I’ve always found refuge and comfort in words whether writing, reading, talking or listening…
However, perhaps it is ageing and adjusting to retirement or the weariness of coping with this latest cancer diagnosis, but the urge and even the passion for creative writing is difficult to muster.
Snatches of poems and stories still swirl in head and heart, but that’s where they usually stay – no ‘writer’s block’ just disinterest or lack of energy to go the next step.
Maybe I need to remove self-imposed pressure and unrealistic goals.
I haven’t fallen out of love with the art of writing, just facing the use-by date of some goals and dreams I thought important or achievable.
Conversations with self and the in-depth reflections that often accompany a cancer diagnosis, especially when it strikes again, have led me to a new passion and much-needed relaxation.
Or rather, it has encouraged an expansion of an existing fascination and another project.
I’m talking about protecting birdlife – especially the ‘backyard birds’ I see every day – and creating a garden for man, beast, bird, bee and butterfly to enjoy.
It is addictive watching the interaction when birds visit the front garden, listening to their chitter-chatter – delightful twittering.
And like the paparazzi, I try to capture the perfect photo!
They inspire me to write – not for anyone else but myself and for fun – two elements missing in the years of planning lessons, teaching technique, and inspiring others to write and publish.
I don’t have to feel guilty about writing for pleasure, or that the pleasure is mine!
Words Have Power
Words are a powerful form of communication. I love the nuances and capabilities of the English language, although the multiple meanings and grammatical rules are complicated and confusing when you are trying to master it.
Choose wisely, check the dictionary, listen to the tone, think of interpretation…
The influence of poems, stories, and novels can stay with you for life, also excerpts of dialogue from a dramatic script or film. Favourite song lyrics may move you to tears and can take you back to an important moment in time when you hear the song.
‘Putting it in writing’ and sending letters or emails, recording a journal or updating a diary, even keeping a blog are all valuable forms of expression to share ideas, feelings, and creativity and wonderful when it is not a chore, venting about injustice, or keeping a friendship alive.
I hope to return to feeling elation when my words work.
Word Choice Matters
The pen can be mightier than the sword but that depends on the opponent and circumstance – wars are fought and won with military hardware and signed contracts of peace don’t seem to wield the same power.
The belief ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is patently untrue.
The toxicity of social media attacks and resultant damage, plus the terrible toll of suicides after bullying (virtual and physical), proof that name-calling, insults, false accusations and misinformation hurt and destroy. (The pen is as mighty as the sword?)
We have, as an example, President Trump, one of the most powerful leaders in the world, and his use of Twitter. He is certainly someone who has brought the medium into disrepute more than others, but there are many other examples of what reporters call ‘Twitter fights” – and suddenly someone has their account cancelled or removes themselves voluntarily.
In the digital age, the reputation of journalism has also taken a hit, especially when clicks are more important than content. The lack of digital literacy in the community is a worry.
There are many recorded instances of two-quick Twitter reactions/responses, and the toxic comments of trolls and others who comment with online anonymity creating more articles so that often the important news or original topic is ignored.
Poison-pen letters and nasty critiques existed long before the popularity of social media, but the digital age and the speed and distance words travel makes me content to have a twitter account of the feathered variety!
And once sent out a word takes wing beyond recall.
Horace 65-8 BC: Epistles
Not that you can ignore ‘progress’ or technological change. I did introduce my students to Twitter and we had fun writing poetry and flash fiction – a totally different use than what it was designed for – although President Trump’s tweets could fall under the category of fiction but not poetry!
For the past year, walking by Mordialloc Creek and the foreshore, exercising Josie around suburban streets, exploring local parks and those further afield, provides comfort and delight but contentment is revelling in the joys of my garden’s flora and fauna.
The pleasure deepens sharing these activities with my daughters and friends.
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that he sometimes has to eat them.
The Wit and Wisdom of Adlai Stevenson (1965)
The real world often disturbs these idyllic routines of the natural world. Politics, protests, the climate emergency and mundane household maintenance intrude, along with a persistent inner voice that I should be ‘doing’ or ‘achieving’ – getting the hang of this retirement gig is difficult!
Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.
A Comforting Stillness
In the stillness of the evening
birds nestle in the trees
In the stillness of the evening
nocturnal animals forage
In the stillness of the evening
Above the stars twinkle
clouds veil the moon
the Milky Way cascades in flashing lights
a reminder each day a star is born
in the endless universe
yet, no sound reaches Earth
In the stillness of the evening
my heart beats a sweet rhythm
thinking of you.
An Urgent Plea Received
The bushfires have been worse than any of us could have imagined. If you (or anyone you know) has been affected, our hearts go out to you.
BirdLife Australia is coordinating the response for threatened birds nationally and our fire mapping has identified the species most impacted by the inferno. Now is the time for us all to take urgent action.
We believe millions of birds were incinerated in the blaze. Millions more have lost habitat and face starvation right now. I fear many birds, like the Rufous Scrub-bird, will soon join the list of threatened species. Their future is in our hands…
We have the plans and the people in place, but we know it will take at least $2 million to begin priority actions to save the most threatened of the birds impacted by the fires.
With your urgent help today, we can:
- Get survey teams into fire zones as soon as possible to find threatened birds
- Help birds recover by protecting them from predators and supporting habitat recovery
- Rebuild populations over the long term, through actions like captive breeding programs
Birds live in a range of habitats, making them useful indicators of what is happening in the world. Across the globe and throughout Australia, birds take exciting journeys to search for food, to follow the rain and look for breeding sites. Learning about birds helps you connect with the natural world and helps us understand more about the environment we live in.
While we enjoy a position at the forefront of bird conservation, our work is far from done. With 238 Australian birds already extinct, threatened with extinction or near threatened, we need to ensure that we don’t lose more of them.
I’ve written recently about the extent of the devastation from bushfires, drought and climate change, but also how the threat of extinction for many of our birds has hung like the Sword of Damocles for years.
We are running out of time to address the climate emergency, but we can all contribute to protecting and improving the aspects of our local environment necessary for native wildlife, especially the birds.
Bird species have incurred huge losses, not just because of climate change, but habitats have succumbed to development, domestic cats, and a recent study of millions of birds killed by flying into the glass windows of highrise buildings is a sad read.
We can make buildings safer for birds. Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning…
New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.
The search is on for various other ways of warning birds of the dangers of glass walls and windows…
A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.
Create a bird-friendly garden
Birds need a home to breed and bring up their families. Their natural habitat normally provides food, shelter, water and nesting sites, but in urban areas they need help.
BirdLife.org advise how to create a suitable habitat in backyards, parks, bush reserves and even wider communities. Here are four of their fact sheets:
- Learning about birds INFORMATION
- Helping the birds after the fires INFORMATION
- Attracting birds to the garden INFORMATION
- Feeding the birds, INFORMATION Bird-Feeding
On Main Street, Mordialloc
the lull of evening signalled
by oh, so familiar sounds…
birds jostle and joust
for palm tree frond, gum-leafed house.
Dusk descends into twilight glow
the tweets and squeals
a deafening crescendo –
a cacophony of conversation:
‘Time for bed.’
‘That’s my branch…’
‘Move over magpies!’
All must know their station
in life. There’s a sense of place,
chatter, bargain, even squabble
but eventually sharing space.
‘Stop skylarking about!’
‘You lorikeet lout!’
‘Squeeze over sparrows.’
‘How precious are parrots?’
‘Pigeons! The rooftops are home for you
go mutter your usual “coo-coo”…’
And in the gloaming, shadows
of building construction loom,
mounds of dirt in lonely gloom.
A treeless landscape, evictions rife
Mordi’s birds may face a new life.
I remember a bloody chainsaw day
shake my head and turn away…
Continue to walk by Mordi Creek
watch the ducks silently glide,
a cormorant rest in contemplation
this beautiful tranquillity
a sanctuary from conurbation.
How lovely the shimmering ripples
of boats tethered for the night,
feathered friends dive and feed
in the fast-fading light.
