Shine

Sometimes, all it takes is a one word promot to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: SHINE.

THERE WAS A SHINE in the sky late that early summer day, a summer day only a couple weeks before the year closed. It was that in-between time that separates day and night. The time photographers call the ‘golden hour’ because the sun, low on the western horizon, casts its waning light through a greater arc of atmosphere that filters out all but the golden hues.

Usually, when there are clouds in the sky, photographers — and anyone with an eye for the quality of light — bask in this yellow-shifted light, making exposure after exposure and the day ends with a changing and often spectacularly colourful interplay of atmosphere and photons. Not today, though.

On a good day, as the sun sinks towards the horizon, golden hour illuminates the underside of the clouds to paint them in changing, warm colours that progress through yellow to pink to red. This, surely, must be the most spectacular time of day. Not today, though.

SIGNS OF TROUBLE
Our accommodation was in the mini-camper parked nearby in the Seven Mile Beach campground, not all that far from Hobart, Tasmania. The campground connects with the beach via a track past a remnant pine plantation. Now no longer harvested, the Pinus radiata have grown tall and form a monoculrure, a single species forest that, despite its lack of biological diversity, attracts roving bands of noisy parrots and other bird life.

We were road tripping for a few weeks, visting family and doing day walks in the wild places this fantastic island state has to offer. Sometimes we would wild camp as we had done before driving south to Seven Mile Beach. Dora Creek, up on the north-east coast of the island on the Bay of Fires, had accommodated us in one of Tasmania’s free, informal campsites. From there we had travelled south, stopping for a walk in the Douglas-Aspley National Park, a rugged and mountainous territory of clean, clear streams and eucalypt forest. There, we noted the campsite not far from the carpark and filed the location away for future journeys. That was something I did through our road trip, noting the location of free campsites with the intention of maybe using them one day.

Tasmania, like the rest of Australia, hosts a fire-adapted vegetation that evolution has equipped with the capacity of regrow after all but the most severe bushfires. The bushfire season usually follows a southerly course down the continent, starting late in the year, around November-December, and finishing around March. But fires occur well outside of those times and, this December, the summer bushfire season had already started in Tasmania.

For the previous day or two we had noticed bushfire smoke coming from a high ridge well over to the east, quite some distance from Seven Mile Beach. I wrote this off to a control burn, the low-intensity fires firefighting units start to burn of the flammable undergrowth and eucalyptus leaf litter before the heat and dryness of summer raises the bushfire potential. It’s a precautionary measure. Next day, there was more smoke coming from that ridge and I realised that what we were watching might be something more than a control burn.

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A syline familiar to Australians — the distant pall of bushfire smoke. This fire was burning quite some distance from Seven Mile Beach, yet by morning its smoke would cover the sky with a dense grey pall and scent the air with the tang of burning eucalypt forest.

It was. This we realised as we stood by the road to watch plumes of smoke ascend high into the sky from what was a much-longer fire front than on the previous two days. Now there was a haze over the land, a type of haze all-too-well known to Australians, the bluey-grey haze of bushfire smoke. Breathe, and the familiar tang of burning eucalypt forest tinged the air. This we had noticed all the way over in Hobart.

NOT TODAY, THOUGH
I had hoped for a photogenic golden hour that evening. We walked by the pine forest with high hopes but on stepping out onto the long yellow crescent of sand I realised that was a forelorne hope as I looked to the horizon. What could easily be mistaken for a layer of dense, low-lying cloud were it not for the scent of burning bushland in the air was, in fact, a dense pall of bushfire smoke.

But… golden hour. Sure, it wasn’t there that day. Well, it was in a way, for as the sun prepared to touch the far horizon it cast its bright yellow glow onto the underside of the smoke layer, bathing it in a dirty, yellow-brown shine that was as visually threatenting as it was quietly spectacular.

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A grey pall of bushfire smoke — not cloud — covers the sky at Seven Mile Beach.
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