Good Reading : July 2009
BOOKBITE 3 mountain tails by Sharyn Munro Sharyn MunrO lives alone on her mountaintop refuge, surrounded by the Australian bush. As the only human resident, she has developed a keen interest in the lives and loves of her animal neighbours and their stories, as we can see in this extract from her book. frogmouths. As a teenager, hurrying home along our darkening country lane after the late bus had dropped me up at the main road, I would often start at the faint glint of eyes in an oddly angled silhouette on a fence post. This being the early sixties, I was I not only allowed but expected to walk the several kilometres home by myself, even if it was winter, with night coming in early and no street lights along the road. I never had a torch with me. have great admiration and affection for the nocturnal birds called tawny across the yard to the toilet, where at least only spiders threatened. Back then I didn’t know what the fence-sitting creature was, but I grew to know well its shape, its silhouette. Years later, when first living here, I came across that familiar shape in a very wrong time and place. Daytime, driving down the dirt road through the forest, my husband and I saw a large streaked and spotted brownish-grey bird entangled in the barbed-wire fence beside the road. It must have been struggling for some time, as it had wound itself then it settled. Nothing else seemed to be wrong with it apart from the wound on its wing and the shock. W didn’t know if it had torn a tendon just flesh, so whether it would mend fly again. We left it alone for a few hours to adjust. But what was this very oddlooking creature? From our bird book, it was unmistakably a tawny frogmouth, and the attitude depicted there was unmistakably that of my fence-sitter of years ago. When alarmed, at night they fly away, but by day or at its dim edges, their defence is to freeze in that After a few goes it accepted the drops … Head up, neck outstretched, beak raised and slightly parted as if for a kiss, eyes closed. My family owned one but it was kept for blackouts and for going to the outside toilet, the ‘dunny’, on moonless nights – a scary trip to be avoided if at all possible, moon or torch or no. If I couldn’t talk someone into coming outside with me, I’d first peer out from the back door to check if the axe was still embedded in the woodchopping block, so I’d know no baddie was hiding behind the tank stand with axe raised to murder me. Then I’d dash 52 goodreading ı julY 2009 further around the twists of a barb through a wing. Gritting our teeth at the pain we knew we must cause, we put a coat over the bird and unwound it off the fence as carefully as we could. Still wrapped, we brought it home, and made a temporary shelter for it. Cutting the top off a box, we attached a screenwire flap and set the ‘nest’ in a sunny spot by the window. We eased the bird out of the coat and onto the soft dry grass bedding in the box. There was a bit of flapping and extended pose – petrified in several senses of the word. I tried to give it water from an eyedropper, and after a few goes it accepted the drops. I shall never forget the way it did so. Head up, neck outstretched, beak raised and slightly parted as if for a kiss, eyes closed. The quaint erect fluff of feather above its beak, like a lady’s ‘fascinator’ hair adornment that had slipped slightly, waved gently each time it sipped a water drop.