Yesterday it was 34 degrees C in Sydney with a hot, westerly wind. Unseasonally warm for Spring. We are in the midst of the most severe drought for 77 years. The dams are shallow. Use of water is restricted. The earth is so parched that on the irregular occasions when it does rain there is very little absorption. It is disheartening to see the valued water running away into the stormwater drains.
The wind, hot and sharp, bending branches frail with lack of moisture – seems evil. The grass, yellow as sand, protests. It crunches underfoot like twigs. I put out water for the birds – hundreds come. It is a bird bath party. Unexpectedly, they do not fight. They know the chance to drink is precious. In a strange symbiosis I find I am thirsty, craving litres of cold, clear water. I drink so much my organs swim but the wind continues to leave me thirsting for more.
Each morning I look to the sky for rain, researching ancient rain-bringing rituals, none of which work. The sky remains a cool azure, unflecked with clouds, blue as Spanish glass. I think of friends who are farmers, who rely on water for their livelihood and wonder what will become of them. There is already talk of slaughtering livestock, of bankruptcy, of suicide.
It gets you down sometimes, this constant battling with life. The urgency is exhausting. I eavesdrop on my neighbour. Seventy-five years old and fit as a fiddle. She lives alone but her daughter visits every morning bringing bread, fruit, flowers, newspapers. They speak with animation in Greek, brewing coffee and making jam from the figs in the garden. They sing along in garbled English to the Top 40 on the radio. Their favourites are James Blunt and Christina Aguilera. Their devotion sparkles like pollen on leaves.
My 3 year old niece visits. Her favourite colour is pink. She has learned to say ‘flamingo’, turning the word into a dance. She wants to be Dora The Explorer, she has a Dora watch that doesn’t work anymore since she dropped it in the bath, but she won’t take it off. She has a penchant for Knock Knock jokes. In a flash of creativity she makes up her own. They are not funny but her delivery is so enthusiastic you can’t help but smile. This one is her favourite.
She laughs so hard she almost can’t deliver the punchline, staggering after too much apple juice. She tells me she ‘wuvs me’ and I am overcome with a feeling of joy.
The wind has released the insects from the bush. Hundreds of flies and moths assail us. My son screams like a soprano as a moth flies into his ear. Another lodges itself in my hair. We jump up and down, crazy trampolinists in a wave of insects, flapping our arms. The absence of order drives us to laughter and we clamp our hands over our mouths, fearful we will swallow a dirty brown insect.
Our nasty neighbour on the other side peers over the fence with a sneer. ‘They’re only moths,’ he says. ‘What a ruckus!’ We make faces behind his back and throw the moths that have dropped dead from heat exhaustion and our screaming into his prized flower beds.
We retreat to the safety of indoors and send emails to our friends telling them how we survived an attack by an army of moths. Exaggeration takes hold – we fight moths as big as bats in the tens of millions. They roar as we approach.
The heat diminishes. We make hamburgers and eat them with lashings of onions and ketchup, letting the sauce drip down our chins. We drink lemonade and burp from the bubbles. The night cools. We settle to television shows, books and sleep.
My eyes burn from the wind. I graze on grapes bought for double the usual price due to the drought, enjoying the pop of the juice into my mouth. Sometimes when it is assumed a day will be difficult, it yields a surprising array of pleasures.