Art in the time of the burning

As Samuel Johnson said to Boswell, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

I thought of this definitive comment on time as I was writing this article in late December 2019 in the Blue Mountains, in forty degrees temperatures as smoke swirled around outside from fire storms only kilometres away. We had been told to evacuate but we didn’t, we’d been through this before. The car was loaded up, the cats locked in the house and their cages ready to pack and run. But immanent immolation did not concentrate my mind, or only in the wrong way as I compulsively checked FiresNearMe and messaged friends to check they were okay. They often weren’t: several were burnt out, many had life-threatening escapes, and evacuations were commonplace. My friend Ronnie Ayliffe was posting videos of burning trees falling onto the road as she fled her farm and headed for Cobargo, itself already on fire.

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