Faith in the blossom, and drawing new perspectives
The above image is a panorama of blossoming grass trees in the Stirling Mountain Range, southwest of Western Australia, approximately six weeks after the entire range was ravaged by wildfire (at the end of December 2019).
I've never seen a grass tree blossom before -- because they only blossom after being burned. The black trunks (which are already black) remain standing, like thick stubble on the bare face of the earth after the fire blazes through. The little grass tufts soon sprout again from the tops, with bristly, round flowers that resemble, well... a coronavirus. I'm using this image, which I took during Valentine's Day weekend roadtrip before the period of lock-down swept the world, to resemble hope for the return of life and beauty after the current ravage of COVID-19.
I was forced to suspend my PhD candidature and leave Perth to return to Canada about six weeks after this photo was taken. I had already been sick with (unconfirmed) coronavirus-like symptoms, after my partner had returned from the Middle East. I thought I had recovered before leaving Australia, but my illness surged back with a vengeance once I was quarantined in Canada. This resulted in a heart condition that is caused by virus, called pericarditis, which has knocked me on my ass for the past 3.5 weeks and isn't yet healed (but will heal!).
The amount of anxiety endured has been extreme, leaving me with signs of traumatic stress. In Perth, I had been renting a nice room in a large house on a large property, but was swiftly asked to leave ASAP once the covid crisis hit. Not only was I sick and trying to self-isolate with my partner, but also everything was quickly, progressively shutting down day by day, meaning looking for an apartment became impossible. More and more restrictions were enforced, and other panicked people in shared housing were all trying to secure individual quarantine spaces for themselves. I was left with no feasible choice but to leave Perth and return home to Canada, where I knew I would be safer with the support of my partner, family, close friends and universal healthcare.
The University of Western Australia had refused to grant me research leave to be able to continue my PhD from home in Canada, despite the fact that everyone--students, staff and faculty, were all being asked to work from home and facilities were mostly shut (as much as they could get away with shutting, without completely closing the university). International undergraduate students had been allowed to leave and work remotely, but postgraduate students were not. Lab work was out of the question. Fabrication spaces and university services were either closed or limited. The desperate facade of carrying on, as if it were possible to run a research university with nobody around, meant that no concessions were made for postgraduate students who needed to leave the country. The Australian government released a stimulus package that specifically excluded international students. I left on the last Air Canada flight out of the country, after having fallen completely through every institutional and governmental crack there was to fall through.
Getting to a place where I feel ready to go back to Australia and resume my PhD is going to be a while coming. But, I think of the grass tree, how it loses everything in a wildfire and because of this, blossoms harder than anyone ever realized was possible. I remember walking along the edges of the incinerated mountainscape of the Stirling Range, the blackened branches leaving charcoal lines across my bare legs as I passed through them, drawing new landscape perspectives on my skin.