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.