After the Firestorm

The rain has come, truly and abundantly, to New South Wales. Sydney got days of it, straight, as it fell in sheets. It was seemingly possible to watch the grass grow before your eyes. Other parts of the state weren’t watching the grass grow, but hoping to watch the fires die.

Sydney, as mentioned, didn’t witness much of the devastation save for some poor (I mean, really poor) air quality. Luckily I’m in Sydney, but recently went west for a bit of R&R in the hills.

The Blue Mountains are to the west of the city. They’re named as such for the slight blue hue that the air takes from the eucalyptus trees. The blue hue turned to a dark haze as the eucalyptus trees went up in flames throughout much of the area.

Roads were closed. People made evacuation plans. In some cases, the fires won and demolished places like buildings at the famed Jenolan Caves. In other places, people lost their homes.

Again, we were lucky that all we know and love were the ones who survived.

I’ve been to the Blue Mountains several times, but I had never gone as far as the “Table Lands.” These were farther west of the mountains, with far more flat plains and true farm land. We stayed at a relative’s house for two nights, and enjoyed a touch of rain. Nothing particularly soaking, and as local reports go, it was all together mild. They had hoped for more. Still, they were safe (in Blayney and Millthorpe) from real devastation.

We were far enough off the usual path that we could take a different route back to Sydney than we normally would. We went through the mountains of Bells Line of Road (a name that struck me a strange in itself but is, apparently, famous) and this is where I witnessed the true scope of what the country had endured. Approaching towns like Bilpin, Mt. Tomah, and Bell, trees were charred for miles, painted black as if it were an Alice Cooper song. Both sides of the road were uniform in this way. The road survived, but the signs didn’t. Many of them looked sad, still standing but melted, their message all-together lost.

This part of the country was also notable for its fruit crops. Clearly, this was also a casualty. The plan was to stop in to one of these local places for lunch–giving back to the little guy struggling to make a profit among the horror of what happened. It was hard to find a place that was open. Presumably, they had nothing to sell.

Eventually we did encounter a place with welcoming front doors. It was more of a country store with a food window. Why not? Even if it was terrible, the money was going somewhere it is desperately needed.

It ended up being pretty good, albeit unexpected. Rich got a burger, styled with the classic Aussie trimmings of lettuce, tomato, t-sauce, and beetroot. They left off the egg.

You know I always have to mention how the food was in a new place.

I got a steak sandwich. Stupid American, of course, expected it to be in the style of a cheesesteak. The girl asked if I wanted onions or “salad” on top. Gross, I thought, and kept it safe with onions and asked for t-sauce over BBQ.

What came out wasn’t chopped steak on a roll, but a literal uh, steak, on white bread. It was truly and wholly a steak sandwich, as simple as the day is long and as obvious as the nose on your face. I had simply overcomplicated it based on my own experiences.

Not the first time, not the last.

And, to my delight, it was actually really good. Rich asked a few times if it was grisly, or hard to bite. I happily reported every bite was easy, and all I needed were my teeth to cut through it.

We enjoyed our lunch and then thought we’d kick back just a little more to the town who surely needed it most. We stocked up on local cider vinegar, olive oil, and honey. I was tempted by the mexican chili hot sauce and the olive tapenade, but let that sit on the shelf for another day.

Another group of foreigners (if I had to guess, European) also stopped by the Orchard store to enjoy a slice of pie. This was probably what the real crown jewel was, but I’m far less interested in sweets than the average person.

We carried on our journey with the windows down, listening for the quick snappy chirp of the Bell’s Bird and hoping for a koala sighting. All I saw were the koala-crossing signs along the road. Even if we couldn’t see them, I hoped there were some that were there still, relishing the new growth that this incredibly resilient place in the world was already sprouting from the ashes.

And just like that, the trees that had so recently been engulfed in flames showed new signs of life.


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