Three times in the past week I have left my home with the possibility of never seeing it again.
Everyone in Australia and many people elsewhere will know about the fires: a 46 degree centigrade day, winds of up to 80 kilometers an hour, 2000 homes lost, 210 dead and many more still missing. In the very small country town where I live it has been the only topic since February 7th.
We were very lucky on that day. There but for the grace of cigarette butt, lighting strike or capricious arsenist go we.
The only fire that threatened us came two weeks later and could be seen from the town up over the hills sending a column of smoke like a frozen tornado up up into the sky. That day was still and hot. No wind, thank goodness to speed the fire that consumed the candle-barks at the end of the many thousands of hectares of forest between us and it.
My son was safe. He was evacuated with the family who baby-sit him on a Monday. My husband and I waited in the tiny neighbouring town for word that it was safe to go in and get the dogs.
We are good at this now. There is a list and we don't even need to check it twice. Decisions have been made - what stays, what goes. On that Monday though, it was our first time and I couldn't think clearly. At one point my partner stopped me dashing about with a carved Chinese bone in my hand to say " Did you get formula for the baby?"
Now all the practical items fit neatly into the trailer: fire-kits, chainsaw, rake-hoe, clothes, formula, water, nappies and so forth. All of the things that for some reason or another I have decided I can't live without are packed in a ute box: photographs of course, the carved Chinese bone, a small package of 19th century medicine labels that say "It is dangerous to exceed the stated dose", a glass embossed jar "Pink Pills for Pale People", the egg that I etched when we were courting with four hands in an ambulance carry grip with a ribbon moniker- 'Hold Fast', my favourite bunsen burner, a limited edition leather bound copy of 'The Morbid Anatomy of the Human Body'...
As I hitched the trailer this last time I did what I have done each time we leave - I mentally burned everything that was left behind. All the books, art, clothes, the hat collection, the children's funny wooden toys, the bedside cabinet with trick drawer handle that says "This is not a drawer...". All of it black ash and blobs of melted plastic and metal.
What was odd about that experience was how empty it felt. No emotion, no tears. Just a simple exercise in possibility.
"This is what will happen" I seemed to be telling myself to see how it would feel.
"And maybe it doesn't matter one jot" was the surprising answer.
I was reminded of a song by Peggy Lee:
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then lets keep dancing
Lets break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all
Now I am home again and I can feel the connections casting out around me like skeins of spider thread. The handmade quilt, the portrait in oil, that dress - the one with the jet beads - how could I have thought I wouldn't miss them?
I'm a collector. I always thought it was in my blood. I suspect now though, that it is the objects that own me, not the other way around.
When I am near them I fall under their spell and I think - "Ah, yes.. this is who I am."
Without them to moor me what do I become?
It occurs to me that I could be anybody.
I could be just somebody towing a trailer. I could be just another traveler.
I could just be a woman in transit.