The winds we endured in the mountains for the best part of a week earlier this month were one of the most hair-raising experiences of my lengthening life.
Katoomba is a relatively old town by Australian standards, and appears to have been built around stands of giant ghost gums, one of which came down in the small hours with a terrifying crash only metres from my house while I lay in the howling dark waiting for the first cracks to appear between my walls and my ceiling.
After such a night, the ensuing days of blackout in the freezing depths of a mountain winter were a comparative cakewalk. Pubs, I discovered, have generators.
The winds peaked at 140 kmh, but it was not so much their power as their relentless nature that proved so daunting to those who lived through them. One cannot help but feel very tiny indeed in the face of such blind fury, and with people reduced in scale they seemed suddenly more open, less occluded by the trivial and ephemeral. The whisky helped, but more than once it struck me what we have lost as a people in a very short space of time, less than a generation in fact.
Surveying our damaged town over the following days, we were all struck by how the felling of a tree here or there had so altered the aspect of familiar streets, exposing little nooks and crannies we did not know existed (Katoomba is very much a town of nooks and crannies), opening large tracts up to the sky for the first time in many years.
As so often happens, crisis wrought what has turned out to be a welcome change in many lives choked with the weeds and thorns of their own petty concerns, change we either lacked the courage or vision to enact ourselves.
I put it forward as a fitting theme for 2011, from Tunisia to Fleet Street to the carbon tax debate in our own new-look parliament, shaky as a spring lamb. Change wrought more by accident than design, and thus perhaps all the more lasting for it.