31 December 2019 and 1 January 2020
13 kms (8 miles) and 25 kms (15.5 miles)
NEW YEARS EVE
It’s the end. The end of innocence? No, Black Saturday should have taken care of that. The end of ignorance? No, humans are surprisingly capable of not learning from the past and acting only in self-interest. But it’s the end of something. You can feel it in the subdued atmosphere at the shops this year. There’s an anxiety in the air amongst the holiday festivities.
We’ve had five days over 40 degrees this December. We really shouldn’t even get that many all summer.
The average high for the month will be 3.2 degrees Celsius above normal (the average for December is 29C – this year it is 32.4).
We set a record of 43.1 (a full degree above the old record) for an all-time December high.
We have watched the news every night for months now detailing the millions of hectares of land burning in the eastern states.
So there’s just this apocalyptic feeling around that stains the celebrations this year. It’s like we’re collectively all exhausted with summer already, and it’s barely just begun.
New Years Eve day does become apocalyptic for many. The fires turn horrendous in Victoria and parts of New South Wales. I cross my fingers for some old friends from our days in Tumut that are near the flank of one fire; I cross my other fingers for Don’s daughter and son-in-law who are very close to a fire burning near Bega (though they had done extra prep at their house on Saturday and packed the car on Sunday ready to leave). News throughout the day is mind-boggling bad from so many different locations. And the news will get worse, surely, as the days go by and they can actually get in to assess the damage in communities that have been cut off.
The cool change that has been causing some of the fire chaos comes through here with a whimper around 7am. It was a miserable night for sleeping – it was still 33C outside and 32C inside my house – at 3am. The cool change drops the temp to 25C briefly at 7am and then starts to rise again.
Luckily, the southwesterly wind behind the change blows away all the smoke for us. That wind is doing bad things to people elsewhere, but it’s a nice chance for us to breathe some clear air here.
Dry lightning sparks 8 new fires (more will be detected later) in the hills near here and up toward Mt Hotham around noon. The local brigade heads out around 1pm. I hear a helicopter fly over later. I am not in danger, even though I do get an alert on my phone as an advice warning.
However, new fires this close will mean even more smoke soon, so I take the opportunity to get in a final ride for the year in the afternoon while that southwesterly is bringing in cool, smoke-free air. You know it is Oz in summer when you think: oh, it’s ONLY 31 degrees – that’s quite cool – let’s go!
NEW YEARS MORNING
Thankfully, the southwesterly continues into the night and the temperature drops to something reasonable (14C) and I can get the house cooled off. There is no party being hosted at Brown Brothers or next door at the public hall, and no one even dares of thinking of setting off fireworks. So it is the quietest New Years Eve I can ever remember. It’s so quiet and the temperature so good that I fall asleep at 10pm and ring in the new year unconsciously.
I can smell some smoke in the morning, but I get the house closed up with the coolness and then head out to ride. Like a lot of cyclists, I’m a little superstitious about starting the year off right and just HAVE to go for a ride on New Year’s Day.
The guys and I have grander plans than what eventuates. The smoke comes in pretty quickly, so we abandon our thoughts of a longer ride. I’m feeling so good compared to what I have been over the past nine months that I really want to do 60 or 70 kms for the first time in forever. But my lungs feel heavy pretty quickly, so we just head out to Markwood and then turn back – we’ll get a measly 25kms, but we do add two new road sections and one new road on the first day of the year. I can live with that.
I pedal out all my angst relating to the government’s inaction on climate change. If we have a fire season this bad when there are: 1) only two climate drivers in play (IOD and SAM were in bad phases for bushfire activity this spring – luckily, ENSO was neutral – see this page for an explanation of Oz’s climate drivers); and, 2) only one degree of warming so far, what will the summers be like with 3 degrees of warming?!! The conservative party can blame a lack of planned burning all they want – but that is just fiddling around the edges of the problem. If you don’t address the climate drivers, there is such a limited time of year to do the burning and that is set against a backdrop of a hotter and drier climate. Stop fiddling around the edges and address the root cause of the problem!!!!
So I pedal out all that angst as I pedal in that grey, dirty haze. There were a bunch of curse words and name-calling involved, too, but I will spare you that.
Once home, I reflect on the end of 2019.
How funny that I named this year’s journal “Eclipse” – thinking at the beginning of the year that I was starting to come out of the illness darkness, only to find that I would spend the rest of the year in darkness feeling like crap from that secondary bacterial infection with no-one able to figure out while I had regressed so drastically.
So it was only in the dying weeks of the year that I began to feel better. Perhaps now the eclipse is finally over. I am so grateful to be feeling better and to have finally found a good doctor who can guide me back to health.
Yes, it is the end. Not the end of innocence or ignorance or terrible bushfire seasons – politics will drag out the blame and any timely response we could manage. No, it’s just the end of the year. And, hopefully for me, the end of the eclipse.