When the fires hit the forest around Mallacoota the birds where blown out to sea.
They returned, washed up on the beaches.
I always thought that birds, at least, unlike their ground-dweller cousins, could escape bushfire. But not this one. This land of ‘drought’ and ‘flooding rains’ is now a land of megafire. The sacrifice of native life for our failure to act is heartbreaking. Those birds that flew out to sea knew how big this fire was and had nowhere else to go. Certainly, the koalas had nowhere to go other than screaming up to the crown of trees on fire and to their painful death. The cataclysm of these fires in Australia is a stark confrontation with the reality of the climate crisis confronting us. We also have nowhere to go. We can only stay and undergo the work of transfiguration; the spiritual metanoia that changes the way we see, the way we ‘figure things out’.
Fire in this country has always been part of the landscape. It was mostly friend. Bill Neidje a Gagadju man, writes:
“This earth, I never damage. I look after.
Fire is nothing, just clean up.
When you burn, new grass coming up.
That mean good animal soon. Might be goose, long-neck turtle, goanna, possum. Burn him off, new grass coming up, new life all over.
I don’t know about white European way. We, Aborigine burn. Make things grow……”
White European ways have eschewed the wisdom of the first peoples of this country, and the science of climate change. Our home is now being described as the ‘canary in the coal mine’. The fires that have ravaged this country are symbolic of the fires of the passion for money and power and our intractable distraction that brings not life but death. Consumer consciousness has the whole globe in its grip. We are divorced from reality and need seriously to wake up; to be transfigured. Contemplative consciousness hears and sees the whole of Life and also bears the pain of present crucifixions.
Bill Neidje again:
They can’t listen for us.
They just listen for money.
We want goose, we want fish.
Other men want money.
Him can make million dollars,
But only last for one year.
Next year him want another million.
Forever and ever him make million dollars.
Million no good for us.
We need this earth to live because
We’ll be dead,
We’ll become earth.
This ground and this earth
Like brother and mother.
Trees and eagle.
You know eagle?
He can listen.
Eagle our brother
Like dingo our brother.
We like this earth to stay,
Because he was staying for ever and ever.”
This Gagadju man speaks the clear and simple language of one whose connection to country, to home, is grounded in his very bones and blood and heart.
Do we have the heart to change? I don’t know. The risk that we are at a threshold for a ‘tipping cascade’ is increasing. In Australia we have mega-fires, massive and frequent dust storms and damaging hail- storms in different parts of the country at the same time. If the fires didn’t get the birds the hail- storm, we are told, killed hundreds of them. The terrifying thought hit me a couple of weeks ago as I walked across the bridge in Moruya to see if the road home had opened. We had evacuated to our own church in town to escape the fires. It was hot and windy and swirling smoke and ash filled the air, the sound and sight of planes (water bombers), and a red-orange sky made for a sense of apocalypse. What if this is going to be the ‘new normal’ I thought? It seems entirely plausible now. The image returns to me as though it were something I watched on the screen. Hard to believe it was real. But it was. And it seems increasingly likely that we will live through this again, and again.
Many are filled with deep grief, anger and despair or just apathy as we live through these times. But we must return, come home, to Love. We must go through this by way of Love, come what may. Contemplative and compassionate action may the most powerful response we can make.
The birds who flew out to sea could not come home. Perhaps we might commit to coming home for them?
Please engage in contemplative action in whatever way you can. Write to politicians, protest peacefully but with deep conviction, join climate and renewable energy groups. We cannot wait any longer.
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Linda Chapman is the founder of and primary inspiration behind Open Sanctuary