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Notes

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                 Each day, each night                  the place sings everything in The swans bring out four young ones. Like many birds, they don’t start incubating until their whole clutch of eggs has been laid, so all the cygnets hatch over the course of a few hours. By next morning, they’re clambering down the sides of the nest into the water and are soon out swimming, with one parent leading and the other bringing up the rear. The convoy circumnavigates the dam and later the paddock where the adults graze. From time to time as the young ones tire, they climb aboard a parent and disappear under its feathers. The following day the whole family is out again early. J, whose house is by the dam, reports seeing one of the cygnets riding on top of the cob’s back, facing forward between the sweep of his wings like a princeling in a carriage.  The day after that, they’re gone. No sign or sound of disturbance, no bodies, no stray feathers. In the long grass by the water, tracks lead away i

Complete

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                           this life whole under my hands T found a raven’s nest upended on the track under tall trees – a marvellous springy cradle of interlocking eucalypt and coprosma twigs. Newly or perhaps partly completed and certainly unused, with just a couple of grey underfeathers caught in the clean fine grass of its lining, it must have blown from a fork in the canopy during one of the storms we’ve had. I think of the life that begins in a nest such as this, up in the whipping sway. The ravens are furiously watchful just now, flying sorties high and fast to get above – and so gain tactical advantage over – the eagles whose hunting territory this is, and who pass over the ravens’ nest sites. Drawn-out aoouuourrr aarruuooor  alarm calls sound throughout the days. The eagles respond by beating away out of range with something close to haste, occasionally turning talons-upward to warn off pairs of dive-bombing birds. I’ve never seen an eagle hunt a raven or go near a nest but th

Danger

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I lokid thereupon with eye of my understondyng and thowte, What may this be?                                            Julian of Norwich. The Shewings, 1: 149–50 Promptly, at the start of the month the swallows arrive and begin to fly in and out of the sheds, checking old nest sites and looking for new ones. We have one warm day and I prepare for the turn to fire-vigilance, though I know we still have a time of grace because the ground is so wet. A prickle of green appears on some of the hawthorns. Then for weeks it rains and rains; squalls pass over on the hour and in between the sun shines briefly, hot. The ground is sodden underfoot in a miraculous reversal of recent years when fires were already well under way at this time. They’ll be back, but any reprieve is welcome. The wind blows bitterly cold off heavy snow on the peaks across the river and newborn animals that have been tipped headfirst into it hop about, bellies full of the fire of their mothers’ milk. I’m making sauerkraut

Lifting

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          que nadie lo miraba,           Aminadab tampoco parecía,           y el cerco sosegaba,           y la caballería           a vista de las aguas descendía.                                                     and there was no one watching,           neither did Aminadab appear,           the siege was lifting,           and the horsemen           at the sight of the waters           came riding down                                           Cántico spiritual, San Juan de la Cruz In 1504, in his early twenties, Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad Babur, descendent of Genghis Khan and of Timur, having been driven from his hereditary seat in what is now Uzbekistan, seized the city of Kabul. He made it the base from which he established the Mughal empire, comprising what is today northern Afghanistan, Kashmir, Assam, Bangladesh and most of India.  A love of war and literature  was   Babur’s inheritance. His father, Umar Shaikh Mirzar II, ‘a ruler of high ambition … always bent on conquest … [an

Listen

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my eyes are listening octaves inside the landscape echoes building earth sky each creature the shape of a passion ranged along lines that set me humming the way a voice rings metal double rainbow singing through hear it? we might be anywhere in the scale dropping from nowhere the young hawk practises arpeggios on the wind Just as the days begin to lengthen, a week of clear skies brings frost that lies all day in shady places and builds on itself night by night. Thin films of ice form on garden water pots and on the little shadowed dam to the west of the house but birds still come to bathe. Currawongs that weigh in at half a kilo and 10 gram fluffballs like fairywrens, more than ever now they all need the insulation of clean feathers.  Breath-clouds halo our heads when we step outside; in the morning, the dog spins in circles, delighted, and snaps up mouthfuls of frosty grass to toss around as if it were snow. Cows lie steaming and chewing cud, bodies aligned like solar panels towards t

Water work

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                                             This subtle touch releases the brightness.                                                             The Blue Cliff Record – Case 78. Trans. Joan Sutherland Rain blows in from the east, smelling of the sea over which it has passed. Soft, drenching, it continues for days until clear water begins to run in roadside drains; early one morning I disturb a brown falcon as it drinks what looks like bright air from the bowl of a puddle. The bird flies up, not very far, and turns its wild face to me as I pass. The winter creek flows loudly over and under the ground, disappearing into erosion tunnels, emerging yellow, foaming down along its course.  Depressions in the landscape become little lakes and in the boulder fields on kunanyi / Mt Wellington above the city of Hobart, a tarn appears that only fills during prolonged easterly rain, covering the round rocks of its bed with limpid bluegreen for a day or three. The water is breathtakingly cold but

Knowledge

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  “I told you a lie,” said Finegas to Fionn. “The Salmon of Knowledge was to be caught by me according to the prophecy, it’s true, but it was not to be eaten by me. It was given to you, dear son. Let you now eat up the fish.” The Boyhood of Fionn Birds give the danger-on-the-ground alarm and I see a quoll with an injured leg go limping through the garden, not bothering to stay under cover though it’s broad daylight. It’s a big male, worn out by two or maybe three years of fighting and mating; I know as soon as I see him that he’s looking for a place to die. But first he wants water. He goes to the little pool where a pot overflows into a rock hollow, easy to reach, secluded. Next day I hear ravens close to the house, on the ground where they never come, calling Strange! What’s that? and we find the quoll curled beside the water where he lay down after one last sweet mouthful. Close by, the clean bones of another quoll, almost certainly his forebear, who a few years ago also chose thi