It is that time of the year when I tend to muddle with indecision. After the blistering summer heat of record temperatures, the first chill on the tablelands comes as a shock. There is a bite in the sou’easter and showers sweep across intermittently. Then the sun breaks through and there is a warm remnant of summer heat. It is that time of year when the wind releases autumn leaves but the lawn still needs mowing.
I am undecided whether to light the first fire of the season in my wood heater. In a small country town I don’t want to appear a wimp, to light the fire too early in the season. In my oversensitivity, I imagine locals passing by would gossip about my weakness. And those who could not see my house would no doubt smell the smoke ... and know where it came from.
I have lived in this town for 25 years, but doubt I’d be considered a local. I’m probably still one of those “different” blow-ins who would never be as hardy as the generational tableland dwellers. Still, one particularly fresh morning sways my decision.
I light the fire and enjoy watching it come to life, that first flare conjuring thoughts of warmed winter nights of inwardness and reflection. I sit close to the stove as it heats the room, feeling cosy as a shower passes over.
I walk outside to check the day. Oh no, the sun is out; there is warmth and humidity. Oh dear — a mistake. I feel foolish and am tempted to let the fire burn out. If it’s warm now it will be even warmer later. A fire of course requires wood, which is becoming a scarce commodity.
My wood heap is low. Like many others, I avoid thinking about it during the swelter of summer, then when the weather turns everyone wants to buy wood at the same time. There is often a considerable wait, especially if you want box or red gum. Then there are always those damn people who think ahead.
Driving around town, I notice many neat, full stacks; they look like gallery material in their sculptural beauty. My meagre, scattered blocks of last year’s knotted unsplittables fill me with spiteful jealousy towards those forwardthinking individuals. I admonish myself but mumble in my crankiness that it’s “all right for them, they’ve got all the time in the world to cut wood”.
But there is another reason I hesitate to venture near the wood heap. It’s that time of year when it is still warm enough for snakes to be around. Snakes love wood heaps, and bush lore tells me snakes can be a bit cranky before hibernation.
And for me, too, on the cusp of autumn, it can be a time of irritability, indecision and reduced focus after the outwardness of summer and before the inwardness of the long winter.
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