Losing Gondwana

I checked the weather forecast for the next week in the mountains. Possible showers, scattered showers, light showers. Huh. Showers. Piddly, pizzly dribbles and splotches of rain and not much. Nothing to a bushfire burning into the dry alpine peat soil.

Oh come on Tasmania, roaring 40s, southern ocean, westerlies, where are our bucketloads of wet cold orographic rain? We are on an island in the middle of the southern ocean, dammit, where are the bushwalkers grimacing in their wet socks, underneath dripping goretex hoods, loving and hating Tasmania at the same time, with its summer rain and sleet and ‘oh at least the waterfalls will be stunning, and ‘look how the rain brings out the colour in the snowgums’.

No. Its hot and its dry and the creeks are only just continuing to trickle out of the highlands. The bushwalkers are sunburnt, and the moss, lichen and coral ferns are crunchy underfoot. I do lazy laps of the lake while pyrocumulus billows on the horizon, and we go to sleep after the red sun sets and the hazy red moon rises, the smell of burning forests and soil drifting past our nostrils in the night.

I’m feeling angst about the loss of the Athrotaxis. Pencil Pines. King Billies. Cupressoides, Selaginoides and their occasional illicit offspring Laxifolia. Its not unlikely this is the last epoch of these prehistoric forests, found in only Tasmania, predating homosapiens by several hundred million years. Predating even flowering plants, marsupials and a flammable Australia. Individual trees that sprouted a thousand or two years ago, tangible, living objects that pierce back through their slow, careful growth, into time we can barely imagine. A certain smell, colour, dappling of the light in an Athrotaxis forest. The feel and sound of their fallen foliage under foot. Bringing wonder and humility to our existence through our stories of their rooted longevity. How we have counted their microscopically slow growth rings.

But “Extinction happens”. Australia is flammable. Change is constant. Fire is natural. Lightening strikes. Heat, fuel, wind and flare. What was once old, dark, wet dripping rainforest will burn after it has been desiccated from a few weeks of warm wind, and be replaced with pyrogenic scrub. A vegetation type that promotes fire, fire and more fire. Volatiles oils and dry skirts of last season’s growth, ribbons of bark, burning, embering, flying, smouldering.

Although I recognise some of my complacence in climate change (driving, flying, eating meat, consuming, breathing), I don’t claim responsibility for the entirety of the athropocene, and I’m not responsible for continental drift nor the evolution of the flammable eucalypt forest that grows on our land. The ignorance of my forebears caused the loss of 2/3rds of the pre-european athrotaxis forest already. That is my lineage and my history, but it is not me.

However, no matter the hazy targets of blame or responsibility, this change is intensified in the anthropocene, the impacts are made more severe by our collective human action: land clearing and fragmentation, our relative ignorance of this landscape, its fire history and time-scales. And I’m worried, but there’s not much I can do. I couldn’t stop the lightening and I can’t start the rain. I don’t have a water-bombing helicopter. All I can do it witness via news reports and state-wide smoke haze.

And maybe it will rain anyway. Of course it will rain anyway. One day. I’m just sad about the Athrotaxis we lose in the meantime.


Overland Track Lake Saint Clair

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