What I Did On My Holiday

So the girls flew away to have adventures with their dad, and I, well, you know how it is.. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to paint the bathroom. It's always difficult to paint the bathroom because it is always in use and anywhere along a continuum from damp to wringing wet, so for three days I painted in the daytime and commuted to the mountain cabin to use Paul's shower and have him cook for me. Oh, the bliss. Apparently I am an Extravagant Wastrel in Paul's kitchen, and turn up the gas too high under the pot, and cut off too much of the vegetables and put them in the worm bucket. Honestly, those poor worms would never get a square meal if I didn't visit regularly. Anyway, for my sins I am banished to read on the couch while Paul cooks. It is very hard.

Then Paul pours the wine and suggests we have a little wander down to the creek to see how the fires are burning.. we won't stay for long, he promises, just a little look and then we'll be straight back up to finish dinner. He puts his pleading puppy dog eyes on. We go and inspect the fires. They are very little fires, smouldering during the day under a blanket of ash, with more sticks and little logs, piles of bark and dried grass thrown on in the evening when the humidity rises and the wind drops. The cool spring night keeps the fires from getting away and burning the trees all around. Paul is clearing a fire break around his house and making a clear path down to the water turbine along the creek. Not long ago I read a list of the most fire-prone native plant species. Paul has them all. So to eliminate brush where he wants paths and a clear space near the creek, he makes these little fires in the spring and autumn. They provide nutrients in their ash for the big eucalypts, and encourage the native grass to grow, so that where he has burnt starts to look like a manicured English park. Well, except for the giant eucalypts and the bush all round. This very small, localised style of burning was practised by the First Peoples of Australia for millenia, to create grasslands for encouraging kangaroo grazing grounds, and to create beneficial conditions for growing useful crops like the yam daisy, which looks like a smaller, more delicate cousin of the dandelion, with an edible root.

Also, they possibly did it because it is enormously fun. Of course, no sooner are we at the fires than Paul seizes the shovel leaning handily against the nearest tree, and starts shovelling on more debris. Up crackle the flames and the sparks fly in the twilight gloom. "Shall I set this patch of cut grass alight?" he asks himself meditatively. Cut grass grows in huge clumps and is immensely flammable. Paul digs out a shovelful of glowing embers from the base of a fire and tips it into the middle of a cut grass clump. It smokes like a chimney, then smoulders, then busts into a column of flame and sparks. Paul's eyes begin to gleam insanely in the firelight. "Maybe that one over there as well? While we're here.." Soon it is deep dusk and periodically a man jogs past me with a shovelful of live coals, cackling with the glee of a confirmed arsonist. I peer interestedly at a tree, wine glass in hand. "This one seems to be on fire," I mention. "Should I do something?"
"Bash it with a shovel," comes back the advice from the pyrotechnics expert. "Then rake the burnt bark out."

It really is the most addictive kind of fun. Just one more branch on the fire, one more tea tree seedling to uproot, one more pile to light up. Eventually I remember the dinner, which must be saved. Clearly it is up to me, kitchen ban or no kitchen ban. The cook is too busy lighting another clump of cut grass. I look back and see the fire licking upwards, with Paul leaping like a demented goblin in black silhouette in front of the flames.

Dinner will be slightly late tonight.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for the visual and the belly laugh. There is something so cleansing about a fire, isn't there!?
Glad things are well in your world!
Patricia Fl/USA
Pam in Virginia said…
Hi, Jo!

What an exquisite holiday! I can't imagine anything nicer.

Beznarf27 said…
You nailed Tasmanian spring in a nutshell Ms Jo. Time we started setting fire to our burning piles as well. A timely reminder that summer, and fire bans, are just around the corner. I hope you are having a lovely quiet, peaceful holiday painting and exploring the wonders of fire :)
Treaders said…
Oh man, does he have an older brother who would like to live in France?
Jo said…
Patricia, and amazingly, what comes out of the ashes is delicate green grass. Nature is amazing.

Pam, 'setting things on fire' has up until now not been at the top of the holiday plans list, but my inner arsonist has been enjoying it immensely.

Fran, I am going to spend the rest of the spring and most of the summer painting:( but then it will be done for the next decade, with any luck. One room down.. you have fun setting fire to things:)

Anna, he does sometimes live in France as his family has a little house there.. but no brothers.. possibly some cousins already in France?? Will inquire:)
Meg said…
When you are finished painting your bathroom, Jo, I have a house that needs doing, at least the inside does anyway. I'm afraid I'm the type who would buy the paint and then get distracted by untold numbers of good books if on holiday. Meg
Jo said…
Meg, ugh, my whole house needs doing as well. Ugh. Painting. Mmm, good books, yes. It was the very motivating dead line of girls needing a shower when they arrived home that kept me painting, but believe me, books featured in my wee holiday:)
Hazel said…
I have a weeks (half term) holiday from today and have 'painting the skirting boards' on my (very long) list of things to do, along with sorting out various cupboards, tidying the garden and making the Christmas cake. Lighting fires would be much more fun!
Jo said…
Hazel, oh, that long list. I might accidentally lose mine.. Christmas cake is on my list as well:)

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