Reluctance n. ‘act of struggling against;’ ‘unwillingness, aversion;’ …
             from re- ‘back, against, in opposition’ + luctari ‘to struggle, wrestle,’ …
             from PIE *lug-to- ‘bent’ (also Old Irish foloing ‘supports,’ inloing ‘connects;’
             Middle Welsh ellwng- ‘to set free;’ Greek lygos ‘withy, pliant twig,’
             lygizein ‘to bend, twist;’ Gothic galukan ‘to shut,’ uslukan ‘to open;’
             Old English locc ‘twist of hair.’)

             Step by step in the dark, if my foot’s not wet, I’ve found the stone. Soyen Shaku

The year winds down towards winter; each day is a small circle, shadowless under cloud or with shadows that lean away from the low sun. Sleet showers alternate with golden light, and after clear nights, frost and fog transform the morning landscape. My resistance to writing grows as the days shorten; heavy, slow, I’m reluctant to enter what feels like my own cold-dark until I remember that it’s a season of the world and I’m inside it, death and life entangled.

As if to underline the memo, dozens of ravens congregate nearby, setting aside territorial disputes to feast on bones left out by the neighbours after they kill a steer for meat. At nightfall the birds gather in tree after tree throughout the forest downslope from the house, and the ground under outflung branches where they’ve roosted is white with shit each morning. From before dawn, all day until after dark they call and cry to one another. 

Energy sinks away into curled sleep at the root of winter; deciduous trees strip back to bare twigs where buds already shine; creatures are looking for food or warmth or both, or for places to hibernate. Queen wasps, fat with eggs, fly ponderously to crevices in the walls and roof or climb under loose bark to wait out the cold. Now that the last seedheads of grasses are finished, mice find their way into the kitchen and carry off dogfood to stash behind the furniture. Rats scutter.

We set up a trail camera to find out what’s eating young cabbages in the netted garden and see that rabbits have been coming in under the gate. There haven’t been many around for a while now, their numbers greatly reduced by diseases released in farming areas, and, we’ve assumed, by quolls and devils and feral cats, but here they are, back again. Something has been digging up and eating the potatoes, too, but we don’t yet know what – maybe a brushtail possum, maybe a pademelon.

These losses wake my famine-wasted ancestors, who startle up to tell me starvation is only ever a bad season away. Old fears, of cold and sickness, hunger and incursion, gather at the edge of the firelight, and new ones add themselves – fear of the hatred that blooms in public discourse, fear of its consequences. I welcome them in, hear them speak so that they don’t grow monstrous in exile. So that they don’t claim the power of the even-handed dark as their own.

By the dam, months out of season in this year of grassy abundance, two newly hatched waterhen chicks, black fluffballs on legs like the soot sprites from Spirited Away, toddle after their parents and older siblings. All the adults feed them, offering insects and tiny pieces of vegetation, and speak to the chicks and one another in deep, soft tones – tonk tonk – like the bass notes of a xylophone. And then they’re gone – has something eaten them or are they tucked away in the reeds, out of the sleety gale?

A pademelon eats and plays on the lawn with her joey, just out of the pouch. The young one, wild with its new freedom, skips mad circles, and the mother grabs it on its way past every now and then to give it a rough lick. After a while it somersaults back into the warm dark, a neat forward roll that curls its tail around it.

Southwesterly winds blow day after night after day, cold. The house is protected by windbreaks we planted thirty years ago; we receive the sound of gusts as they move through the forest and over the hillside, and what reaches us is filtered turbulence, restless air all through the garden. Falling rain mixed with sleet becomes part of it, clattering this way and that over the roof and walls. We make slow-cooked stews, and bake potatoes, and keep the fire going. There weren’t many field mushrooms this year – it happens sometimes after a wet summer – and I supplement with a luxury of cultivated oyster mushrooms and shiitake offered by a local grower.

Snow falls in the highlands across the river, invisible except in glimpses between squalls. As each front passes over, the sky clears and as the next system approaches, moist air off the sea is forced up over the mountains where it forms lenticular clouds, standing waves comprising many layers that don’t move with the wind. Their undersides are velvety, silver or sometimes greenish. Beneath them, eagles play, hanging motionless in streaming air as the clouds do, before veering off downwind.

Dark days, bright days – in the windy night I revisit childhood summers where even in sadness and perplexity (that turbulence around me!) the joy-flags flew, heavy canvas of the tent flapping in a sea wind, water golden as eyes in the shallows and the little body in its freedom there, shivering with light in the sandy ripples. The rivers and oceans that run through us all, back and back to the worn stone of the riverbed and the pebbles polished in eddies there, trapped and freed and offered. Power of stones becoming sand, layering down as rock and worn again through the power of water in all its changes.

By day I walk the darkening road; by night in river-light, clenched and cold, warm and opaque, I’m stone and water both. Tangled locks, bonds my mind devises loose their hold; force and gift, my body’s knowledge and its memories, stories marked all through it, wrestle the current; shames turn in my arms whose origins were lost with names of those who suffered them. Supported, they hold and refuse, avert and bend, and again connect, float free. Reflected, my white hair shines.



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