Last year, summer was defined by the presence of the pontoon at South Beach in South Fremantle. It was there when I arrived back in WA in mid-December (I wrote about that in “On coming home”), but one day in February I went to the beach for a morning swim and it was gone. The water was, once again, unbroken from groyne to rocky groyne.
This year I’m a long way from that beach, and from that type of summer heat: in Perth it stretched on in the mid-30s, unbroken for nearly two months but tempered each day by the sea breeze. Melbourne heat feels much more oppressive, and on a really hot day I feel stranded amongst the solidity of the city: it feels so far from the sea. I could jump on a tram or a train and be looking across the bay within half an hour, but on these beaches I am still a stranger. Nowhere do I feel so far from ‘home’ as on a hot summer’s day in Melbourne.
Today is different. It’s sunny and breezy and not too hot, and outside the window where I write there is a fernery, cool and damp and growing riotously after the spring rain. The light is full of gentle colours, green and cream and the palest hints of blue sky. It is a new year, but in that artificial setting of a day and a date as somehow crucial to our lives, there has been no momentous event or shift in feeling. The past year unfolded with an endless steadiness; it was a year where the time always seemed to be running away, because of what lay ahead. The seismic shifts, the things that happened that changed everything, happened with a surprising inevitability.
They happened on days and dates that followed no pattern, and so the beginning of a new year is just a minor shift in comparison: an excuse to hang the new calendar and to realise, in the days immediately after, that writing 2/1/2011 or 3/1/2011 looks correct but isn’t. There is always a sense of dislocation in that: looking at the date and realising you have transported yourself back one year, yet have remained exactly where you are, caught in the new one, with new numbers to signify your place in time.
In spite of this, when I imagine the days, weeks and months ahead, I am ever so happy to be here, with the year opening up ahead of me like the fresh blank pages of a new diary, waiting to be filled.