I woke to the house shaking, dishes rattling on the sink, a low rumbling beneath me, all around me. The dog came to my bedside, her tail swaying doubtfully. She was not afraid. Rather, she seemed to be checking with me if she should be afraid. The sound was like a truck laden with rocks on a gravel track, just like last time but this morning the vibrations were more intense and lasted longer. There’s been a bit of earthquake activity going on lately. Its epicentre is sixty kilometres to the north and seven kilometres below the ground. Usually the quakes are light enough to be an interesting, surreal event, not alarming. Exciting but not too exciting, if you know what I mean. In town, after the last one, people reported experiencing the tremors at different times, or not at all, and I can imagine the earth cracking the fissures and seams, heaving like a great beast through subterranean pathways. I checked the clock. It was six am. I turned over, the dog left my bedside, and we both went back to sleep.
In the early morning birdsong dozing, I dreamed the image of a woman with barbed wire wrapped all around her naked body. I woke with the picture still printed onto my mind and realised it was something that Stormboy had drawn. I’d sucked in a quick breath the day I looked at the picture, right before he handed it to his grandma. She’d asked if he had any artwork she could have for the grandkiddies’ archive and he gave her this picture.
‘Oh!’ Said Mum, examining the nude, who had barbed wire strapped between her hairless crotch and across her breasts, around her neck, traversing her thighs. ‘Is this for me?’
‘It’s about Mother Earth,’ I explained to Mum, reading out loud the lines from a Doors song that Stormboy had written below the image. The woman is way too sexy and the implications sadomasochistic, but The Doors’ lyrics gave the picture context, or at least a vague permission to be something other than torture p*rn. The other picture he gave his gran was his self-portrait: a grinning skull with his beanie and dreadlocks. There was no challenge in his gifts. Stormboy is rightly proud of his drawings.
I was musing about all this as I got up and put the coffee pot on the stove. It was going to be a warm day. We are in the magic hour of the year when the forests are partying with colourful wildflowers and insects, and constant smoke from the fires turn the light magenta through the trees. In the office where I worked a few days ago, they told me they’d be burning out my way. Back from the huts, they said, across the plains and into the karris. They were just waiting for the sou-easterly, supposedly coming in on Friday. But today is Friday and the wind feels a bit too north for burning.
Coffee and a couch facing the inlet, reading the London Review of Books. The dog wants to go for a walk but I’m reading about Count Dracula, Bram Stoker and Trump. I’m reading about AIDS in the early 80s and ancient Chinese imperialistic endeavours. Two robin red breasts buzz around the veranda, high and low, checking the cobwebs and leaf litter for bugs. I feel bloated, listless, on this couch, like a student using her brain but not her body during exam season. A kookaburra is hunting nearby. It sits on the tin roof of the shed and occasionally I hear a rustle in the bracken as it dives on a lizard or a small snake. Lots of thumping as the killing goes on down below. I throw down the paper and whistle up the dog.
We walk the inlet track and there are no fire trucks or crew, as I’d suspected. I held up a wet finger to the wind and it registered north west. No good for burning today, unless their burn would take out my place as well. I’m learning to trust their judgement. The slipper orchids are flowering, sexy red sheaths rising in delicate spikes from fat, slipper shaped leaves. ‘The slipper orchids are out. It must be your birthday,’ I think to my Scorpio friends. I didn’t say it out loud. There have been no people out here for days. I haven’t seen nor spoken to another soul except my dog and the odd bird for forty-eight hours now.
Along the track, yellow and blue tape is tied to trees. Parks and Wildlife are getting ready to burn. Yellow indicates a fire hazard, a dead tree that could turn into a chimney or fall onto the track during the burn. Blue is for ‘mop up’, or ‘put out any smokes past this point’. The peppermint trees are in full bloom. In another week or so, their petals will coat the ground like snow. The dog sniffed at a stump in the gutter and slowly, almost lovingly leans down, neck first, to roll in something disgusting. Across the track lie green honky nuts with the scars from cockatoo beaks. I was getting hot, my winter clothes and winter body not ready for this change in season. I wore boots and socks to lurch into the bush but the dugites are too doughy and quiet to get quickly out of my way this time of year. Despite being deadly, these snakes are sluggish to the point of being casual and it’s only when they are accidentally wrapped around your calves in an anxious figure of eight that they get cranky. So, I don’t go into the bush much in Kambarang season. On my way back along my driveway I see the track of a big kangaroo, dragging its tail, ambling along. I’m always looking for tracks these days.
I make a tuna salad. It sounds so American, I think, as I chop up home grown spinach and cherry tomatoes, slide the lot into a noodle bowl and squeeze half a lime into the mix. Prominent media commentators seem so focussed on end times and social division at the moment. I’m not sure, I think as I fork spinach and fish into my mouth. I realise I’m hopping between past and present tense like the historian I am. It is an ecosystem waiting for another rise of the Klan: straightened economics, cultural shifts and another inevitable wave of immigration.
There should be some writing done today, I think. That journal article I’m supposed to write. The novel that was due a week ago. A blog post maybe, the one about that man going missing out here. As usual, I stalk around my laptop like it is a beast that will bite me if I get too close. To write is to fail. I’d just like to sit on the veranda and dream. Instead, I fill the laundry trough with cold water, add detergent and my smelly clothes. With no electricity here, the washing righteously takes precedence over any literary endeavour. Then I water the spinach and coriander growing in old metal suitcases outside my front door. Smoke is everywhere in the sky. The fire, started from the epicentre of the earthquake, has blown across the country, out to sea in the morning and washed up on my doorstep by the afternoon.
I drive up the track to see if there are any messages or emails to ping in at the ‘in range’ spot beneath a huge karri that always threatens to drop a limb on my car. Yowie has messaged me about the earthquake, and when I get onto the news app, everyone says the quake happened at five am, not six am. Maybe I got the time wrong, I think. It woke me up though and I looked at the clock. It said six am. Some of my students emailed, unsure about whether their marks will be up before they graduate. My boss emails to let me know what units I’m teaching next year. The karri tree looming over me creaks and groans in the wind. The caravan of migrants marches closer to the border.
So I get back home and start writing this, because the washing is soaking, the beetroot I’d grown is pickling and I’d untangled another fifteen metres of the three hundred metres of Japanese longline that Yowie and I found on the beach a month ago. I got a bit sick of myself, writing this, and went back out to wrangle some more rope. I hope the rope didn’t kill any whales on its way through Antarctic waters.
Then I went down to the shore. It may be only fifty metres away but I don’t visit every day. This evening I followed the tracks my dog made when she went for a snoop this morning. I know her tracks. I know everyone’s tracks. Cat tracks, crow tracks, roo tracks, snake tracks, Selkie tracks, man tracks, car tracks. I went down to the shore and the sunset was pretty spectacular because of the burning. Shepherd’s delight. I thought, ‘I live here. This is my place. I am indeed blessed.’ And then I walked back up to my house, the dog doing donuts ahead of me like the five-year-old pup she is, to finish writing this blog post.