The moon knocks on my breastbone,
asks to come in.
Such quiet – I fall into it, sounds fall into it like homecoming – raven calls; the pardalote chicks’ chorus of cries at each visit from their parents and the thready monotone of four or five repeated notes in the interim; the approaching and retreating digdigdigdig of a helicopter fanning the night’s rain off fruit in the cherry orchard along the road; wattlebirds feeding in the flowering pōhutukawa, their voices guttural above the drone of bees; the sound of a tractor changing gears as it climbs the hill outside the gate.Raven parents park a youngster at the top of a windbreak tree near the house. From there the fledgling calls belligerently, broadcasting its demand for food with the regularity of a beacon. Some days it moves down to the edge of the forest, but mostly it’s nearby. Maybe the parents leave it with us because predators – eagles, hawks – are less likely to come after it here. There are young ravens everywhere – I see them in the trees and beside the roads, begging gobbets of roadkill from their adults.
Young birds of many kinds make their first flights – swallows from their nests in the sheds and under the eaves of J’s house by the dam; the bronzewing chicks that now sit about the garden, still scruffy with down, though their iridescent blue-green wing patches have grown in and their pink-bronze bodies shine. Like the adults, they’ve learned to clap the backs of their wings together, clattering as they startle upwards and continuing with single sharp cracks at intervals as they fly. A young falcon wheedles, perhaps for more pigeon, from high in the huge pine down where the old house burned.
Now the pardalotes too shoot like little paintballs from the neck of their gourd-nest. After they’ve flown, I climb a ladder and look into the hollow. I had been imagining an open cup, but I see that the birds have filled the whole globe of the gourd with grass and bark and made a tunnel into the centre. The nest is hidden deep, inwards, invisible from the entrance.
Fledgling rosellas begin their chintering tinka-tink around the garden and in the hawthorn hedges; I’ll have to be quick if I want berries for this year’s batch of heart tonic. Hypericum is in flower and I pick the blooms each day as they open and drop them into brandy for tincture. Though the petals are brilliantly yellow, the oil in them stains my fingers purple-red – medicine out of the ground and air and sunlight, soothing and healing for cuts and burns and grazes.I’ve been working with friends to milk goats while one of the team is away. On the first day, the goats nose my hands to get my scent and look at me sidelong, soft mouths turned up at the corners, their rectangular-pupilled gaze so present and so other as they size me up. They flick their ears, considering, and decide to accept my touch. What is in their heartminds as they stand eating lucerne cake and cracked barley, while I move from one animal to the next, drawing milk into the pail?
Vast nights of moonlight and behind it, the sky suffused, glimmering; in the hours before moonrise or after moonset, a few stars brighten through the glow. Now days of heat begin but nights are still beautifully cool and I shut the doors and close the curtains early in the morning to keep it in, then open everything up after sunset to bring in air as it cools again. E and her family visit from Western Australia and laugh at us when we wilt as temperatures rise above 30oC – they’re accustomed to days, weeks on end of 40o+C at this time of year, and the nights stay hot.
To make the most of the morning cool, I take the canoe out on the big dam while the water is mirror smooth, before the sea breeze begins. A duck flies up, swamp hens tonk an alarm, grebes dive and bob up far off, but there’s no sign of the swans this season, even for a brief visit like those they’ve made most years since pondweed began to grow and the water cleared. I miss their big dark shapes, their quiet voices, the rush of their wings.
Insects of many kinds multiply in the flourishing growth that accompanies this series of rainy seasons. On the lemon tree, a katydid browses young leaves and looks at me from out of its camouflage – I’ve only seen one or two in all my time here. Hundreds of tiny larvae –what kind? – eat the bee balm under the roses. Beneath tall eucalypts I find a hatching of golden stag beetles, iridescent green-gold-bronze; and on the red bidibid that grows beside tracks and roadways, brilliant blue-metallic flea beetles swarm to mate and lay their eggs, so that their larvae can eat the leaves while they’re tender, and the flowers before the burred seedheads form.Warm wet air streams down off the mainland and thundertowers rise and pass over. Most of the rain falls to the west of us, across the river, but some of it reaches this far. Between showers, the hay is cut at last, and the dog throws herself down to roll luxuriously in prickly stubble as we work to bring in the bales. Despite the rain, I begin to eye the thunderheads out over the mountains with jittery unease. In December, dry lightning had already begun a fire in the remote southwest that’s burning still, though so far that’s the only one that’s really taken hold.
And so the year begins and so it continues. From the packed heart, innermost, what’s in us goes singing and raging out, hungry and learning to be, and comes home, in a moment that changes everything, into moonlit quiet and the glow that holds it all. Morning by morning the goats go to their sunny rainy pasture under the trees of me, talking among themselves; morning on morning I walk the sunpierced darkness of their eyes.