We live on the edge of a landslip zone. This is not nearly as dreadful as it sounds, it's really rather nice. Two minutes walk up the road (ten minutes if kids are in tow) lies 'the area', a space at the top of a hill with trees and birds, a view of the valley and many intriguing possibilites for kids and their parents. This is my escape, a place of quiet in which I stroll or stomp, depending on mood(iness). This is Lucy's playground, where she runs with her imagination alight, seeing koalas, staying in motels, being a monkey, getting shot by spiders - a lot of adventures are had in this small piece of suburban wilderness.
I had always assumed no houses had ever been built here, that engineering knowhow had predicted troubled and council planning had marked the area off as unsafe. But chatting to a neighbour, I heard that there were in fact once houses. The details are sketchy, something about a resovoir, a landslip and the ruination of plumbing. The plumbing - what a mundane source of disaster. I think about those people and wonder if the event was sudden, an explosion up through the sinks and toilets, a sudden rush out onto the street. Or perhaps they faced a slow realisation as the pipes blocked and blocked again, until finally it just wasn't worthwhile fixing the systems. Was the neighbourhood evacuated all at once? Did they cry or joke as they packed up their cars? Was there a small, still space inside, growing cold as they walked away from a home they had loved and a garden they had tended? Lives and landscape have changed dramatically up the road, and I only found out through a chance meeting with a chatty home owner who lives nearby.
When we collect kindling or pick flowers, when we throw sticks to the dog, we're standing in someone's old front yard. There's not a hint of the houses - no foundations, no stubbornly standing chimney stack - but gardens have left faint traces: the blackberries we pick in the summer, the pears and peaches and plums, this flowering quince,
the yellow red hot pokers just up the way,
the old and remarkable oak.
It's the plants, not the structures, that remain to bear quiet witness to the joys and hurts, the plans and disappointments, that were part of this space not so very long ago. I would very much like the people who lived here to know that I love it very much, and am mindful that my peace of mind and my calm arises out of their loss. Thank you.
Of course, I also hear the council keeps testing in the hope the land stabilises so they can sell it off to be developed. I grit my teeth and roll my eyes at this news. What's so very wrong with space that is shambolic and green? The value of this hectare or so lies not in its potential for sub-division but in its offer of slowness and stillness and memory.