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Tinderbox, or, A Day In the Life

Yesterday. appx 3pm - I am working under a sparce stand of tall yellowgum eucalyptus trees. The weather is hot and muggy. I'm wearing the light bee veil, the one that looks just a vague bag of netting over my head. And that's only because of these really annoying flies that insist on trying to get in ones eyes, especially when you're holding a frame of bees with both your hands and can't swat at the flies.    The sky is an opaque white and visibility is only about a quarter mile before things disappear into the white haze. At the very edge of visibility giant windmills slowly turn in the smokey haze. For the last two days this smoke from the major bushfires consuming the eastern seventh of the state. Despite the sky appearing to be "overcast" more light seems to come through than if it was normal rain clouds, surreally lighting the landscape with just the faintest bit of an eerie yellowish orange tint.    The "Vic Emergency" app dingles again with its weirdly innocuous sounding chime and I look at my phone again, but it's just another "storm warning," it's been issuing them seemingly every ten minutes for various parts of the state but here things have been calm. I go back to inspecting the hive.

   Hive Y121 Yavin has queen cells. Evaluation of various factors indicates the hive is building them to swarm (as opposed to replacing their own queen), which is very odd since it's long past swarming season and the hive isn't even particularly crowded, but bees can be quite inexplicable. I gaze at the slowly twirling arms of the nearest windmill for a moment in thought. The top appears to be more visible than the base due to the smoke hanging low over the ground. These appear to be well-formed queen cells, I could take them back to the one hive at my house and use it to incubate them for the week it will take for them to hatch and then distribute the queens to hives that could use a new queen. I look at the four hives left to inspect in this yard.. I should move the queen cells quickly and besides I already finished both my water bottles on this hot humid day and haven't taken a lunch break yet, so I will deal with these queen cells, get more water, and come back to finish.

   Just as I close the door on my truck there's a flash that lights up the opaque hazy sky from indeterminate direction, followed a few beats later by a loud crack of thunder. As I'm driving down the dirt road the rain begins to fall. I roll down the window to smell the delicious scent of fresh rain on the fields. I rain soaks my arm resting on the windowsill but I don't move it, it feels so nice and refreshing.

   Ten minutes later I'm in the general store in the center of Birregurra. I buy a package of bacon (not for lunch) and a thickshake, and sit down on the front porch under the awning to enjoy the milkshake as the rain pours down around me.

   A woman comes in and says she wants to return some honey. My honey I see. I jump up and approach her at the counter:    "What's wrong with the honey?" I ask with concern.    "Oh, um," she says, a bit startled, as I am by all appearances just another customer "I just don't want it"    "Oh.. nothing's wrong with it?" I ask,    "Someone gave it to me as a gift but I prefer the liquid honey in the squeeze bottle"    "Oh." I say, trying not to look judgey.    "It's for the kids" she says self consciously "you know, they expect the liquid squeeze bottle" uhuh sure lady. But I retreat back to my table.


   On facebook messenger my friends are asking who is going to pub trivia tonight. I've just written "Yeah I've got a lot on but I plan to--" when the fire brigade app blaats its notification noise. I quickly enter out of messenger and read the message.    "ALERT WSEA11 G&SC1 GRASS & SCRUB FIRE 675 INGLEBY..." which is all I read before I grabb my bacon and half finished thickshake, jump in the truck, and head around the corner to the fire station. Moments later I was looking out the window at the smoke filled fields outside town. It was no longer raining and was once again just the eerie white haze. I've been in firetrucks looking at smokey landscapes plenty of times, but usually in distant firegrounds. For my own town to look this smokey and to be seen through the window of a fire truck was very disturbing.    The location described, "Ingleby" is an area I have a number of beehives. I'd honestly feel vaguely guilty fighting a fire not immediately threatening my bees during working hours (and with queen cells in the truck!) but with hives a kilometer downwind from this fire this is fully one and the same with my duty to look after the bees. The location of the fire was hard to locate because while normally you can see the smoke, the smoke was in this case obscured by the fact that there was already smoke everywhere. But finally after some radio chatter to clarify the precise location we joined a line of three firetrucks entering the appropriate field. Trucks already on the scene had already put out the worst of it and we just spent two or three hours or so putting out all the smouldering bits on the edge. At a slow moment while we refilled the tanker from the nearby creek I mentioned to our fire captain that I had a package of bacon in my truck and he called his wife and she moved the bacon from my truck cab to the firehouse fridge. "Legend!" Too bad I probably couldn't get her to do anything with the queen cells.

   It wasn't until I got home and was able to recharge my phone, which had meanwhile died, that I realized I had sent a message saying I was going to trivia at the moment the fire alert came in. Oops. Past start time now. Also of course the remaining half my thickshake was tepid and melted upon return to the station. I then installed the queens but I'm not sure how their several hours of uncontrolled temperature did for them. But again, the immediate preservation of whole bee yards was at stake.

   That evening I spent several hours proofreading a friend's legal case, which kept me up until nearly 1am, which is why I was sound asleep at 5:17am when the fire brigade app went off again about a brushfire in the forest by Barwon Downs 13 kilometers due south of Birregurra.


   The major brushfires making the news are far from here and it's still been relatively green around here, but the heart of the fire season here is usually February-March so we've been saying it's not bad here yet but it will get bad when this area gets dry. This morning waking up to a second local brushfire nearly back-to-back with the previous one I wondered nervously, has the moment arrived?

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