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The Birds

Pose, Kids!
Pose, Kids!

I’m sure many are familiar with the music of Ottorino Respighi, a late 19th –early 20th century composer. One of my very favourite pieces of music is his The Birds and in fact I’m listening to it even now as I write, on this winter’s evening at ‘Puddleby Corner’ Wangi Wangi, in the year of grace, 2016.

I’ve always loved the music, and over the past five or so years, our little garden of Eden here at Puddleby Corner has brought special pleasure in the birds that frequent our garden. The rainbow lorikeets, Australian miners, kookaburras, magpies, topknot pigeons and galahs love Janet’s garden and the fountain where they drink, and I regularly feed them all, for they also feed on the many natives that Janet has planted. I keep birdseed for them in the shed, and every now and then the topknots organise a raiding party, looking for the birdseed, but they never find. Half the time they can’t find their way out and I have to capture them and take them out.  I love them all… the lorikeets and noisy miners are quarrelsome little creatures and squabble among themselves – and in fact so do the topknots, who chase one another around the lawn (on foot) if they think another topknot is getting more than his/her fair share. A couple of galahs, usually found en masse on the inland plains, in the wheat country, are here now, these gentle creatures, and waddle about, feeding among the rest.

Suddenly the two magpies swoop in to land – and everyone scatters! It is so funny, watching them. I am in hysterics sometimes at the antics of all these glorious creatures. The maggies rule the roost – no doubt about that. They are treated with great respect.They strut around, largely ignoring everybody else, and all give them a wide berth. Their propensity for sudden hissy fits is known to all. Every now and then, after staring at an innocently feeding topknot for a few moments, one will charge it, for reasons known only to itself. Pandemonium follows  – birds everywhere until everything settles down, and they all go back to feeding – until one of the magpies has yet another hissy fit! What is so marvellous is the fact that once it’s over, it’s over. There are no grudges held, all forgiven and forgotten… maggie is mollified and peace reigns…

This is a little Garden of Eden in which nothing is hurt or killed. Recently I had an unforgettable encounter of the third kind with a large hornet that came to drink at the fountain in our garden. I was alerted to its approach by what at first sounded like a small aircraft engine on final approach – the unmistakable, noisy hum of a large hornet. A short time later it joined me at the fountain, which I was filling at the time. The visitor was so close, we were practically cheek by jowl. It stood delicately at the water’s edge and thrust its fine head forward and down to drink, and I was reminded of the way a horse drinks.

At such close range I could observe every part of its superb, beautiful, streamlined body, all bright yellow and black, yet I felt no fear. As I watched it, it was watching me, but I sensed not even wariness on its part. It was a strangely companionable sort of feeling; as we, two strangers at the only coffee table left in the café, sat together in silence, enjoying a virtual cappuccino, each quite at home in the company of the other. My colourful companion slowly finished his virtual cappuccino (or maybe latte), gave me a friendly nod, then took to the air on beautifully crafted wings, making one brief little swoop towards me which I sensed as a farewell; certainly not a threat.

I still feel charmed by that remarkable encounter; also privileged to have had its trust. I’m reserving that story for a verse one day.

Speaking of birds, one day a few weeks ago I had occasion to visit the Wangi RSL, and on the way out, what should I behold but a gent at one of the outside tables, sipping a beer and looking for all the world like Long John Silver, with a parrot on his shoulder. I stopped to investigate and discovered the parrot was a lorikeet. We got into conversation and I learned that the visitor was the owner of one of the yachts curtseying in the bay. He pointed to a handsome craft which is his home. He told me he sails it up and down the coast with his wife and ‘Charlie’ the lorikeet. Charlie, he said, had been rescued by him when he saw her drowning in a river up north some years ago. She was very young and she has been with him ever since. He knows she’s a female because she once laid a couple of eggs.

Charlie was rescued some years after the yachty’s first wife died, and when he remarried, the bird saw the new wife as ‘the other woman’. For quite a while she gave her hell… biting her at every opportunity; doing everything she could to discourage her rival, but now all is well and they are a happy threesome.

He said that when he calls at places up and down the coast, people always want to see Charlie, who rewards their adulation by poohing on them… well, not always, but as Charlie was making her way up my nice, fairly new jacket which I’d had made in Thailand the previous year, her owner called her back. Sure enough a few minutes later she did it on his shirt.

I often think how blessed we are in this beautiful country of ours to be able to share our lives with the wild creatures. I am ‘minded of the lovely lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:

He prayeth best who loveth best
all things, both great and small;
For the dear God Who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Let’s treasure every creature, great and small, and our Creator God, Who ‘made and loveth all’.

(16 July, 2016)



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Ambling and some mental rambling

Saturday evening 13 July in the year of grace, 2013

That is a very old-fashioned way of dating a letter. If you care to look at some writings from around the 18th century, it’s not so uncommon. In fact I have an idea some of R.L. Stevenson’s works contain that sort of introduction.

I can hear you ask: Why do you do it? Well, I don’t do it very often. Our children, and friends, may have observed it in a letter from time to time and put it down either to an affectation, or slight eccentricity or whatever, but the truth is, I like it.

The week that is almost past has had nothing major to report.

