Friday, August 17, 2012

A rare bird

Today I couldn't do what I had planned to do.  I went to work but soon after I got there my lovely workmates sent me home.  Go for a walk on the beach, they said. Smash something, they said.  Is there anything we can do, they said.

I went home and quietly made a casserole and put it in the oven at the lowest possible temperature.  I listened to a radio show and jotted down some book recommendations.  Then I went out into our garden and murdered a hedge:  the useless Oleander and Plumbago one I wrote about a while ago.  As I hacked and smashed at it I disturbed insects, spiders, and other tiny creatures and soon had unintentionally created a feeding frenzy amongst the regular avian visitors to my garden.  Ravens and Currawongs, Magpies and Peewees swooped and scratched and pecked and feasted.  Other regular visitors came and went and carried on their usual daily business around me. Wattlebirds and Honeyeaters. Galahs and Twentyeights.  Red-capped Parrots, Regent Parrots and  Elegant Parrots.  Wagtails and Silvereyes.  Butcherbirds. Our common, ordinary, everyday birds.

But today I wasn't thinking much about these birds.  Today all I could think about was a group of rare birds and how much I miss them and long for any of them to saunter into my garden.  My rare birds: my best women.  My sisters and sisters-in-law.  My mother and aunts and cousins.  My friends. Wise, clever and funny women.  Brave, hard-working and amazing women.  Good fun and bad influence women. Creative, talented and stylish women. Kind, thoughtful and caring women. Inspiring women. I thought about how incredibly lucky I am to know them and how much I'll enjoy seeing them all when we visit New Zealand at the end of the year.

But as I dug and lopped and barrowed and sawed, I thought most about one particular friend.  I thought about the day she and I met nearly two decades ago, way back in the simple days before houses, mortgages and children came into our lives, back to before our boyfriends became more.  I was alone at a fancypants function while my partner had swanned off to be important.  As I stood uncomfortably in a crowded room full of strangers wondering what to do next, a gorgeous elf of a woman with an enormous smile collected me up and swept me over to her group of friends, and promptly made me one of them. Today I thought about her wedding night.  I thought about sitting peacefully in a cabin in the bush in the early hours of the morning as I took my turn supervising  her guests' sleeping babies, then hearing peals of my friend's raucous laughter slice through the stillness as her new husband tried to serenade her. I thought about how on the last time my family visited her family, her cheeky husband pointed appreciatively at her backside as she stood at the kitchen bench making coffee, causing her to spin around and demand to know what was going on when we all burst out laughing.

I will never see this friend's enormous smile or hear her raucous laugh again. As I thought about her motherless children and her wifeless husband and all the other people who now have a Helena-shaped hole in their lives, I wiped tears from my cheeks with my filthy gardening gloves.  I thought about how life isn't fair, but I already knew that - few people are lucky enough to get to my age without learning that lesson.  Rest in peace wonderful, beautiful Helena. You were a rare bird indeed and I feel so privileged to have had you in my life.

The pictures in this post are of Carnaby's Cockatoos.  These big black birds are stunning and captivating but sadly also endangered.  Sometimes a big flock of them visits our garden creating excitement and mayhem and a mad dramatic cacophony in whatever tree they land in, but not today.

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