Sunday 29 December 2019

Summer Retreat

[Image: A dry rocky riverbed with a smattering of green bushes. A vibrant blue sky can be seen in the distance between rising rock faces on either side. A man walks in the distance away from camera wearing a maroon top and jeans.]

The official retreat has begun. The heat sits just outside the window. Sneaking around gaps of poor fitting blinds to enter the house. The drone of the air conditioner the music of Summer. A perilous lifesaver in a time where blackouts are predicted as an ongoing part of the Summer.

It’s hot and the country burns. Heat records broken day after day. Wildlife and land decimated. Lives and homes lost. And Summer just begun.

We’ve been lucky here. Our little pocket of the country has escaped the worst of heat and flame. So far. Always the reminder that it’s only ever so far. As I write, local emergency services are encouraging mass evacuations for tomorrow. Preparations for the possibility of the worst. Just to the East of us.


So far.



Once we lived in the hills around Melbourne. The cool of the tree ferns and mountain ash a boon in Summer. The difference in temperature from CBD to hills a welcome balm in the oppressive Summer heat. Particularly for a body that no longer functioned like other bodies. But not now. I miss our old house, but not the ever-present fire threat. The preparation, plan and pack. Beauty and danger in equal measure. A road that the CFA said they couldn’t protect. Watching Elvis turning over our house, carrying hope and water in equal measure. Evacuation down congested panicked roads as ash and sparks started to fall. Trying to convince my stubborn elderly neighbour to evacuate with us. The blood-red skies of Black Saturday and the weeks that followed. 

I still miss the cooler times. The thick mountain mists. The mimicry of the lyrebirds, the slow amble of the echidnas in the garden. But not the warmth. Not the rise in worry that matched the yearly rise in temperatures. Not the knowledge that my disabled body would be unable to escape without aid.

The heat rises and the danger with it.

Summer is now all harsh edges and scouring surfaces. And we stretch thin under its gaze.


Here in flat country suburbia, concrete and bitumen reflect and reinforce the heat. Reclaimed cow paddocks, denuded over years of bucolic servitude have left little in the way of natural canopy. Generic, cloned replantings do little to alleviate heat or the claustrophobia it brings. Artificial spaces forcefully imposed on the environment they don't understand yet seek to control. Crisp lawns stretch down street fronts. Buffalo grass taken by opportunistic scruffy parched weeds usually resilient, but even they bow and wilt under a relentless sun. The streets are empty of life. Human and animal. The blowflies seek the cooler shadows where they fall under ineffectual house eaves. Sun, concrete and bitumen work only to extract the last breath or final drop of moisture. Extinguishing life by bare presence rather than any show of effort.

Drought’s grip was strong long before the heat arrived. Now their combination has largely stripped green from the colour wheel. Small patches of artificial irrigation represent green anomalies in the parched brown and grey landscape. But even the remaining colours are faded remnants of past glory. Miss Havisham’s bitter touch rests everywhere, and the lacework that was one wetlands, bush and lush paddocks, but a husk.


My body can feel the warmth outside. The air that flows down to my supine body softens the ragged edges branded into flesh by external heat, but never quite meets the mark. I exist simultaneously outside on the scorched lawn as on the soft sheets of my bed. I hurt and I shake. My chest feels tight. Pre-existing health issues ramp up with the knowledge of what exists outside cheap brick and glass. I actively try to ignore what the days and months ahead will hold. What the years to come will hold for all the bodies like mine. But it creeps in because it must. If I can’t cope now what will happen as temperatures stretch ever higher? Ever longer?

Heat is an ever-present worry that collects other worries as the days stretch out.

Worry that the power could go out. Worry that my body will fall into cascade failure should the airconditioning cease. The worry that all my planning will amount to nothing. That in the end, the land on which I live will outwit me. Always the worry on worry on worry.

After years of proactive retreat on the hottest of days, I tested the waters. An important family event unavoidable. 40+C inside a stadium, radiant heat outside disintegrating flesh from every angle. Excruciating chest pain radiating up neck and jaw, moving down my arm. Pacemaker kicking in. Vision fading. A rising panic, part physiological, part the well-worn knowledge of what was happening from times past. Ice vest, ice water, cotton clothing, fans. All of it pointless. A reminder of heats bite on a body that cannot cope with temperature extremes. A reminder that it is only the dull droning overhead that keeps me upright. Well, supine, but breathing.

Still recovering. Always caught in still recovering. And always the next hot day, after the next and the next. Heat creates an ever-decreasing level of recovery for a body that was already in the red from added illness on illness that I had yet to recover from in cooler times.

Still, I dip the toe and pretend to function. For myself as much as others. Dip my toe and reap what I sow. Dip my toe or have no life. But how do I ever truly dip the toe as the heat grips us so tight?

Self-care now becomes ever more intertwined with retreat. 

Isolation the norm.


The heat beats on relentlessly outside. The light is sharp and thin. We plan again for the worsts. The area holds its breath. Mandatory evacuations begin. Retreat before tomorrows predicted onslaught. The East already burns. It's burned far longer than media has deigned to report. Out of control in inhospitable, stunning mountain landscapes. The air quality is poor here, far from the flames. Hazard warnings reign where the gums explode and the ash rain falls. Another crisis yet to reveal itself as fetid air fills lungs of locals and firies for months on end.

Relentless retreat.


Where once we would retreat to the hills for cooler climes or to the coast for cool saltwater.
Now we retreat from nature
For self-preservation.
Anathema to the heart. And yet….

Retreat inside.
To artificial cooling for artificial life.
Retreat and hope the power stays on.
Retreat and prepare.


The long hot Summers that stretch ever longer.
The long hot Summers that wreak havoc on dysfunctional flesh.
The long hot Summers that shrink life.
The long hot Summers that exhaust body and mind.


The days stretch.

And I enter my confinement.
Dark and claustrophobic spaces.
Where I dream in hot, flustered and irritated walls.
For a time where memories of flight and self-preservation will fade
and retreat will once more mean
and reverie.