your house without any urgency at all. I wish for this place that there would be a little more urgency, although the urgency seems to be coming from the earth itself saying something is terribly wrong. And now, we as humans, have to fix what we broke.
But those drops of rain, however ineffective they may be, are proof that with a little luck, a little patience, and unrelenting perseverance from professional and volunteer “firies,” change will come. It may take time to build up, but it will come.