Friday, February 10, 2017

Extreme Weather Conditions in the Avon Valley and Central Wheatbelt of Western Australia

            by John Kinsella

‘Extreme weather conditions’ — we hear that a lot. This summer has been psychotic. From 45 degrees centigrade (a few weeks ago) to 17 degrees centigrade (yesterday); from a dry that eviscerates to deluges that have broken all records. 

As things have been progressing, it's become clear that our concerns are mild compared to many people's. This is a major set of weather events that is having catastrophic consequences in some places, and the Avon's flooding is severe -- whole towns are being cut off. This blog entry reflects only some recent experiences.

Last Monday and Tuesday we received 160 mm of rain, and I spent Tuesday morning digging ditches and channels to release water gathered behind the house, trapped on its cascading ‘got to go somewhere’ run down the hillside. Gutters couldn’t cope, the ground destabilised, and old-growth trees tilted.

And then last night we received another dose of 75 mm, and woke to a tree down on the shade-cloth frame and the house roof. I had lain awake through much of the night and heard an almighty crash, and at first light looked out to the east because I suspected we might lose one of the trees out that way, but it was still standing.

Then Tim noticed one of the magnificent old-growth York gums down, one that grows on the tier above the house, just below the red shed’s level. Only two days ago I had caught a glimpse of a sleeping tawny frogmouth in the fork of its upper branches — numerous ring-necked parrots and galahs roosted in those branches, and it was part of the territorial stations of magpies and many other birds. Song-birds thrived in its blooms and around its lower branches.

But the tree that had likely made the crashing sound that alarmed me, was a younger tree, nonetheless quite tall, which had been uprooted and collapsed. I thought we’d have to call the SES, but decided to deal with it myself, given there was no hole in the roof, and given the pressure all services are under with flooding throughout the southwest, and given that we couldn’t expect assistance from our reliable friend John (‘Guru’), my mother’s partner, because they are literally flooded-in over near York, and their block is experiencing torrents.

York Gum down on house — trunk is about 20cm thick  at maximum and the whole was bringing a considerable
weight to bear. Sad loss.

Anyway, I spent an age working out the best way of dealing with the tree, sans a chainsaw (which I refuse to possess or use), and avoiding further damage to the roof.

I managed, using a bow saw, to cut the lower trunk partially, so it hinged down, lessening the load on frame, roof and trunk, and then once that load had been more evenly distributed, cut through and slide it from the roof.

I did the same with the next branch, and with some help from Tracy, we managed to ease the thick limbs down and away. Then I cut segments of the trunk down bit by bit. It was slow and dangerous work with the ground very unstable but it was done. I had then to saw up the tree and remove because over the next couple of weeks the fire risk will inevitably rise to ‘severe’ or even ‘catastrophic’ again, and we just can’t have swathes of eucalyptus leaves and branches piled up, drying close to the house.

As we deal with these bizarre weather patterns, tropical lows coming down fast from the north and cold fronts coming in west, I think of the fools in Parliament in Canberra taking lumps of coal in to make points about energy production.

We have handed our rights to self-determination and the rights of the biosphere over to fools. They live in their air-conditioned bubbles (in their mansions, in their offices, in the parliament, on their tractors) and can’t make simple links between cause and effect.

And here in Western Australia, the Western Australian government, private industry, and Main Roads, destroy every bit of vegetation they can lay their hands on. Cause and effect. Climate models. They want to live their lives now, without care for the future, and extract all they can. It’s brutal, selfish, and malignant.

So the reports are coming in: areas of Northam Shire are under evacuation orders as the Avon River rapidly rises. York is expecting a 4-metre peak and Toodyay similar. Walls of water moving fast and not to be toyed with.

There was no brook, stream, or winter creek here before — water is making its own way down to the Avon River from behind my mother's house.

Above photos taken by Wendy Kinsella over at York

Strangely, dealing with limbs of the old-growth tree pressing on other trees, and sawing away with the bow saw to relieve the pressure on those other trees already stressed with the softened ground, I noticed, in all the dirt thrown up around the torn and broken roots of the tree, clods of dry soil emerged from deep beneath its centre. I felt a weird anti-abjection that with all the mud and sogginess around actually made me viscerally sick, so incongruous was it.

Nearby was a puffball that had burst and set like concrete in the heat, and then being soaked in the deluge, had developed a black, mouldy patina. It was otherworldly, alien, and upset expectations of observation.

The entire landscape seems to have been given an injection of ghost, and the water still rushes out of the rocky soils of the hills, and gathers and flows down ‘Bird Gully’ to the valley below, to the valley where ancient flooded-gums had been burnt to their cores when someone’s burning-off got out of control some years ago. The dead trees parody their living selves sucking up no water, and the pobblebonks are always hidden mad in mid-summer with calling to the weirdness, the haunting. It’s like that, walking the bloody firebreaks, a skein of green coming up in the paddocks.

And so I write a poem, because it’s how I process disparate information, make sense of disjunctions between how I see something and how I experience it.

These trees we struggle for, watch daily as life evolves and revolves around them. I think of the wounds being inflicted along roadside, in paddocks, at the Beeliar wetlands, in nature reserves when someone wanting to fence makes more room for themselves, breaching the private and public, neo-colonists, and the broken, disrupted surfaces washing away under the deluge, and when the heat comes back fast and soon, blowing away as dust.

Everywhere around the district are new fences, and all the vegetation the fencers find an excuse to dismiss from life. And not far, those secretive ‘small-scale’ bauxite mines on private land, sending the essence of ecologies away to smelters. And few know, and few listen, so many struggles happening everywhere at once.

And so I write a poem, one of my new ‘Graphology Endgame’ series. Number 25, they are gathering. The lines are showing me a way I don’t wish to take, but am compelled to:

For all our preparations —
fixing gutters, making channels,
ensuring flows are as clear
as possible, the next instalment
of The Flood comes and puts
us in our place by dislodging
expectations — and then
a tree on dwelling,
our habits shaken,
and a bow-saw violining
the limbs, the trunk — that cutting
we push back against
in every other way,
always. Wetted soil,
dry at the core,
to replant
between extreme
weather conditions.
And tend. And let be.


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