Weight(less)

When we headed off in December to Airey’s Inlet, a little beach-side town in Victoria, Australia, about 1.5 hrs from Melbourne, our car was jammed with stuff.

This stuff included: a suitcase full of sheets, bath towels, pillowcases, beach towels, books, phone chargers, bluetooth speaker, magazines, crossword puzzle books. Bags packed with clothes, underwear, shoes, thongs, bathers, sunblock, shampoo, soap. An eski full of perishable food that would be wasted if we left it behind. A laptop, our mobile phones, and our three human bodies, filled up the rest of the small Ford Focus hatchback.  There was probably just enough space left for the oxygen required for three people to breathe for 1.5 hours.

As always, I had underestimated how much we would take. As is also the norm, I also underestimated how long we would take to pack it all.

I should have remembered that we’ve are not the sort of people who, when going away for a week, pack everything the night before, set alarms for 4.30am, hit the road at 5am with a thermos of coffee, and then drive until we break for breakfast in some charming little country bakery at 7.30am.

We are very much like the type of people who set an alarm for 7.30 in the morning, but when it goes off, hit the snooze button a few times because we’re on holiday. We’ll reluctantly rise at 8, have a leisurely breakfast, and then finish our packing, since, the night before, we went to the effort of getting the bags out, which counts as starting the packing.

While packing we’ll also intermittently spend time watering the garden and the indoor plants, paying a few bills, and texting a friend to see if they can collect the mail. When we are close to being packed we realise it’s almost lunchtime, and it seems silly to leave right when we need to eat, so then we stop and and have lunch. Then we spend time cleaning up the kitchen after lunch, at which point we decide we must really get a wriggle on. 1-2 hours after lunch, with luck, we are usually ready to run back into the house one more time to check that the upstairs window is really locked, and then off we go, almost always no later than about 2.30pm.

 

IMG_3802

Sunset, (no filters!) from Airey’s Inlet beach, looking towards Lorne, 30/12/15 (fire still burning)

Given the amount of time we took to pack for 1 week, and the volume of stuff we brought with us, when I was down at Airey’s Inlet, I thought of the people living or holidaying a few kilometres further down the Great Ocean Road, who did not have 6 hours to plan their departure and think about what to take, when the police knocked on their door on Christmas Day. According to reports, people had only minutes when they got the evacuation warning, or smelled the smoke from the approaching bushfire just as they sat down to their Christmas lunch.

On Christmas Day 2015, in the towns of Wye River, Kennett River, Separation Creek, and Lorne, people fled, with their kids, with their pets, with their passports, with their mobile phones. They didn’t take much else.

On that day, the Lorne – Jamieson Track bushfire that had been burning for over a week destroyed 116 houses in two tiny towns. Some loved animals on country properties were not saved; talking to reporters later on, the owners broke down in tears. They had to make decisions in an instant, and grab the things dearest to them. In many cases, they now have nothing but the clothes on their backs, their pet, their passport and their phone.

I look around me as I write this now, a month or so later, in my room at home. What I see everywhere are possessions: a bed, a chest, a pile of clothes, an old mannequin draped in a scarf and handbag, a CD rack, a stereo system, CDs, pictures, a chest of drawers. A chair, a bedside table, a pile of books, right in front of me is my laptop, and next to me, lying carelessly on the bed, my phone, my purse, and my glasses case. The room is filled with things that function to provide comfort, to entertain me, and to facilitate my activities and hobbies.

I try to imagine how I would react in an evacuation, whether I would make rational decisions, and what I would take, and I kid myself that I am imagining it accurately, but I have never been in that situation so of course, I can’t know the palpable fear that you must surely feel when you can smell the smoke of a bushfire, see the sky darkening, and the police have just told you that if you don’t leave within the next 5 minutes emergency services will be unable to help you.

Then I try to imagine something different – the aftershock. How it would feel to have all of this taken away in a day, after having 5 minutes to salvage whatever I could. I can remember how it feels to be in shock, and I guess it would feel like that – surreal, as if I was walking around in a dream; too difficult for the brain to make any sense of.

There is a kind of weightlessness, almost, in that state, as if you are floating: because you’ve heard the worst thing imaginable, nothing else can hurt you now.