One sadness was the death of Zena, a dear old German Shepherd who belonged to friends of ours. Her passing caused a deal of grieving amongst the children in the family, for they loved Zena and she loved them.  Whenever I hear of a death of a dearly loved pet, I think back on one of the chapters of my book, The Ness Fireside Book of God Ghosts Ghouls and other true stories. The chapter in question looks at the question “Do Animals have souls?” If you want my considered opinion, backed by scripture, then you may care to read it. I’ve always believed they do, and that opinion is confirmed in scripture.  I know we’ll miss Zena too.

We are so fortunate to live here by the shores of Lake Macquarie, believed to be the largest saltwater lake in Australia. Sydney Harbour will fit into it four times, but on the other hand, the lake is not very deep.

There is a fountain in the garden, which is a favourite watering hole for the local birds; especially when it’s been dry for a while. Two kookaburras are inclined to treat it as their own, but not exclusively. They sit there, one either side, chatting away quietly, making intimate little clucking sounds, every now and then taking a sip from the water bubbling out of the top. Occasionally, one must tell a hugely funny joke, for suddenly they burst out laughing in that wild, rather uninhibited fashion peculiar to kookaburras.

On other occasions through the study window I can hear the squabbling chatter of the rainbow lorikeets, all seated around the bowl of the fountain like seasoned old drinkers. They, and the Australian miners, are the noisy ones who always seem to have something to squabble about, or if not squabbling they engage in noisy, excited chatter. They are the social ones with big, noisy families.  Then there are occasional magpies and galahs, the odd sulphur-crested cockatoo, shy top-knot pigeons with their little red eyes and their little red legs and feet, and every now and then, a couple of wild ducks. The garden rather reflects the lines of T.E. Brown’s pretty poem, ‘My Garden,’ which commences, A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot.. It’s true – “Puddleby” is such a restful place, and I love it.

Let me admit at once that it’s Janet’s. I have the pleasure of it, but Janet is the one who tends it with patience and love.

Autumn Days
Autumn Days

Tonkie, our Tonkinese cat, likes to sit on the window-sill in the study, staring out at the birds on the fountain, making noises that suggest he would like to go out to play with them, but he is a totally indoor cat, so we don’t think that’s a very good idea. He would probably fall in the fountain, which I am sure would greatly amuse our feathered visitors.

Come on!  Let me at em'
Come on! Let me at em’

“Puddleby,” so close to the lake is a popular place for walking, and Jock our border collie likes to go for ambles along the shore, sniffing around the rocks, hoping to find a bit of rotting bait to eat, which is one of his more vulgar habits. Jock has yet to learn that if he is a naughty boy and rolls in something smelly and unpleasant, it inevitably means yet another (unscheduled) bath!

I took Jock for a walk late this afternoon. We meandered along the shore where a chilly breeze drove wavelets onto the rocks and into my old walking shoes. Jock sniffed every single rock, hoping to find some bait left by a fisherman – the smellier the better. There is a rough and ready boat ramp, with a fish-cleaning table nearby, and as we were passing I heard the unmistakable honking sound of a pelican. It seemed to be quite close, but, much as I looked, I could not see it, even when it honked again. At one stage the sound seemed to come from one of two ‘wheelie’ (rubbish) bins situated there, so I lifted the lid to peer in, on the unlikely chance that someone had put a pelican inside – I couldn’t think where else it could be. I was almost overwhelmed by the stench of rotting fish, prawns and so on, but no outraged pelican stared back at me. In fact all I could make out that resembled anything at all was a fish-head, its long-dead eye staring up accusingly at me. “Don’t look at me like that!” I told it; “I’m a vegetarian!”  Then I heard the honk again, but again could find no pelican to attach to it. Deeply puzzled, I turned to leave, and had taken no more than a single step when, glancing back, I observed a stream of pelican excrement, the length of my forearm and practically as thick, tumbling from the sky. It landed with an impressive splash and went everywhere, for pelicans are large birds. I looked up – and sure enough, there he was, sitting on top of the light pole by the bins. He stared down on me with that world-weary indifference that appears to be the perpetual expression on the countenance of any pelican you’re likely to meet. I mean, the pelican is not the cheeriest of souls.  Anyway, at last I knew where the sound had come from, and in fact I’m puzzled by my failure to look up, for pelicans are fond of sitting on light poles. That fact, to my mind, gives some insight into the nature of the bird. What other fowl would choose a parking place more suited to a seagull than a pelican? It’s like trying to park a Rolls Royce in a spot reserved for a Mini-Cooper.

We had meandered on no more than a dozen paces when a sudden thought struck me: Had I remained where I was, directly below the light pole, I would have had the contents of that cunning fowl’s bowels on my head! That honk – I now suspect it was the result of straining to offload the contents of his lower intestine before I managed to move away. Thank heavens I did move away! Thank heavens I hadn’t looked up at the crucial moment! Maybe it wasn’t like at all. Maybe it was simply a genuine call of nature, with no thought in the pelican’s mind of what was below. Janet tells me I incline to paranoia occasionally…

Oh well, enough of idle thoughts. This time next week I’ll be nervously going over sermon notes and things. That will occur just about every Saturday night until the end of the year at least.

Jock waiting for his walk
Jock waiting for his walk