On the evening of November 12 Alice Springs experienced a sudden and violent storm. It has helped me process it, to document the following 10 days or so and it seemed to me it might be of interest to others. It is not heavily edited, it is just a series of entries like a diary with accompanying photos. This is not a ‘pity party’ it is just what happens when we have these unexpected events. Ours was small compared to the many who have lost their homes and loved ones across the country and the world these last ten days…
24 Hrs after…
We have worked very hard today and with the help of several neighbours and friends are making some headway in the cleanup task. We were able to cut away enough of the large tree that fell into the courtyard and landed on my herb garden for me to uncover the herbs. I can’t believe they might even survive! Also my six week old Grevillea that was doing beautifully was smashed down flat, but when I uncovered it and stood it up this morning it looked pretty happy. We staked it and tied it to give it some extra stability and hopefully whoever comes to finish removing the tree will avoid crushing it again. There are about four suburbs that have been smashed by what really looks like a series of small tornadoes. The tops of trees are ripped off or ripped out of the ground by the roots, both typical of tornado damage, though our storm was classified as a ‘micro-burst’. Also we have a layer of red dust that was driven through the cracks of our rammed earth house and onto every surface inside. I have been dusting and wiping and vacuuming while Don has been repairing the watering system and removing branches until we are so weary we had to stop. Many people have it worse than us, which is always the case. We are grateful we are both fine and the house is intact. I did have a cry over the trees and consequently the birdsong that was absent this morning. But there has also been the kindness of neighbours to be happy about.
36 hrs after…
Unaided by sleep, but with a need to see what the storm had brought to the scenery on my morning walk, I was up early and out the door by 5.45am. As I walked out the door I was still shocked by the 20 metre tree on its side, protruding through the courtyard fence. And yet, once again I was truly grateful it had fallen exactly between our house and the neighbours. No one injured and neither house damaged. Just the fence and spa pump/filter. The large tree at the top of our sloping block had also fallen graciously, aligned with the driveway and straight across the road, hurting no one. Had it fallen back it would have smashed our house. Had the tree out the front fallen to either side it would have smashed a house. So lucky. There will be no more big trees planted on this site. Message received. After the incessant clatter of chainsaws and leaf blowers on the weekend, the silence this morning was almost disturbing…a kind of grieving, exhausted quiet.
I walked the circuit I had done a few days before. The broken trees and damaged houses were evidence I had not dreamed it. Walking down the 8th fairway I looked ahead and saw my favourite tree. Still standing. But as I neared it I realised about a third of it lay on the ground at my feet. I studied the sight and out of my mouth came words ‘I’m so sorry baby. I’m so sorry.’ I photographed it to compare to the photo I printed that was taken on my walk three days before the ‘Blow’. It would be my next painting. It was especially poignant now seeing its diminished state. I couldn’t force my feet to move, they rooted me in place while I began grieving for the tree. When I finally moved along I saw other familiar shapes that I had photographed over the years, now sadly misshapen, which is saying a lot given some of my particular favourites are bent and have rather extreme shapes to begin with. To me they were beautiful. Wabi-sabi. (Perfectly imperfect) They will be again.
When I finally reached the home stretch I was devastated to see the damage to the grove of large old gum trees, again that I had photographed only days before as the morning light shone through the trees and grasses. It hit me like a blow to the gut as I walked home into the morning sun and cool breeze. When I arrived home Don was pulling his suitcase out to load into the car for our trip to the airport. He looked at me and asked ‘how was your walk?’. I pointed toward the west, from where the storm had come, and as my mouth opened my voice cracked into tears and I said ‘Oh the trees, the trees are so devastated. My favourite tree will recover but it will not be the same.’ He encouraged me by saying ‘You can document its recovery.’ Yes, I will.
Four Days after the storm…
The birds are trying to reorganise themselves, having lost the trees in which they had nests, and the perches from which they sang and watched the neighbourhood. The Galahs have taken to sitting in a tree that will be removed in due course and they will have to move on again. They seem strangely displaced but amenable to the new circumstances at the same time.
