Making Lemonade

Making Lemonade #24: Lemon emergencies

All the things we choose to bring with us vs. all the things we leave behind

Cross-posted from SubstackView original post.

Hey friends,

This week’s been a big week.

Around 12 noon on Tuesday, a bushfire started in the hills behind my house. 48 hours later, as I write this, it’s under control, and fortunately, no houses were lost, but we lost over 650 hectares of bushland (6.5 sq km), and many people had to evacuate in fear for their lives.

It spread quickly. By mid-afternoon, the sky was filled with smoke, the light was eerily yellow, and my phone was constantly dinging with emergency warnings. While the cat hid under the table, I packed up my most valuable possessions and carted them out to the car.

In that situation, it’s hard to know what to grab. In my case: a laundry basket with some clothes; passports; hard drives; jewellery that belonged to my late grandmother; my grandfather’s 1950s Kodak 1 – which is far more important to me than my own camera – the last birthday card my mum wrote to me before her Alzheimer’s properly set in; books my friend lent to me; and a random selection of my many notebooks, grabbed from the shelves.

I called my partner and asked what he wanted. He said his passport, his Kindle, and some clothes. Far more practical than sentimental, he said he didn’t want to lose his place in the book he was reading. With the car loaded up with my stuff, I didn’t feel like pointing out that it auto-syncs to your phone, anyway.

The fire from my neighbour’s driveway, the smoke behind my house, dampening down the gutters, and a smokey sunset

I then walked around the house, taking photos of the rooms I’d lived in for the last three years – one of my top tips in case your house ever burns down and you need to make an insurance claim.

For someone who’s never actually had their house burn down (although it has come close a couple of times), I know a lot about emergency planning and evacuating.

Working in Nepal and Guatemala in emergency zones and weathering a very destructive fire on the beach in Cambodia definitely helped, on that front. Though there, we had to resort to making human chains on the beach to pass up buckets of water to pour on the flames.

This time, it was like watching a well-oiled machine – a spotter plane; two massive aircraft dropping crimson fire retardant to create chemical breaks; two helicopters sucking water from local dams and swimming pools; and an on-ground support team of over 350 firies and vollies (as they are known here), working together in harmony.

That night, after making the decision to stay put for the time being, we rode our bikes to the end of the road and stood by the cops at the roadblock. It was incredibly humbling to watch the fires burning bright on the hills, feeling equal parts mesmerised and terrified by the destructive powers of nature.

Firefighting in Cambodia an entirely different kettle of fish (Otres 2, Jan 2017)

It was bad. But the bad can sometimes bring out the good, too.

That evening, I met more of my neighbours than I have in the three years I’ve lived here. I had more offers of help than I could count on both my hands. We all reached out and checked in on each other. There were offers of food and drinks and places to stay for people who couldn’t get home behind the road blockages.

In times of crisis, it’s amazing how a community comes together. People with personal fire fighting equipment were putting out spotfires on the creek and patrolling people’s properties who had already evacuated. Others were offering helping hands, transport, safe places for horses and animals, and even setting up roadside tables with snacks and refreshments for the hardworking crews.

Though, of course, there was the not-so-good. Because apparently, altruism cannot exist in a vacuum.

There were the rubberneckers, cars piled with people coming by to get as close as they could to watch the chaos unfold, slowly doing laps around the neighbourhood, day and night. And the looters, who wasted no time breaking into just-evacuated houses, and the unmarked cop cars chasing them down; all cruising around the streets following quad bikes, horse floats laden with evacuating animals, cars filled with a lifetime of valuable possessions, and trucks ferrying machinery like of harm’s way, like some weird Wacky Races MarioKart conga line, set against a backdrop of flames and smoke.

It was surreal.

The blue cross is my house. The unfocused photo (oops) is from Tuesday night. By this point, it had burned through almost 6.5 hectares of bushland and destroyed a lot of infrastructure

Now we’re on the other side, my heart is only just catching up with my mind. I wasn’t expecting to feel so flustered. After all, this isn’t my first rodeo or brush with disaster, but it is one of my first so close to home.

Earlier, I heard sirens rushing past while I was at the supermarket and even though it was illogical, I worried something had changed, feared the roads would be blocked again and they wouldn’t let me in. I felt the panic rising as I drove the 15 minutes home, anxiously scanning the horizon for signs of smoke. Fortunately, there were none. The hills are eerily calm and quiet. Though it’ll be a few days before the ground stops smouldering and it’s safe to go up there and check it out.

Tuesday afternoon vs. Wednesday afternoon. The firefighters did such an incredible job.

Now the actual emergency has passed, my freeze response has kicked in good. I can’t concentrate. Writing this has taken me an age, already, and if I hadn’t made a promise to myself to post something every week, I may have opted out. All my articles have gone on the back-burner. So too was all the content I was trying to make this week to properly launch my creative business mentoring services.

Still, I guess there’s nothing like a little dance with destiny to remind you what really matters. And there’s nothing like having to pack your house up to evacuate to make you think about all the things we can take with us, and all the things we leave behind.

It’s made me think a lot about how we can apply that to other area of our lives too. We don’t often get to take stock and look at things so objectively, and yet without time to get too bogged down in the decision making. I think we often lug too much stuff around with us just because we can, or we feel like we should. Like obligations, old mindsets, outgrown beliefs.

This feels a little eerily prophetic, now, like Cassandra, the Trojan Princess and my almost namesake, but just a few weeks ago, I had a big sort and cull of a lot of my stuff. I’d been gifted a lot of secondhand clothes and hand-me-downs when I first arrived here as a broke backpacker, and, after five years of not wearing most of them but holding onto them because they were gifts from some of my favourite people, I decided it was finally time to let them go.

I’m sure it helped me get in the right mindset to make those snappy decisions about what to bring and what to leave behind, too. It was almost like I’d done an audit of my possessions, and it was fresh in my mind so I could make those choices in the moment.

And, while of course I don’t want you to have to go through any sort of scary disaster or have to go all KonMari on your wardrobe, I think these experiences can always moonlight as opportunities for deeper growth and insights for all of us.

One of the best things about living in a communal society is that we don’t all have to touch a knife to know it’s sharp – or suck a lemon to know it’s sour. We can learn from each other’s experiences and use them to collectively lift ourselves up and grow together.

And so, if you had to pack up your life or do a little spring* cleaning – be it physically, emotionally, or mentally – and make some choices about the things you want to bring with you and what you’ll leave behind, I wonder what things you might choose to let go of.

I wonder how many old stories you’re carrying around, too, like me and my wardrobe of unworn but gifted-to-me clothes. Even though, logically, I know there is no better way to honour that gift than me sending them out into the world to be loved by someone else.

I’ll leave you to ponder that while I check out for the weekend. After a few sleepless nights and far too much time refreshing the same few apps on my phone, it’s time for me to go mourn my precious bushland and all the wildlife and try to settle my nervous system.

How we’re probably going to spend the next few days

See you next week.

All my love,


* and yes, I know it’s now autumn here in the southern hemisphere, but it’s still spring in my bones.

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