Kindred

We wish to explore kindness the vast and peaceful country
Apollinaire

The Daddy-long-legs spiders have just had a large family and I don’t have the heart to kill them. They start so small the big ones must be quite old. The ants are in the kitchen but I have no plans to chemically wipe them out. In fact I follow their trail and open and place the old peanut butter jar at the far end of it. They are interested for a while but then go somewhere else. I too stopped eating it a while ago.

The birds are in the garden, watching me. The possum/s is/are in the roof, pissing down the wall occasionally, certainly not every day nor in the same place every time, and I really should have it/them removed though as everyone knows they always come back. Possums are both regular and irregular in their habits. They sleep in, they go out, they maintain an irregular regularity though it is certain whenever there are strange and sudden noises in the middle of the night, like a heavy piece of wood being dragged across the roof, a thumping chasing bumping sound or a giant foot hitting the wall it is certain to be a possum.

Very few chemicals are used in this house and garden, even to clean. It is a biome of soft homes for all, a quarter acre block, a sanctuary in the suburbs, a shrubby garden, a sheltered workshop, a book-filled house, a place where roots may be put down and get tangled up, where the number of different overlapping territories or countries with different beings living in them is vast and uncharted. There are the rarely seen but very fierce inchman bull ants living near the clothesline in a low-lying multi-storeyed clay cave, there are the possums, there are skinks and geckoes under pots and in crevices, there are lots of snails, there are pigeons, turtledoves, galahs, rosellas and rainbow lorikeets in the front garden and there are magpies in the big blue gum trees watching over and patrolling the backyard. And the occasional koala or bluetongue lizard passing through.

And the more everything stays still the more inhabitants there are, worms and black beetles, large ash-grey grasshoppers, slugs, mottled geckoes, praying mantis, aphids, dragon flies, crusader beetles, slaters, millipedes, earwigs, small squiggly things, cicadas, crickets, tiny tiny tiny bugs, flies, bees, wasps, butterflies, mosquitoes, moths.

When you see a possum, as with many animals, you tilt your head back a little and breathe in softly through your nose, this way you get their scent or at least look as if you are. That is the movement they make when they look at you.

This garden used to be, when it was my mother’s garden from the 1960s to the 1990s, very low and flat. She called it a rock garden. And planted rockery plants in it and raked and fertilised, swept and pruned. And placed pieces of slate on the ground as rocks.

In the few photos we have of people taken in the garden during those years there are large amounts of space between their faces and the plants below them. Today in photos the people are dwarfed by the plants that tower over them. This current manifestation of the garden is full of hiding places for lizards, insects and birds. Places to hide. Places to stop. And for some reason I have always liked the idea of time stopping.

Are people just temporary visitors on the earth? Are we here forever? Or are we endangered like birds under glass bell-jars in museums, frisking up our collars of coloured feathers, standing still in our iridescent plumage, staring through windows at the distance?

In Oxford in the Museum of Natural History at the top of the stairs a large looming case of stuffed birds seemed to be hiding, a sample of murders and resurrections from all over the world, perched on branches – wonder and pity in their glassy eyes.

The greatest treasure of the Museum is a mummified Dodo head and foot collectively called The Oxford Dodo. Dodos, last seen alive in 1662, are of course bywords/poster birds/icons, emblems for extinction. The story of their brutal and heedless extermination is sadly not unusual, especially in Australia.
As I write a masked plover calls through the night. Eee eee eee. Then silence.

Dodo skeletons in museum collections are mostly conglomerations of different birds. Most of the bones come from one swamp, the Mare aux Songe (The Sea of Dreams) in Mauritius where a crowd of dodos is believed to have died looking for water in a very dry season about 4,000 years ago. The man who found them in 1865, George Clarke, a schoolteacher, did so after thirty years of looking. He was inspired by a book called The Dodo and its Kindred.

Recent research shows that the closest living relative of the Dodo is the Nicobar Pigeon, a spectacular bird with fabulous curling dark blue and metallic green iridescent feathers. Just after learning this I made a visit to Adelaide Zoo on a hot summer day, a wandering exploration kind of visit without a map and without a plan – just to see what was happening and to feast my eyes on some animal cohabitants of the earth.

I know there are people who say that they don’t like zoos because they are like prisons. I think they are more like hotels really, sanctuaries, and hospitals. Though it was very hot, and St Valentine’s Day, many families, children, tourists and couples were visiting the zoo. In a low fenced bird enclosure there was a large group of Nicobar Pigeons, sitting together. Quite a few were perched around a pool of water right near the wire fence and they looked intensely at me.

Actually almost all the creatures I saw that day met my eyes and seemed to not only notice but recognise me, or so I felt. It made me think about Dr Dolittle who could not go into a pet shop because all the animals would recognise him and call out to him to buy them and take them to live with him. I tried to acknowledge this feeling of connection and recognition by making a clicking sound with my tongue to communicate that I was alive and aware that they are living beings who see me just as much as I see them.

Stephanie Radok

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