Devil­ish red fin­gers on our hills

The Press - - Front Page - VICKI AN­DER­SON

We lost so much af­ter the earth­quakes. These fires feel like yet an­other ma­jor blow to our city.

Af­ter the earth­quakes, with our swim­ming pools, sports grounds and cen­tres largely de­stroyed, the wel­com­ing green jewel of the city, the Port Hills, be­came our play­ground.

Nes­tled around the city, the hills are a fa­mil­iar, com­fort­ing sight in an un­known place we lived called the ‘‘new nor­mal’’. Last year more than 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the Port Hills.

Do you re­mem­ber the pho­tographs taken from the hills show­ing dust ris­ing from around Christchurch city af­ter the 2011 earth­quake?

As we near the sixth an­niver­sary of that tragedy, it feels al­most as if the scene is re­versed.

Back then we took to the hills, look­ing down upon our earth­quake-dam­aged city in hor­ror. Now we are look­ing up to the our fire-rav­aged hills, star­ing hor­ri­fied at the spi­ralling smoke plumes and dust clouds.

It’s noth­ing short of dev­as­tat­ing.

Hearts must go out to those who have lost their homes and es­pe­cially to the fam­ily of pi­lot and for­mer sol­dier David Steven Askin, a true hero who lost his life while work­ing to save oth­ers.

Mean­while, res­i­dents of the hill sub­urbs evac­u­ated their homes, post­ing pic­tures on­line of gi­ant flames near their houses, their cars loaded with pets bun­dled in cages or wide-eyed chil­dren.

It felt chaotic and their panic, even from the dis­tance of a screen, was pal­pa­ble.

Like the tsunami warn­ing de­ba­cle of last Novem­ber, there seemed to be lit­tle clear di­rec­tion from au­thor­i­ties for af­fected res­i­dents.

Cantabri­ans have a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the Port Hills. We use the tracks that criss­cross the foothills as a gi­ant green gym, jog­ging the gen­tle curv­ing slopes of the Harry Ell track or puff­ing up the steep Wors­leys Spur.

To stand at some point on the Crater Rim was to be struck by our city’s abun­dance of nat­u­ral beauty – the stun­ning views of the har­bour on one side, the ma­jes­tic South­ern Alps on the other.

Any dam­age to the Ad­ven­ture Park and the beau­ti­ful trees that sur­round it is par­tic­u­larly galling. It’s a fun-filled gi­ant sym­bol that Christchurch was mov­ing for­ward – that, fi­nally, some­thing was hap­pen­ing in the re­build. To be un­cer­tain of its fu­ture so soon af­ter cel­e­brat­ing its open­ing is dis­heart­en­ing.

‘‘Kia kaha’’ we say to each other here when­ever Mother Na­ture lets one rip.

It means, of course, ‘‘stay strong’’. But the phrase has, per­haps, also changed and deep­ened in mean­ing for Cantabri­ans.

Some­times ‘‘kia kaha’’ can also mean: ‘‘We feel your pain, we ac­knowl­edge your pain, we can’t be­lieve that we are hav­ing to go through this ei­ther. Se­ri­ously, what next? We are strangers but we’re in this to­gether and we will do what­ever we can to help you get through this.’’

As peo­ple were evac­u­ated, Cantabri­ans rushed to of­fer strangers their homes. Other peo­ple of­fered to drive live­stock to safety and feed and care for beloved pets.

Ar­mies of peo­ple baked for, and fed and wa­tered our hard­work­ing fire­fight­ers and po­lice force.

This spirit and heart is what it means to be a Cantabrian.

There’s a 90-year-old in the thick of it dis­pens­ing a bit of wis­dom when re­quired.

She grew up in the De­pres­sion and lived through the Blitz.

As her home is in the vicin­ity of the fire’s devil­ish red fin­gers, I called to check up on her.

She tells me that she’s been mak­ing cheese scones for the Fire Ser­vice and po­lice since the sun came up.

‘‘That’s what you do in dif­fi­cult times. You look af­ter each other as best you can, you do your bit. Hope­fully the Christchurch sum­mer will be on course and the rain will come soon. In time the grass will grow and we will run on the green hills again.’’

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