Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It hasn't been a very good day. I've been having what-if thoughts, the kind of what-if thoughts that you struggle to keep down, meaningless indulgences in a wish for a different outcome that they are, when something dreadful, sudden and permanent happens to someone especially close. I've never consciously felt particularly close to Richard Hickox, but I've had these thoughts. Thoughts about the fatherless children, that anyone should die alone in a hotel room, and wonder even if that is true, hoping it's not. What-if, if the presumptive diagnosis is correct, if he had still been here in Sydney, and fate may have given him access to some cardiac prophylaxis, a coronary stent, an urgent by-pass, another chance. What-if the sustained public criticism of him, right or wrong, had taken it's toll.

This morning I went straight to the garden bordering the front of the house. It has been deliberately planted with Banksias and Grevilleas to bring the honeyeaters, and they did. For several weeks I've been watching two Little Wattlebirds nesting just next to the chimney. Their little nursery cupped two eggs, just a metre off the ground, too close for safety from predators, but bathed in the warm spring sun and surrounded by nectar. The eggs hatched a day apart, little bare pink chicks about the size of half my thumb. What-if the goanna came back. Today the need for reassurance was pressing. And it was there. I hadn't checked for a while, and these little new lives had feathered, their distinctive white streaks already apparent, and their dark brown eyes looked me straight in the eye.

I find it disconcerting when you go eye to eye with an animal. It doesn't happen often in the wild. Late one afternoon, during that hot spell a few weeks ago, the young dog, now nearly 2 (and a joy I don't know how to express) sat staring into the low bushes and mulch just off a path. I followed her gaze. She was face to face, eye to eye, with a red-belly black snake. I dread this encounter, every summers day. She sat still. She didn't stand, didn't bristle and didn't bark. She just looked at the snake. The snake looked back. It was up, head thrust forward, tongue darting, sensing the air. They looked at each other with, and this is something you feel but don't believe, a measure of understanding. It was like they met there everyday. Despite the fear that breaking the dog risks a loss of attention, and a quick fatal dart, I walked slowly away, told the dog that snakes were to be left alone, then after a quick call to follow as the snake watched, we were gone. I gave thanks.

And I give thanks for baby Wattlebirds. Today I broke my promise to keep the camera out of other peoples bedrooms. I needed a record of replacement and regeneration.

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