Monday, 9 February 2009

fire and ice

Sunny, windy, cold - temp minus 15

Hi there.

I didn't blog yesterday because I was a little tired (read lazy). We'd been at the brunch at the Chateau Frontenac to watch the amazing Course en Canot...which is this race across the semi-frozen St. Lawrence river. In huge canoes. Teams of 5 people who train like maniacs for the 1 hour race. Part of the time they're dragging the heavy canoe over solid ice, part of the time they're rowing through open water...and the rest of the time they're hanging half in and half out of the canoe pushing it along the slush.


You can imagine how exhausted we were after that brunch. If you thought things were competitive on the ice you should have seen us when work spread there were snow crab legs at the buffet.

Also got my photo taken with Bonhomme Carvaval, and Jacquie Czernin, host of the CBC afternoon radio show. Peter Black was there too - leading the charge to the buffet. And David and Donna Mendel. David's both an historian and a tour guide. He'll be giving Michael and me a private tour of the old city later in the week.

On our way there - about three steps outside our front door, I took a tumble. Not for the first time. As Canadian we spend most of the winter in flight - either to warmer climates or hovering a foot or so above the ice. Before thumping back down. Normally nothing much happens. We Canadian bounce.

And happily nothing much happened this time, though I thought it was ironic the first time I was wearing a dress this whole trip I should take off and end up spread eagled on the ice. There's no way to do that gracefully.

The other thing I've noticed is that when people fall the first thing they do, generally, it get up and say they're fine. Fine, I'm fine. I wonder if it's a frantic desire not to be the centre of attention. Maybe it's Canadian. Don't really know.

But I do know I was fine.

But, way more important than any of this is this email I received from Sheila, who lives near Melbourne, Australia. You've probably heard about the horrible wild fires there and intense heat. Sheila wrote yesterday and I'd like you to read what she describes...

While you are freezing we have had the hottest days since records were kept, several days in a row of 43-45c and Yesterday 46.3c with winds in the afternoon worse than any recorded or that anyone can remember. What a topsy turvey place the world has become regarding weather patterns.
Unfortunately because of the drought, heat, and winds we have so much of our State (Victoria) on fire.
So far 66 deaths, with so many still unacounted for, over 600 houses lost, several small towns wiped out and so many people in the burns units of hospitals.

We have spent the day scrubbing down walls, doors and windows before corrosion occurs due to the resin from trees mixed with the ash that is covering everything. We are not in any danger of losing house or farm sheds but had to lock up animals in case the dry grass caught and with fires only about 5klm away that was a possibility. The animals were quite disorientated due to the winds and the fact the sky was red cloud and completely dark by 5 o`clock, usual time at this time of year around 9pm

We have a sick friend with us as their farm is in the hills about 10k as the crow flies from us, and is surrounded by bush and State Forests and until the wind dropped last night they thought they were going to loose. Her husband and daughter stayed to man the water pumps and sprays and tonight they are on alert but not in acute danger. The small community has lost 4 houses and thousands of acres around them are still burning.

Of all the bush fires Australia has had Black Friday of 1939 has always been considered the worst but now it seems as thought yesterday will take that very unhappy record.

I just saw on television that the deaths have risen to 170. If you have a mind to, might I suggest a moment of quiet thought for Sheila, her friends, neighbors, strangers...all the people living with such terrible uncertainty, and those for whom uncertainty has slipped over into certainty.


hilary said...

Thanks for focusing our thoughts on Sheila, her friends, neighbours, and all those suffering whom we don't know. Makes you think a bit differently about living in an, at times, cold climate, but a basically moderate one.

Caroline said...

Hi Louise - and Sheila - I too am writing from Melbourne where I suspect no-one remains unaffected by these devastating bushfires. The degree of anguish in our community is simply palpable - everyone knows someone who has lost family, friends or homes...a message from a friend "am ok saved house" was probably one of the most treasured we've had in a long time! Much sadder the news that a dear friend's young cousin was one of the 170+ who have died. Gives you perspective on what's important doesn't it. And what's amazing is the strength and spirit of recovery which begin to take hold even as the fires are still smouldering! And the response of the entire Australian community rallying to support those whose losses have been the greatest. There is a profound humanity in this which belies the awful news that many of these fires were probably deliberately lit! Monstrous!

lil Gluckstern said...

Living in California, we often see fires that are bad, but nothing like the devastation in Australia. But that doesn't matter, people suffer, and we must give thanks for what we have while we have it. You are a very wonderful person for always alerting us to the suffering of others-even in your books. I just finished "Rule" and it has left me longing for more depth and talent in my reading habits. The book was wonderful, and Gamache continues to grow as a rather remarkable human being (read Michael). The sad thing is that the economy here is struggling, and men like Bernie Madoff continue to cause the kind of pain that Pierre experienced. What marvelous nuanced characters you create. And they all know how to eat, don't they. Thank you for your books, and for giving us yourself in your blogs.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Hilary,

That is so true. I often think that when watching the hurricanes and tornados down south of us and think how lucky we are. We get bitter cold and snow storms, but nothing normally as savage of what we see elsewhere. Though I know Canada gets it's share of forest fires too...especially in British Columbia.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Caroline,

How beautifully you put it, and Michael and I, and I expect everyone reading your powerful comment sends sympathies, especially to to your friend who lost her cousin.

Such courage the volunteer firefights (and the pros) have.

Please know we're watching. And please, Caroline, keep writing and telling us how you're doing.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Lil,

How beautiful- you've moved me your comments about humanity, and your comments about the books.

The only reason I can write a character like Gamache is because I know Gamache's exist. And not just Michael. I know goodness exists.

And, as you and others have said as we watch in horror the fires in Australia - we see that courage and selfless behavior every moment there.

how dare we complain?