In the hypothetical situation where I had lost my home and everything in it, naturally I would be upset about the loss of all the physical items – clothes, books, CDs and furniture, but I’d be most devastated about the loss of my memories. I am a hoarder of memories, and they are stored chaotically, all over the place: in boxes of photo albums that chart my life from the age of about 12 until about 10 years ago when we finally got a digital camera; on the computer, laptop and portable hard drives that hold all the photos we’ve taken since then, and, only occasionally in frames scattered in the living room. There are copies of the few articles I’ve ever had published, and all the writing I’ve drafted and never had published or never finished. There are boxes stored in the ceiling, filled with the diaries I kept continuously from Grade 6 until about 10 years ago; and other boxes full of old letters, birthday cards, and drawings my daughter did when she was little; and there’s the folder I put together after my brother died, filled with mementos of him.

Together, all those material possessions and all those mementos of the past accumulate into a very large volume of stuff that I feel is a part of my life.

So it’s easy to imagine that it must feel quite unreal when you come back to your former home after a bushfire, and discover that everything you thought was solid and stable – your house, and all your material items, and all of your memories, have all just blown away in a puff of smoke. Weightless.

 

Airey's Inlet beach, looking towards Lorne, morning, 31/12/15

Airey’s Inlet beach, looking towards Lorne, morning, 31/12/15, fire still burning (and this was another high risk day)

 

*At time of first drafting this post in early January, the fire was still burning in the Otways and still not under control. It had, at that point, burned 45km or 2500 hectares. 

*PS, this post was pretty much drafted in full a few weeks ago, in response to a Daily Post photo challenge with the theme of weightless, but then David Bowie died and I decided to write about the lyrics of his that the theme of weightless brought to mind. Then I forgot I had a drafted post ready to go!

Advertisements
Leave a comment

6 Comments

  1. weebluebirdie

     /  February 3, 2016

    As ever, a layered and poignant post.

    We’re dawdlers at holiday time too. A tiny car, but only three of us, so more room for stuff! We often go to an island, and are booked on a ferry; otherwise we’d never leave until teatime. One year Himself forgot to book the ferry until the last minute – so only the early ferry had spaces. By early, I mean 9:30. But it did mean the whole pack the night before thing and up at dawn. We were all disgruntled – he’s booked in plenty of time since then!

    I have so much stuff in our home, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to leave at a moment’s notice. Though I do keep a box of photos by the bed in case of emergency leaving in the night! Like you, my memories are stashed randomly in whatever space they can be fitted around the house.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Thank you very much, I’m glad you liked it! I admire those really organised people – they must achieve so much more in life than I do! Yes it’s difficult to imagine which few things I’d grab in an evacuation. Maybe I need a box by the bed too!

      Like

      Reply
  2. This is another heartbreaking post. Thanks for helping me put things in perspective (yet again).

    I think I may be falling in love with your blog a bit. 🙂 Forgive me if I’ve been commenting too much lately!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Hello again, and thanks again for commenting! I’m not in the position of getting so many comments on a post that they are a burden just yet! 😜 I just wrote a 3 paragraph comment on someone else’s blog last night – that really deserved an apology! Having said that I wouldn’t mind a 3 para comment – I think any conversation inspired by a post is welcome & often stimulates more ideas! So comment away!

      Like

      Reply
  3. There seem to be two main issues here (apart from the frightful losses incurred by bush fires – thankfully something we don’t see much of in London): time management and being ensnared by possessions.

    I’ve never been too bad with time, partly because I have an almost pathological fear of being late. When we travel, we take an airline-approved cabin bag each and I pack mine the day before we leave. Next morning we pick up our bags and go. We have no car to weigh us down.

    People vary in their need for possessions and most of us keep far more than we actually need. Ten years ago, I left one life and embarked on a new one and, as a result, had to get rid of practically everything I owned apart from some clothes, one or two books and some photos. Since then, I have accumulated a modest new collection, but the experience has taught me the transience of ‘things’.

    I think the importance of belongings comes from the meaning we invest in them. They become, in a sense, an extension of the self. Loss of an important item can feel like a virtual amputation. You catch yourself (figuratively and sometimes actually) reaching for something that is no longer there. Its absence diminishes you in some way. And yet, when push comes to shove, we can do with precious little though that little is apt to seem very precious indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • True Silver Tiger. I think that a house is the thing that we invest a lot of meaning into – perhaps some of us more than others. A friend of mine related to me recently, how upset she was to drive past the site of the house she’d grown up in as a kid, in a suburb of Melbourne, and find that it had been bulldozed to make way for apartments. She was so upset on seeing this that she had to pull over and phone her sister. For some people a house represents their childhood or the life they lived in it and it’s emotional to see that disappear. I admire you for leaving all your possessions and learning from that. I’d like to think I could do without most of mine if I had to…..but some things would be harder than others to give up. And losing everything all at once – photos, etc, as well as clothes, books and the rest, would definitely leave me feeling like I’d lost a part of myself.

      Like

      Reply

Blather away!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: