It’s amazing, isn’t it, how quickly humans can adapt? When the first whiff of bushfire smoke arrived, we all anxiously tried to find out where the fire was. Now we’re blanketed in smoke most of the time, often thicker smoke than in the 2003 bushfires, and we just go about our days as usual because we know the fires aren’t on the doorstep.
We’ve got used to the catch in the throat, the slight cough. We’ve got used to staying indoors on really smoky days but venturing outside when the air quality improves marginally. I’m drying my clothes inside and am not walking or swimming as often as I’d like to, but this already feels like the new normal.
A few days before Christmas I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to the family gathering because of road closures and a fire in the area, but on Christmas Eve I actually forgot to check the road and fire situation and just headed off. It was only after I’d been driving on the deserted highway for an hour that I thought, “Hmm. I wonder if the road is closed.”
The Christmas cake this year was a triumph. I’ve had many Christmas cake failures and was starting to get a complex, but this one was a hit. It’s Persian fruitcake, from Bake for Syria. I made a half size one, which is just as well because it was so good that we might have gobbled up our body weight in Christmas cake otherwise. It contains none of the dreaded mixed fruit, just figs, apricots and prunes. There were meant to be dates in it as well but I ate them. There was also meant to be pistachio marzipan, but pistachios were as expensive as frankincense, so I made do with ready-to-roll almond marzipan and it was fine.
We did well on the presents, each of us choosing things that the others really liked. Unintentionally, we’d all done most of our shopping in independent shops in country towns, and this seemed to make the presents feel more special.
On Christmas Day I went for a longish, smoky walk while others were napping. On the sports field there was a man in a santa hat playing a drum (a djembe?) and the rhythm was so hypnotic I was tempted to stand next to him and dance. If I’d had a dancey friend with me, I might have done. Instead I walked to the beat of the drum and clapped him as I left. He gave me a cheery wave and drummed on.
On Boxing Day my sister and I found ourselves at a breakfast where we were considered youngsters. I’m a shade over the half century and she’s a shade under it, but to the rest of the company we seemed almost embryonic. A cheeky octogenarian asked me where my better half was and I said, “There isn’t one. I’m the better half. In fact, I’m the better whole.” Everyone laughed, and I thought about how that question would have bothered me even a couple of years ago but now it doesn’t.
There was only one tough bit, when I took myself out of the house to get away from a situation. I went to a park and sat on a bench next to a tree under which some ashes are buried. The tree is about to bloom. It’s a deep pink crepe myrtle, which wouldn’t have been his choice but you don’t get a say when you’re dead. I said, “Help. Give me some tips on how to deal with this.” I didn’t sit there for long, but on the walk home I thought of a way to fix something and I realised that some people have a communication style which probably isn’t going to change and I need to find a different way to react to it. So that was a relief.
Now we’re in the in-between days, post Christmas and pre New Year. I love this bit. It’s hard to say what I’ve been doing. There’s been napping and/or sleeping in. There’s been a lot of cobbling together of meals from whatever’s in the freezer/fridge/cupboard because I really don’t feel like going to the shops. I’ve looked at the pile of books I keep meaning to read and I don’t feel like reading any of them. They seem a bit worthy. I’ve borrowed a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, so I might have a go at that. I watched the whole series of The Day on SBS and enjoyed it. It’s set in Belgium and the characters speak Dutch but say “ça va” and “sorry” a lot, which, as a language nerd, I find interesting.
My main task for today is to pack a suitcase for Brisbane. A friend and I are going to a New Year’s Eve extravaganza, but other than that there are no plans. The Water exhibition at the art gallery looks good. Mostly I’m hoping for a few smoke-free days and looking forward to air-conditioned nights and crisp hotel sheets. Perhaps while I’m away it’ll rain all over New South Wales and the smoke will be gone when I get back. Let’s hope for that. See you in the new decade!