A familiar outline against the sky
silhouettes of ancient trees
reminding us of when this creek
hosted Bunurong corroborees.
The path peopled by dog walkers,
and school children hurrying home
joggers and health fanatics
grateful for the space to roam.
In the eucalyptus evening hush
this precious part of the day,
Mordialloc Meditative Therapy
chases my doldrums away.
Hitchcock’s Crime Against Birds
I’ve always had a fascination for our feathered friends, but nursed a fear of close contact after seeing Hitchcock’s The Birds!
Nothing equals The Birds for sheer terror when Alfred Hitchcock unleashes his foul friends in one of his most shocking and memorable masterpieces… beautiful blonde Melanie Daniels rolls into Bodega Bay in pursuit of eligible bachelor Mitch Brenner. She is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. Suddenly thousands of birds are flocking into town, preying on school-children and residents in a terrifying series of attacks. Soon Mitch and Melanie are fighting for their lives against a deadly force that can’t be explained and can’t be stopped in one of Hollywood’s most horrific films of nature gone berserk.
Released in 1963, I must have seen The Birds on television in 1968 or soon after – I would have been 15 – but it could have been yesterday because it is one of those movies you never forget.
Hitchcock was a master at creating fear and who would have thought a movie with such an innocuous title could be terrifying?
It took me years to look at birds with admiration, not suspicion. And it is amazing how many people I have met over the years who were affected by that film!
For years, I preferred to keep a distance from birds, disliked seeing them caged and envied their ability to fly, but still held an irrational fear they’d try and peck at my eyes.
If you read the trivia notes on IMDb, they reveal the treatment meted out to the birds on the set of the film – behaviour not tolerated today – we should feel sorry for them not the humans.
Ten Birds Regularly Visit My Garden
Google Backyard Birds, to discover a host of information on birds found in Australian backyards; each state gets a mention.
Depending on what suburb you live in, the following birds will probably be common visitors.
I admire and respect the tenacity and survival instincts of the bird population; their cleverness and beauty, their strength despite such fragile frames. For years, a blackbird family built their nests in the Photinia trees that line our back fence and watching the birds fly back and forth with twigs, discarded pieces of plastic and other debris hanging from tiny beaks proved how adaptable and innovative they can be.
Oh, little blackbird
with your puffed-out chest
to some your song is sweet.
Others, they despise you
native birds must compete.
You build a nest
to lay your eggs —
eat up all the food
the native birds fly away
a situation far from good
Some say we should leave
Mother Nature well alone
birds are free to travel
they often widely roam.
Perhaps accusations are absurd
because the sky is limitless
and belongs to ALL the birds!
Last year, I filmed a magpie ripping threads from a coir mat and flying off to build a nest.
Drought and urban development shifts bird populations. Mordialloc now echoes to the screeching and chittering of flocks of rainbow lorikeets, especially in the evening when they roost in the iconic date palms lining Main Street, the prolific sparrows and thrushes of earlier years forced elsewhere.
They appear on the lawn
like four pirates of old
strutting and aggressive
noisy and bold.
Fixing beady eyes
on a treasure trove
they bully incessantly —
taking what they love
They’ve come to this land
from across the sea
in an ideal climate
they thrive with glee
They raid and steal
do what pirates do best
the Common Myna
has become quite a pest
© 1996 mn
The cockatoos and galahs are still around but prefer the open area down by Mordialloc Creek.
Melodic butcherbirds and bullying wattlebirds have made their home in grevillea and banksias, ensuring the smaller birds rarely visit. The sky often patterned by flocks of migrating birds from the nearby Edithvale Wetlands.
Sometimes one or two rare birds choose my garden for a rest or snack instead of ‘eating on the wing’, the experience a delight, but Murphy’s Law dictates my camera is never ready to capture the moment!
Wandering in the garden with my morning cuppa, I’ve recorded quite a few of the bird calls because they are so beautiful. Identifying the singer often leaves me intrigued. Most birds are gifted with plumage to match their preferred habitat, they blend into tree foliage, the bushes, reeds or grasslands with ideal camouflage.
