Friday, September 18, 2009

Green shoots you can believe in

We keep on reading about ‘green shoots’ of recovery as the world struggles out of recession. Some of them seem a bit illusory, but seeing real green shoots does your heart good.

I was in Melbourne last month, catching up with my old friend Mary, who took me, appropriately enough, to Marysville. The name sounds familiar? It should, because it was one of the country towns almost wiped out in Victoria’s terrible black Saturday fires last February. Thirty-three of its citizens died.

The disaster scene is still a surreal sight. You drive the winding road through miles and miles of blackened trees, along that stretch where, in the midst of hot panic, some people perished in their cars as they fled, blinded by the smoke, overwhelmed by the speed of the flames.

Now you can stop along that road, get out and total silence. All these months later, the stink of burning still drifts through the darkened forest. If you touch the black charcoal that coats a roadside trunk, it feels as fragile and brittle as the top of a burnt pavlova cake.

The town is a sad sight. There are just a few remaining shops and a grid of empty streets with blank spaces laid bare where bulldozers have been in and scraped ruined houses away. Oddly, there are some undamaged wooden signs still hanging between posts where front fences or hedges must have been, advertising the rates for cosy weekend accommodation in cottages that no longer exist.

But there are signs of new life. A big marquee fills the space where a hotel once stood, with two temporary cafes inside offering food and coffee. Workers in orange vests are busy as re-building gets under way around the village.

And the marvellous thing is that all the tall black tree trunks in the forest are just beginning now to shed charcoal-coated bark to reveal bright, fresh, healthy timber. Springing from the vertical trunks are clumps of beautiful, bright green tiny leaves, like explosions of green feather dusters. Some of the trees, from a distance, look to be sporting a coat of green down, like new feathers on the skin of a baby bird. Tree ferns too, have somehow survived and are sprouting elegant new fronds.

And as spring arrives in Marysville, daffodils are blooming – dots of sunny yellow in otherwise empty gardens. Of course, when the fires roared over and scorched the land any bulbs still tucked underground from previous years slept safely on, untouched by the heat, ready to do their thing next time Nature sent out whatever subtle signal it is that motivates a daffodil to stand up and sing. So there they are, blooming like crazy, semaphoring hope.

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