Pedalling the Elements


Memory go back
humpy he sits in
Surrounded by glowing warmth
of fire tin
Alf Taylor – Indigenous West Australian poet

Blimey it’s hot! I’m pushing my bike up a steep hill, too buggered to ride. There’s a bushfire wafting on the haze of one of the hottest, most extreme days I can remember. I am reduced to walking in spurts of a dozen steps at most, from the shade of one tree to the next. It’s got to be 40 degrees plus!

I was busting to get out of the city noise and Christmas holiday hustle-bustle and into the quiet spaces of the bush. But everything is still noisy and close – what have I got myself into?

It’s humid too! Sweat drips into my eyes and off my nose. Mosquitoes and flying ants are dying where they stick to the grime and sunscreen on my forearms almost as if they’re happy to relinquish their lives to be rid of this baking hotness. I’m shriveling up like a chip packet in an oven. The ground and air turn into a thick liquid and I feel like I’m slogging over and through hot lava.

I am just about trumped by this oppressive heat. I cannot go on. I have to stop. I find a clearing and with my last resources of energy unpack and pitch my tent and lie down to wait and hope for the cool of the afternoon.

The drums of a million cicadas beat up the hill in waves of sound so intense I feel I could be losing my head. At the edge of my comfort zone I cry out loud to them to PLEASE SHUT UP! Is this hyperthermia? If so, this is hell.

I can feel the history and drama of an eon of bushfires all burning around me at once. I can feel death and life sweeping across the bush and with it the black smell of soot and smoke. I can hear the eucalypts crackling in the canopy overhead; hear the screams of fleeing man and animals, their homes and habitat engulfed by the cruelty of this hot wild beast. Through this living horror, though, we experience grief and struggle as we have so often in the past, but undoubtedly we will be reborn and we will rebuild. We must be strong and trust our instinct for life – at the end of the day, when you strip it back, this is our most valuable asset.

I doze off for a couple of minutes into a dreamless sleep. Actually I slept for five hours.

Dusk looms, the fading light still retains the colour of fire and fury from the day. I am a charred cinder but I am okay.

There feels to be balance and order outside my tent. I unzip and poke my head out into a different world to the one I fell asleep in earlier. There is a light shower blowing across on a breeze; the earth is sweating itself back to a normalcy of coolness before the night sets in. The cicadas are silent.

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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