On Wednesday after the Saturday storm I am still trying to get someone to come and take away a huge broken branch that is sitting up in the tree near the road and the top of our driveway. Have rung Emergency Services twice and consulted with the Town Council who says they can’t help because it is on private property (though I note they CAN take lots of taxes from that same private property to pay for things other than public safety). I have also called multiple tree trimmers, yet I still have this problem of a dangerous branch hanging precariously over the road and the footpath! One fellow who is still cutting trees off of houses says he will come have a look when he gets a chance and that is the closest I’ve come to getting anything done. The worry and distraction of it has me unable to do anything creative so I’m washing windows (as it rains, but only windows that are under cover, out of the rain) and vacuuming and mopping up red dirt from the floors that came in during the storm. It is some of the least fun I’ve had in a while and today it occurred to me this entire year has been given over to renovations and renewal of the house, garden, and my physical person. I’m over it but do realise we have no say in these matters, we just have to go with the flow.
The herbs that were flattened have indeed declared their will to carry on and look perky and none the worse for their ordeal. The same is true for the grevillea bush.
This morning I walked yet another route, skirting by the Olive Pink Botanic Garden. The tree damage there is substantial too, ranging from large branches to whole trees being torn out. I have also noticed the local birds are busy trying to rearrange themselves now that their favourite roosting trees are gone. The gardener who came here to advise me about the dangling branch on the verge, was telling me after the storm on Saturday she sat out in her garden and was sure the birds sounded quite upset and disturbed by what had happened. No doubt.
The big guns have been throwing around the debris from the storm like it is chip packets, onto backs of trucks to become green waste at the tip. The sound of chainsaws and backhoes, leaf blowers and trucks on our small urban street are almost welcome now. I know it means progress in cleaning up what we cannot deny and what is done. Part of my brain goes into denial when I look out the kitchen window at the remnants of a beautiful tree that will no longer wear bird nests nor provide perches for the dawn chorus. We all grieve in different ways and for different relationships. Life is full of grief, as the Queen reminded us ‘grief is the price we pay for loving’. So I love trees, animals and art as well as humans and good health and a dozen other things, and likewise I grieve for them, each in my own way for what they have meant.
The wind is quite strong again just now and I wonder if I will ever get over the anxiety of it after last Saturday. Wind has never been my favourite of Mother Nature’s creations, and yet of course I know it is necessary, or at least unavoidable. We are the interlopers here, trying to live with nature in our unskilled human way. Hopefully when the tall trees left are trimmed and the loose debris carried away and the repairs are done I will lose this excess anxiety…and resume my normal anxiety.
The recovery is also down to Nature. I noticed this morning the little herb garden is flourishing, almost as if that smack on the head was a wake up call! Though I suspect it was more likely to be the 15ml or so rain and overcast skies we’ve had that have aided their recovery. There has been noticeable change every day since the storm. Gardens love warmth and rain and a little sun but not our usual very hot temps this time of year.
Today is a full week after the day after.
The insurance company is sending someone in a couple of days and there are no storms predicted this week. I’m feeling calmer and still mindful of those who have suffered so much worse in the terrible floods in New South Wales. Yesterday I was actually able to get into the studio again and do some creating. I began painting my favourite tree. It felt so good to be able to do something positive and especially something with a tree in it.
This morning I woke knowing the cooler, dryer change had come in over night. I walked before 6am and felt the cool breeze on my skin. The sun was already up and I needed sunglasses. Every day I see more tree damage that I hadn’t noticed previously. The estimate of 10,000 is probably right. The tree above and to the side of my clothesline rubs damaged branches together reminding me it will need a major trim as soon as someone is available to do it. The day is dry and breezy and a pleasure to hang sheets and clothes on the line. Most of the time I’m happy to not have a clothes dryer. I would miss the crystal sky, the sketchy clouds and the day the Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermals above me.
Day 11 Final entry
The cleanup has begun in earnest at our place. The beaver patrol arrived before 9am yesterday and dispatched the once gorgeous Eucalyptus Sideroxylon into pieces. The skilled Kubota operator picking up each section operating delicate steel fingers and lifting it on the truck to be taken away. More grief. But relief. The grevillea was spared as was the small rosemary bush that struggled to live three times now, with serious disruptions but a will to grow.
Last evening a family of Pied Butcher Birds visited. They occasionally come to inspect the area where I feed the crested pigeons, but there is only ever seed, and they are meat/insect eaters. Seeing the largest one come up to inspect the feeding area, I quickly remembered the fresh ground beef mince I had in the fridge and grabbed a teaspoon or so of it and went outside. I slowly approached the feeding plate and the curious Butcher Bird surprisingly took a couple of steps toward me. I placed the meat on the plate in three small dabs all the while its large eyes following me. As soon as I backed away it grabbed all three dabs quickly and turned to a smaller bird to its side and fed it! Mum feeding her adolescent child. Magic.
Everything will be ok. Different. But ok.