Living Through Fires

There is no doubt that the memories formed from lived experiences of stress and anxiety leave indelible marks on us. I am one of the lucky escapees. For all of you out there who are dealing with the aftermath of fire right now, be it through loss of property or mental anguish at the devastation you see around you, my heart aches for you and I wish you the swiftest recovery possible. I hope you can find positives and take joy in your two and four-legged loved ones. Today, with the fires downgraded and hopefully some relief for firefighters and affected residents, I thought I would repost a beautiful experience I had post fires back in 2014. With hindsight, I see more in this event that I did even at the time. There was a conscious awareness here, the animals knew and were relating to my state of mind. The four of us had shared the fear and uncertainty. It was a moment of bonding and mutual understanding that I’ll never forget.

For anyone who has lived through the devastating impacts of bushfires, the most recent spate of fires around the state would have no doubt triggered all kinds of emotions. In the area I live we’ve had two major fire events in the past ten years. On both occasions my pets, family and my property have been spared, but we were not spared the heartache of watching close friends and community lose so much and slowly, painfully, rebuild their lives. Just this week, I shared a flight from Sydney to Melbourne with a group of men and women from the NSW Rural Fire Service, who were flying down to offer much needed assistance. It might seem a little over the top, and it sure was a little embarrassing, but when I saw this group of magnificent human beings in their uniforms and realised their intentions, the tears flowed.

First posted 15 February, 2014:

So in spite of good intentions it’s been a long time between blog posts, but tonight I had an experience so special to me that I just have to write about it. It’s been an eventful week, to say the least. Starting last Sunday with a hurried evacuation of myself, the three horses and my dog, Sniff.

When you live on a country property in Australia, every summer you live with the threat of fires. There has been many occasions when I’ve known a fire is close by, not least on Black Saturday five years ago when I watched with dread and horror the massive plume of smoke, only a dozen kilometres east of us, and listened to the terrifying news reports that told me of the devastation and havoc that smoke represented.

But this time it was my home in the line of fire. The massive plume of smoke to the south was coming towards us, and it was travelling fast. So I loaded the horses, put the dog in the car, and left to spend a sleepless night wondering if, in the morning my house might still be where I left it, only for the fire to pass by us, then start up again the next day for us to relive the helpless and hapless tension all over again a second time. My property escaped the flames twice, and for that I am eternally grateful, and I thank the amazing volunteers from the Country Fire Authority and their wonderful aerial water bombers. Not so lucky were some of my good friends and neighbours. Some lost fences, shedding, pasture. Devastatingly, a few lost their homes. Two very dear friends of mine had the fire sweep through their home like a tornado and leave only wreckage behind. Thankfully, no one lost their lives. So, as I said, an eventful week of processing stress, fear, anxiety, relief for my personal situation, and distress for those not so fortunate.

But tonight, the thick smoke that has hung in the air since Monday has for the most part cleared, the temperature outside is mild, there is a bright moon and the stars are out in force. So before bed I took a late night stroll outside to the horses to stand with them and just breathe them in, as I sometimes do.

Horses have been a part of my life for a very long time, around forty five years or so. There is always something to learn from them and I can still be surprised, but I have to say my experience tonight was something completely new for me. The three horses are the two Australian Stock Horses who were born and bred here, the lovely Palomino mare, Cadence, and my special little chestnut gelding, Jaspar, and of course the handsome big bay Standardbred gelding, Ernie. All three are beautifully natured, willing and amiable. So I wandered out in the dappled moonlight. Jaspar was lying down, the other two standing. I trod quietly toward Jaspar, hoping he would be relaxed enough to just stay lying and not get up. He did, and he was so relaxed he stayed right where he was as I lay down beside him in the grass. The other two looked on for a while. Ernie came up for a closer look at me, then moved away a bit before folding his long legs and lying nearby. Cadence came then. She dropped her head and stood quietly for a few minutes, then she too lay down.

So there I was under the night sky, in bed, as it were, with my three favourite ponies. The only sound was the steady breathing of the horses as we all lay there and the odd random creak of a tree branch. We stayed that way, peacefully resting together, for half an hour or so. For me, it was a gift. A time to sit in silence, to reflect and to just be. I breathed it all in, from the large dark shadows of the horses, the silhouettes of the trees and the rolling hills around us, across the paddocks to the twinkling town lights some ten kilometres in the distance.

Eventually, I got up and quietly walked away. The horses were dozing. They were aware of me leaving, I am certain, but not disturbed at all. It’s difficult to put into words how enriching, and nourishing that half an hour was to me. I read recently that being near horses is therapeutic for people, lowering heart rates and promoting calm. That has always been my experience, but laying in a field with three of them at rest around me, that was something special, and it was soul defining.