Fire Weather: Australia

A cool, windy day, sometimes sun drenched, other times gloomy. A day typical of dry days the winter thus far, a year when the cold is locked away out west leaving us warm and wet.

The El Nino that is in large part driving our weather is also bringing extreme heat, drought, and brush fires to Australia. This morning in Quaker meeting, amidst the focus on Iran and Iraq, someone stood up and spoke to the suffering brought on by the fires. I also had been thinking about the infernos and the terrible loss of habitat, livelihood, and lives they have brought, along with what for me remains unimaginable, the likely extinction of many species endemic to the burned regions.

As I sat in Meeting I found myself reaching for the still point between whatever wisdom may arise from placing this moment in the longer view of life on Earth, and the very human  heartbreak that arises within me in response to our collective madness. In the long view our wars, our willingness to create environmental disaster, and our refusal to treat everyone with simple kindness are insubstantial and fleeting. On the human level, they are immediate, profoundly harmful, and bring immense suffering into the lives of many.

Both views are correct but limited. Somewhere in the space between our human view and the long view is a place of wisdom where we can hold both, if only intermittently. In that place we may see that while nothing we do is all that important in the long life of the planet, we can still do much that matters in the lives of other living beings. When we lose sight of either end of the spectrum we are want to do very much harm indeed.

Just as it can be very difficult for us to place ourselves within the planet’s long time frame, it can be challenging to find empathy for places and people far away.  The other night we were having dinner with friends who spoke about the Antisemitism that is raging in our country right now, and mourned the loss of safety and belonging they had long felt. They spoke freely, knowing we are a Jewish family but forgetting that I am disabled and my side of the family identities as Native. Clearly, the long list of us for whom it has never been safe was largely invisible to them until we pointed out the omissions.

They are good people whose empathy failed, a condition all of us experience from time to time. Surely they are correct that at the moment empathy, kindness, and the long view all seem in short supply.

As I sit with all this, I am reminded we can only do our best with the resources we have. For right now, my heart and prayers go out to all, human and other, who are in harm’s way, especially those who face the Australian infernos. My prayers, and gratitude also go out to Pachamama, for she holds us all with concern and without judgement. I desperately want to do more than send money, money being problematic. For right now, when it is difficult to know what actions may be truly helpful, heart and prayers must be enough.

16 thoughts on “Fire Weather: Australia

  1. I find it terrible too, what is going on with the fires in Australia. So many souls suffering and so many species may disappear. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like, that the people having the power to do anything about it, are willing to realize, what is needed and necessary to do.
    I feel grateful for meeting souls with empathy. The ones without are very difficult to reach at all.

  2. I, too, am finding it difficult and complicated to find ways to slow down the destruction of our planet. Eating less beef is easy. Sending less plastic into landfills is darn near impossible. Every single day I put plastic that isn’t recyclable into the trash. I try to use less disposable plastic only to find I substitute another form of plastic. I buy meat and fish at higher priced markets because they wrap in paper – but if I’m not diligent they put the wrapped meat/fish in a plastic bag. Ugh! I will continue but I feel overwhelmed because the problem is systemic in our culture/lifestyle.

  3. Like you I don’t have the money to send to the bushfires or other causes. Health and age mean I can’t do much physically.
    It’s interesting what you say about how we sometimes only focus on one aspect of problems. I learned a big lesson this week from some aboriginal people when I failed to acknowledge their traditional ownership of a fire affected area here in Austtralia. Their comments made me realize how narrow minded I’d been. Even though I was expressing sorrow over the fire I unwittingly did it from the white colonizer perspective. I apologized profusely fo I had not meant to cause offense.
    It made me look at my own attitudes and do some deep inner work. Maybe that’s what those of us who can’t contribute money or physical work can do. We can sit in silence and clear our own energy. We can speak from a place of reflection rather than reaction. We can learn to respect each other’s point of view and learn more about tolerance and understanding.

    1. OH, Suzanne, It is so easy to fall into settler mind, even for those of us who are Indigenous. (Or more accurately both settler and Indigenous.) I have had quite a difficult time finding out how the fires have impacted Aboriginal communities but today heard some news, not much of it good of course. Here in the US Native people practiced prescribed burns similar to those used by Aboriginals. The colonizers simple did not get the importance of that which created/creates much suffering during fire season. Climate change is only making that worse. Anyway, a deep thank you for adding your wise voice to the conversation.

      1. Thank you very much for being so understanding. The fire I was commenting on is a smaller fire that isn’t getting much media coverage. It’s in a World Heritage Park called Budj Bim. I used to live near there and went there sometimes. I have some strange photos I took there. I wanted to blog about it but got worried I’d cause more offense. The aboriginal people told me the correct protocol for commenting on Budj Bim. I might try and do it later today if I get clear enough on it.

      2. You are of course welcome. Here we try to acknowledge the traditional holders/guardians of the land when conducting ceremony or other events. This is not common practice unfortunately but it does seem to be becoming more of a norm, especially in educational settings. Mostly, there is a deep cultural divide regarding Indigenous people and much racism and violence. Of course, the same violence i propagated against the land. There is also a longing by people for simplicity that simply does not exist. Here in the east, as is true in the southwest, following 500 years of colonial contact, not much is simple. The fact that there were over 500 cultures here makes things challenging as well. As seems true of Australia, it is very difficult to get policy makers to pay attention to millennia of collected tribal wisdom…..

      3. Thank you Micheal. On reflection I decided not to write a post about Budj Bim. My photos reflect my experience of the place and have nothing to do with the fires. I will try and send you a link to a Twitter post from one of the traditional owners, Denis Rose, a GunditjMirring man speaking about the fires. (I’ve never sent a Twitter link before so have no idea if this will work).

      4. Thanks Micheal. I’m glad the link worked. I’ve just been out inn the bush down here and had a very profound encounter with some ancient trees. 😊 I will probably blog about that next. The Budj Bim post might come later.

  4. Important reflections, Michael. It is so difficult to ways to express empathy when there is so much seemingly intractable suffering in the world. Sending my best wishes to you. 💜 .

  5. Profound reflections as always Michael.

    There is only one simple truth. As the Elders keep reminding us – Country does not need us, but we need Country.

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