The plaintive song echoes
in the university grounds
as students hurry home
past skeletal branches
of winter trees
hosting the bird’s lament
a mournful echo
of dinosaur dynasties
amid the whirr of bicycle wheels
a wistful whistle announces dusk
until full-throated celebration
a melodious call to rest
classroom doors close
the campus empties
crowded trams trundle by
bathed in artificial sunlight
tall grey buildings reach
for a star embroidered sky
this call of birded tongue
of long-forgotten species.
The Kookaburra Laughs In The Old Gum Tree…
When my family first arrived in Australia, in 1962, magpies proliferated in bushy Croydon, so did kookaburras, rosellas, cockatoos and galahs. Most of those birds absent from Mordialloc when John and I started our family here in the 1980s.
The last kookaburras sighted in nearby Bradshaw Park long before I joined the Friends group and worked to save the remnants of indigenous flora and fauna from encroaching suburbia. Bradshaw Park is the only native bushland reserve in Mordialloc and is home to 136 native species – some of which occur nowhere else in Mordialloc.
Rangers have sighted 33 native bird species, but introduced birds thrive too.
Tuneful blackbirds, thrushes and common mynas gobbled the crumbs I scattered each morning (a politically incorrect habit learned from Mum and Dad that I’ve now ceased!).
As I learned from others in the Friends group and planted indigenous trees and flowers, after many years, some native birds now call the trees and shrubbery I’ve nurtured, home.
Recently, a dear friend of 50 years visited from London. Nobuko stayed with other friends in Olinda before me and brought me a teatowel made locally as a gift. It reminded me of childhood trips to visit Sherbrooke Forest.
These rosellas are often seen up in the Dandenongs but there is another bird I have only been lucky to spot a couple of times in my life – very special memories.
Lyre Bird’s Lair
A forgotten memory surfaces strong
feeds a yearning now the days are long
an image of childish eyes entranced
the memorable day the lyrebird danced.
Performing his unusual repertoire of sound
the lyrebird proudly claimed his ground
tail feathers splayed shimmering white
hiding his head from onlookers’ sight
without colourful peacock arrogance
he began his shy seductive dance.
Throughout the day lovers came and went
until the lyrebird’s energy spent
and he disappeared amongst the trees
ephemeral as the morning breeze.
Walking the paths of Sherbrooke Forest,
enthused by dreams of aeons past
I hope to glimpse again the lyrebird’s dance
Tho’ its talent for mimicry limits my chance.
This bird can repeat the magpie’s trill
replicates man-made sounds at will –
chainsaw, hammer, or car alarm
he’s perfected them all as part of his charm.
The picnic area leads to the nature track
warmth of dappled sunlight upon my back.
Cloaked by primeval ferns dripping dew
I abandon pungent asphalt; exhaust fumes too
farewell gravel crunch, and human chatter
leaving creek where mosquitoes scatter.
Winding upwards to the whistling wagtail
I try to spot him but to no avail
a flurry of wings, camera shy rosella revealed
the foliage of Sherbrooke a perfect shield
As ancient eucalypts climb towards the sky
an eastern whipbird’s distinctive ‘crack’ nearby
spongy deep green moss cushions city feet
ornamental fungi from undergrowth peeps.
Vegetation hugs the path and sprouts native grass
exposed skin tickled as I stride past.
Eucalyptus tang replaces rich loam smell
the towering Mountain Ash cast their spell
fragile maidenhair ferns decorate the trail
flighty butterflies appreciating their veil.
Panting with the exertion of the climb
each pause filled with birdsong sublime
my misty breaths join whispering trees
a nearby rustling makes me freeze.
Low in the fork of a wattle tree
a sight I never expected to see
constructed with meticulous precision
a female lyrebird’s nesting vision.
A beautiful ball-shaped structure appears
the perfect home developed through years.
Of evolution, and remarkable adaptation
what an amazing bird unique to this nation
but alas like the palette of fleeting dawn
the enigmatic lyrebird and chick long gone.