Monday, January 31, 2011

The Red Cloud

Written by John, posted by Tracy

This is just to wish well all those in the central wheatbelt who were affected by Saturday’s horror storms. We will never forget the day the red cloud arrived and ate the sky, and, indeed, the world. I was outside securing loose stuff on the block because I’d heard a storm was approaching. I looked up and in the north-east a bizarre red-black plume was billowing, cascading, and looming. I thought it was a fast-moving fire and we were finished. But there was no smell of smoke, no burning at the back of the throat.

I called Tracy out to take a look and by the time she got there the cloud was massive and red and almost on us. We ran inside and shut the door. Everything went red-black and then black, though it was 2.45 in the afternoon. A thunderous rush of air, like a vacuum being filled instantly, rocked the house. Winds that must have hit 120kmh suddenly ripped in like whirlpools. The trees on the block whipped across the screen of the window before vanishing into the red-black howling. We didn’t think anything would be left, or that the house would be left standing. But it was.

However, many in Northam and York lost roofs and much more. Mum’s place, where we lived for many years, was devastated. Barely a tree was left intact. Old York gums and flooded gums were splintered, jam trees ripped out by the roots. A neighbour’s house lost its roof, another neighbour’s parts of the roof and infrastructure of the house. The entire town is in ruins. And apart from the trauma experienced by humans in the area, birds and animal life are disturbed and stressed.

Our house has since filled with various species of ants, frenziedly crossing from one room to another in their desire to move, move, move.

So please spare a thought for those affected: it has been a time of huge disasters in Australia, and when they happen out in the bush and on a more ‘isolated’ scale, they are easily subsumed into the whole. Many of our young son’s schoolfriends from his old school have no roof (literally) over their heads, and it’s a tough, tough time. I find it surreal and disturbing that the place I wrote for so many years, where I set my Divine Comedy, has truly seen heaven, hell, and purgatory crunched together.

I’d heard a storm was approaching and Tracy rang Mum to let her know. Shortly after, Mum looked out the back window and a vast red wave rushed down over the mountain and enveloped the house. The chimney went, and they waited for the rest of the house to go too, but it hung together. The red cloud — full of red dust from further north (it was the colour of the dust around Yalgoo and Mt Magnet, where we have recently been) — ate the sun, ate the light, and ate the district. Apologies for the mass of descriptors, but it was that overwhelming. It was like being inside a thesaurus that didn’t have enough words. It’s a case of letting the experience rush out or remain forever silent, it was that dramatic and that indelible. It will mark all our lives.