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Lessons from Drought and Fire: Choosing Hope over Fear

February 26, 2019 by

In the almost seventeen years that I and my family have lived in rural Australia, we’ve been in the middle of three droughts, on the edge of three fires and blasted by two dust storms. This is nothing, I know, in comparison to the thousands of loyal farmers who’ve been committed to this land for generations, and have patiently endured the sometimes cruel whims of nature to raise their families and grow meat and fruit and vegetables.

machines in front of smoke from an Australian wildfire

But as this present drought drags on and fires threaten, it’s easy to feel your courage sinking along with the float on the rain tank that holds our precious drinking water. When you take the clean sheets off the line and they smell more like smoke than sun, when you look at the long-range forecast and see nothing but sun, or when the leaves on all the deciduous trees are turning gold (or grey) three months before their time, it’s easy to let a vague sort of despondency set in.

So I go out every day with a fierce desire to rage against this drought by keeping everything I can alive. To make choices that (in the words of Nelson Mandela) reflect my hopes, not my fears.

I might live in the desert, but I don’t need to let the desert live in my heart.

The used dishwater goes on the Elephant Ear plants outside our cottage, and they reward us with verdant, new shoots. Our sweet little free-range porker gets all the water he wants to keep a small wallow to ward against the heat. Our neighbors’ goats are busy turning watermelon rinds to milk, and the cats drink the drips from the backyard tap whenever they request it. Each day I am thankful for the blessing this gift of ground water from our well is; it, too, is a finite resource, to be used judiciously.

And while it’s difficult not to let the dryness of the land or fear from the fires settle into your psyche, it’s important to continually find and claim beauty in its most minute detail.

Actually, it’s more than important. It’s soul-saving.

Fire truck with Australian wild fire in the background

Because the biggest guard against bitterness is when you see the couple who just lost their home and entire business to fire be the first to hand out emergency food supplies to their neighbors. It’s when you get texts late at night and again at four in the morning from the person organizing getting essentials through to fire-stranded families. It’s the red-eyed volunteer firefighters going back again and again to back-burn and fight fickle blazes in 100 degree weather and relentless winds, or an elderly couple purchasing and packing high-energy snacks late at night to feed them. It’s the local who has volunteered days of his time to form chainsaw teams to go around and clean up the fallen trees around people’s houses. Truly, “a burden shared is a burden halved.”

In the face of such tenacity my heart is stilled to a peace that knows everything will be okay. Where such love and dedication are evident, and wherever the spirit of spontaneous community emerges, no obstacle is insurmountable.

members of the Bruderhof, an intentional Christian community, serve food to fire fighters in New South Wales, AustraliaMembers of Danthonia Bruderhof serving food to fire fighters

But this newfound stillness is not a kind of hopeless waiting. Rather, it’s an invitation to nurture when nature betrays us. It’s insisting that the bedraggled neighbor comes over to watch the sunset with you even when it’s a shocking red from smoke and haze, it’s claiming the stubborn beauty of a lone chicory flower that’s pushing on through the dry, it’s believing that better days are coming, even when you know that weather-wise, tomorrow will be the same. It’s a hopeful, joyous knowing that although fragile, the human spirit is a resilient and surviving thing that soars the highest in the face of adversity.

I might live in the desert, but I don’t need to let the desert live in my heart.

Wild fire in New South Wales February 2019

Follow Norann on Twitter at @NorannV.


About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • Sounds eerily familiar. I live in California, which is also prone to droughts and fires. The last couple summers there were fires near where I live, forcing me and many others to wear filter masks when going outside. This winter it has rained a lot, causing flooding, and mudslides because of the soil not being held together by tree roots. Former Governor Jerry Brown said drought and fires is “the new abnormal” since they will happen more frequently due to global warming. I’ll bet that’s the same for Australia.

    Kevin Cushing
  • Thank you so much for your words, Heather. It's been remarkable to watch the communities of Inverell, Tingha, Glen Innes and surrounds come together to look after one another during these tough times. You are so right that God's blessings are often where we least expect them. Love, always, Norann

    Norann Voll
  • Thank you so much for your prayers, Edward, they are much appreciated! There is incredible strength in rural communities when they unite in times of difficulty. Blessings, Norann

    Norann Voll
  • God bless you all. I wish we could exchange some of our rain here in Orkney for some [ not too much! ] of your sun and heat. We keep praying for you.

    Edward Hogben
  • Dear Norann, I love your quote about the desert and your heart. This blog is filled with hope. You have described the agony of the drought and fires with exceptionally apt words, and yet throughout your blog, the hope springs up. I love the way you draw out the positives, the courage, the heart-warming anecdotes, that bring a depth into all our traumas, and I am reassured that our Father God doesn't waste anything, but can bring blessing out of all the devastation of our lives. Thankyou for your word of hope. Love, Heather Kerridge

    Heather Kerridge