Wednesday, 24 August 2016

For dad

Last summer there was a large bushfire north of Esperance in Western Australia. As we drove north to Norseman from Esperance yesterday we drove through areas that were burnt in that fire and near Grass Patch we stopped to have a closer look.

Burnt mallee at Grass Patch
It was a reserve of mallee - mallee eucalypt trees, banksias and other small shrubs. The regrowth was just starting and because the trees are mallee they regrow from the base rather than epicormic shoots along the branches. It would be an ideal time to identify species of eucalypt because the juvenile growth is distinctly different.

I was somewhat surprised to see that a number of small shrubs and forbs were flowering and I found three different orchids as well. All of these were found within fifty metres of our parked car.

Curry Flower Lysinema ciliatum

As I wandered through the blackened landscape I had my father in my thoughts. We were south of Perth on our holiday in Western Australia, visiting a cousin, when we had word that my father, Angus Wyllie, had died after a short illness. After considering alternatives we decided to immediately drive back to Victoria with the van. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that we don't usually travel quickly but we put our running shoes on and, apart from short lunch and coffee stops, just kept going.

I was thinking about dad because one of the many good things he did in his ninety-five years was to volunteer as a firefighter in his local brigade at Homerton. Sometimes he was captain of the brigade. Every summer the truck was called out to various fires. In the days when dad was involved, in the 1950s and 1960s, There weren't as many rules and regulations as there are now so the brigade was a bit like 'Dad's Army' but they got the job done.

I also got to thinking about life and death, growth and regrowth, how fire in the Australian bush doesn't usually kill. Many plants need the heat and the smoke in order to generate from seed and many trees, like the mallees, have developed survival techniques. Dad was a farmer and a thinker and a lay preacher and he enjoyed using a metaphor in his sermons so I think he would approve of me thinking about him in a burnt forest. Especially so because he has chosen to be cremated. He has lived a very good life and his genes continue in many children, grandchildren and  great-grandchildren who all loved him.

Western Australia, we will be back.

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