Loss

A friend sent me a fantail for my birthday. One you assemble yourself. It sat in its box for a week or two, so I took it to my nephew. He and his siblings also assembled the nano lego I was given a few Christmases ago. Apologies to the gift givers – but I did enjoy watching them being assembled!

I have another fantail which was given to me long ago and which I’m pretty sure I assembled myself. Here are the two fantails and the book I’ve been reading.

The book is fascinating – with chapters on the senses and magnetic sense and emotions of birds. It is also sad. Here’s an excerpt:

I visited New Zealand while writing this book, and when I wasn’t chasing kiwi and kakapo I took a few days off to visit Fiordland on South Island. The weather was perfect and the scenery spectacular, but the most striking aspect of this area was its auditory desolation. I have rarely been anywhere so quiet. Peaceful, yes, but this was a melancholic silence. The birds that once inhabited the forests clothing the steep-sided valleys have all been killed by the predatory stoats and weasels that the early settlers foolishly introduced. Native birdsong is absent across mainland New Zealand and made me wonder whether the introduced dunnocks, blackbirds and thrushes sing more softly in New Zealand than in their native Europe due to the lack of competition.

Some years ago I was shocked to hear that even seagulls are threatened with extinction. And our loveable kea also. Somehow, against all reason, I have collected stuffed toys of our native birds. I’m quite interested in the psychology which goes with adults having stuffed toys, and I expect it shows some emotional need. Perhaps loss and grief.

I bought this little rooster at the Otago Museum after visiting a dear friend I knew I was soon to lose to cancer. Her family had a flock of beautiful hens outside the living room window where we sat together, and somehow buying the toy held that memory. I didn’t know then that I would have my own backyard chickens several years later.

The same friend would buy me owls. Her daughter once sent me a pop-up owl card. I’ve only seen owls – moreporks – twice in the wild, although I’ve heard them when bush walking. The actual sightings were at Anderson’s Park in Invercargill when I was a child, and once at Zealandia several years ago.

Here’s my line up of native bird toys. I suspect I bought them to hold onto something I knew was precarious. The kea (right) was purchased at Aoraki Mount Cook where I was fascinated by the kea perching on the hotel railing. I have seen little blue penguins (second from left) coming in to their burrows in Oamaru. Pukeko (left) can be seen every day as you pass through Travis wetland. I heard kiwi when I was on Rakiura Stewart Island many years ago, but have otherwise only seen them in captivity. Only the moa in this line up is extinct – so far.

Piwakawaka fantails seem less at risk – for now. They flit about my backyard most days, chirping high in the trees, then swooping low and fast, catching insects.

Inexcusable Ignorance

Why don’t we know much about the living things which are all around us? You would think we have had plenty of time to find out.

Now that we are losing so many to extinction, it seems inexcusable that we don’t know how they live. It doesn’t suggest anything good about us that we don’t know, don’t care, don’t want to know. We might watch nature programmes with interest, but often they are about exotic animals in exotic locations, not those which are here with us every day – in decreasing numbers.

These marvellous, tiny fungi appear now and again beside the path. Why? and what are they?

I’ve just finished reading How to Catch a Mole: and find yourself in nature by Marc Hamer. He has learnt as much as he can about moles so that his respect for them, and all the other birds and animals he encounters, has grown. It reminded me that every time I find an insect or observe a bird I wonder how they live. What had happened to the tiny fish washed up on the beach today? What is the word for a baby fish? Where do birds roost at night? Why are they gathered in that particular tree down the road at dusk and not in others? Do I need to put out a bird feeder in winter, or are the birds able to find what they need in the trees and in the empty over-grown section next door? Even the term “over-grown” gives us away; nature should be tamed!

I don’t mind if the birds eat a few strawberries. What insect has been eating the leaves?

There are fewer insects than I remember in the past. I’m relieved if even a solitary moth bounces off the window at night. I found a bright green cricket (or was it a praying mantis without its large pincers? or a grass hopper?) high up on a late-flowering rose I was pruning. I put it carefully on the trunk of the rose, but it was probably too exposed there to survive. How do we know when our good intentions are completely wrong?

I enjoy the little native spiders which live on the window sills. I’m trying not to reel back in horror if ants arrive in the house – but the ant bait is still there. Apparently, a wipe-over with a vinegar cloth will disrupt their pheromone trails and encourage them to stay outside (something I learnt from a Year 9 student who had studied them – is there hope, then, in his generation?).

The representation of the ant on the box is designed to make us feel repulsed and justified in killing.

I don’t use sprays in the garden, believing – or hoping – that everything finds its own balance and who am I to interfere? However, white-tail spiders bring out possibly irrational disgust and are dispatched quickly (with a shoe). Daddy longlegs spiders (pholcus phalangioides, according to City Nature by Bob Brockie) in the corners of the ceiling get vacuumed up from time to time. Will I learn to leave them alone? They don’t seem to do any harm. Cob webs are swept down. Borer beetles give themselves away by the dust piles they leave. I inject the holes and fill them.

What was supposed to be a brief post is becoming more complicated as I uncover my own guilt in the demise of living things.

I’ve heard that the proclaimed “dominion” over all living things (ironically, when the first people were expelled from Paradise) is a mis-translation. It should be “guardianship” or care for all living things, like the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga.

An attempt to educate visitors about the fruit of the kahikatea tree at a local remnant of native bush. It is called “king” of trees – more irony: a term encouraging us to have respect by relating this natural beauty to human hierarchy.

One has to wonder if the mis-translation was deliberate; that we are hard-wired to put ourselves first at the expense of all else.