Saturday Morning, May 8
On our regular bird survey, I’m reading the lake, not a Capability Brown depression and not a lake exactly, neither an extension of the Urunga lagoon. It’s an abrogation, a poisonous antimony mine-end, but first an Azure Kingfisher is perched by the water. Stop, stop, I whisper/shout to Wyn who doesn’t hear/stop, focused on finding Black Swans for me. The jewelled dinosaur flies from the rising lens, my brief annoyance helps me access reality.
Marbled clouds, serried reflections, mirrored dazzle – water lilies are opening their eyes. Nymphaea violacea is a staple food up north, there’s a feast here waiting, but I’m not hungry.
Water drips off the red bill, bright but a dusky-rose-red, no hue I can think of.
Upended, the swan migrates into a feather duster, obviously not whites and tougher than blacks, blues, spads or floss.
Wood Ducks perch on beauty, image clean on breathless alert (water has stopped, is shining clouds, but the trees are slightly torn).
Among lomandra sits an efflorescence of woven hammocks of fine silk. These webs of juvenile Tent Spiders are stopping light in its tracks.
Cyrtophora sp. species uncertain, even those species not communal as adults modify the classic wheel into these dense condominiums.
I check for Bandicoots beyond the baby spiders with little hope, being late in the morning for their lifestyle. The round hill is more Capability Brown, but hides an expensive spoil of deadly tailings – antimony, arsenic, lead with residues of cyanide and cresylic acid. Tons of toxic sludge are locked in a containment cell secured by fifteen assorted barriers. Reality is not what you supposed it was.
From what we seem to value the world is upside down.
We have lost touch with what is happening on this planet. We are failing to realise that we misunderstand living reality, from sub-atomic particles to appreciation and respect for natural environments, and the fundamental interconnectivity of absolutely everything.
‘Reality’ is first recorded in English in 1550, and we take it self-evident. [i] I find Wolfgang Iser persuasive: ‘[J.L.] Austin and [John] Searle presuppose reality as a given. Yet speech acts, as long as they are considered to be performatives, actually produce reality. If speech acts are able to produce realities, one could just as well say that fictions are not parasitic in relation to reality. Rather, by intervening into reality they also produce realities — just as a lie produces realities.’[ii] And as a poet, I agree with David Antin that, ‘Phenomenological reality is ‘discovered’ and ‘constructed’ by poets . . . reality is inexhaustible or, more particularly, cannot be exhausted by its representations because its representations modify its nature.’[iii] That doesn’t mean the world’s not out there in all its abundance and immediacy.
Back on Giinagay Way I back-track to Bellinger Quays, where Wyn recently saw Magpie Geese. And there they are, lined up on the fence, surrounding a lake (too symmetrical for Capability Brown and without a strategic ha-ha).
Two Pied Cormorants are still minding their nests. One is standing over three long necks snaking up, trying to tap its throat to bring their breakfast. The parent dives in a sudden vigorous motion and firmly traps the bill of one hungry chick.
A rough-red baby Coot with a stunted, clipped bill, is being fed by a black and white giant. The devotion of parents is a necessary wonder. An endangered Australasian Bittern seen here last week (never recorded in this area before) is now a fugitive.
We were on our way to the ‘Growers Markets’, forgetting it’s a Bellingen Show Day, so park in town and visit the Bellinger. Rivered swallows sow magic through the air, aerial displays drawing lines of flight. A couple pause and pose.
The views look almost English with grassy flanks manufacturing rich greens, but the banks sprout gum trees and the mountains blocking the Western horizon look unreal.
Crossing Maam Gaduying I look at the Strangler Figs, and the skeletons of their victims, buy kabana from the Smoke House (pork & garlic, venison & fennel) then apples from an ad-lib market. We should balance everything to live a long healthy life. On balance, how has my life happened?
What if my heart was weighed by Anubis on the scales against the white feather of Ma’at, goddess of truth and justice? At 66, I realise I’ve been lucky – adapted to luck, or just plain lucky? Whichever, I am a believer in blind evolution, in the interminable process of things having to work out, one way or the other . . . I eat an apple while Wyn drinks her coffee in the old garage forecourt, probably turning to a supermarket.
We visit the Bowerhouse, a recycling emporium, looking for stands for our Bonsais but just find the uncanny.
A spa pools plastic pots, the promise of life, the amnesia of spoils.
A toilet faces the forest, the edges burnt by herbicide.
A Cat is moving through the Waste Management Centre opposite.
We catch up with Sarah at her beautiful gallery ‘Treeo’ nearby, return a Brancusi formed Red Gum light to be fixed. My eyes swallow a coffee table of River Red Gum, one of the most beautiful surfaces I have ever seen. I want it.
Across the road, a shed is growing a sparse garden on its lid, and a male Superb Fairy-wren stands on the Bridge Crew barbed wire.
Back home, the fixed address around which all the stars revolve, we watch two Ospreys circle and drift apart, a rare sight away from the shore, a welcome sight.
I ring my mother in England. She has been watching a program on the Festival of Britain, is flooded with nostalgia. She talks of her cousin, Mary Ward, taking her to seeing the ballet for the first time in the new Festival Hall. She was overwhelmed with all the beauty and colour after the Blitz. Life emerging as vivid again.
Two decades later, three kids later, my mother fell into a rut. She persuaded my father to try ballroom dancing. One evening they demonstrated the cha-cha in the front room. My father had a moustache then – it all seemed surreal to a ten-year-old. I wanted them to be able to dance all night sensing a lack of joie de vivre. I hope to fly over later this year and hold her.
[i] William Egginton, ‘Reality is Bleeding: A Brief History of Film from the Sixteenth Century,’ Configurations 9.2, 2001, p229.
[ii] Richard van Oort, ‘The Use of Fiction in Literary and Generative Anthropology: An Interview with Wolfgang Iser’, Anthropoetics III, no. 2, Fall 1997 / Winter 1998.
[iii] David Antin, ‘Modernism and Postmodernism: Approaching the Present in American Poetry’, Boundary 21, No.1. Fall 1972, p132/133.