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Might it be this little guy?

Might it be this little guy?

Something is stealing my water.

It’s actually the chooks’ water, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an important matter, one of life and death.  They have a ten-day waterer, but in the last two weeks it’s been depleted every day, and the hens aren’t impressed, not at all.  Could it be that with this unseasonally warm winter and spring they are thirstier than usual?  But even at the height of summer they don’t drink this much.

Could the sparrows be the ones who are drinking it, the sparrows who are determined to drive me crazy with their pesky ways?

It just might be that there’s something else in my little garden.

Every morning I wake to find the mulch disturbed, some of it flicked over the paving and stepping stones.  I always broom it back to where I want it – that is, after all, the whole point of having a garden – but the next morning there they are again, the scatterings of mulch.  Something is digging, and it might also be drinking.

Recently, if I’m up early enough and look out into the hopeful dawn, I sometimes see a darting shape, almost as if it’s been flung across the yard by sling-shot.  Yesterday morning, I waited for the light to come and got a better look: it’s small, and black, with a bright red beak.  It’s a blackbird.

They say blackbirds came to Australia in the 1850s via Melbourne, and since then have formed colonies up the east coast, particularly in the lush, basaltic gardens of the Blue Mountains.  But also, quite evidently, in my Goulburn yard (now that Cat the Ripper is nothing more than an ache in my stomach that won’t go away).

Is it the blackbird that’s stealing the water?  It’s possible that it is.

Unless I also have a snake.  But let’s not go there.

Sometimes I’ve seen a large brown hawk sitting on the ridge of the old shed that is my garage.  The hawk could be after the sparrows, or the chooks, or even my blackbird.  What a little world is in my garden.  There are days when I wish that I could sort myself out, forget about this whole writing madness, and just let plants and birds be all I need, let this small patch of life sustain me, in essence be my water – so I could live out my days simply sipping.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 16 November 2013.)

 

I’m a dirty rotten thief and this is why.

Last month, while working words in the Blue Mountains, I returned to the place where I spent my childhood, a village, a post office and a public-phone booth making up the village heart.  I hadn’t visited the village for twenty-five years, although I had thought about it.  In fact I’ve thought about it often, every week, sometimes every day.

When I can’t fall asleep I recall the green-painted weatherboard cottage; it had once been used as an apple-packing shed.  And the wood-chip heater in the bathroom, how it would puff-puff-puff when we’d get it really hot.  And the fire-wood alcove in from the front door and the tool-room out the back.  And the bedroom in which I once slept, how it had a view of the open-fire in the loungeroom.  And the school friends I invited up there, one particular school friend, another boy, the event that happened one night in the bedroom, the event that suggested my life would take a different course.

So I did my trip back; I made a mix-CD for the purpose, songs from the last two decades, not songs from my childhood because that would have been too much.  In the car I put on the CD and drove the twenty-five kilometres – one kilometre, I realise now, for each year that I’ve been away – to the old holiday mountain.

Everything was the same, everything: the hairpin bend, the tree-ferns like soldiers, the avenues of oaks and ash.  I turned down the lane to the apple-packing shed.  But the apple-packing shed: it was no more.  In its place was a sleek, black, architectural creation, not ugly, but it shouldn’t have been there.

How could they do this?  How will I be able to get to sleep now?

I got out of the car.  I took quick photos for the family.  But then I saw it: an old apple box half-covered in builder’s rubble.  I exposed the box, carefully cleaning it of basaltic dirt.  I felt sure it had once been inside the holiday house I used to know, either in the fire-wood alcove or in the tool-room.  In a flash I had an idea.  I grabbed the box and ran back to the car.

As I sped away I thought of Robert Frost’s ‘After Apple-picking’: One can see what will trouble/This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 17 December 2011.)

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