The quiet hour [story by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This story by C. J. Dennis was published in The Singing Garden (1935).]

The quiet hour

I have found in this Australian scene, of mountain and forest, of shaded creek and fern-filled gully, of cultivated gardens bordered by the virgin bush, much quiet peace and many joys — on rare occasions, inexpressible joys, far removed from the dark moods awakened by those pictures of arid desolation that have engaged too closely and too often the minds of those who would recreate with words the life and scenes and moods of this versatile continent.

The “Dead Heart,” the dusty track through waterless deserts, the hopeless struggles of the outback settler — all these have, I think, been more than a little over-stressed. There are many pleasant places up and down this land where nature has been less unkind.

In such a pleasant place I have lived and worked for nearly thirty years; and, if I have succeeded in conveying to readers something of the joys and (for the sake of truth) of the rare tragedies of this forest place, then the whole of my task has been done, for I set out to do no more than that.

As I write these lines, seated upon a green lawn with the scene before me, the evening of what has been a glorious sunny day begins to steal about the forest.

The rigours of winter have almost passed; the coming of spring (which none can appreciate so well as dwellers in this mountain place of deep forests dank with too abundant rain) is indicated by a thousand hopeful signs. Daffodil and rhododendron are aglow in the garden, lawns have taken on a yet more vivid green, and the foliage of golden wattle that rich hue soon to be intensified by the already bursting bloom. Long since, the birds began their early mating songs.

To this valley twilight has come; but the sinking sun, casting his last rays high over it, tinges with an amethyst glow the clustering tree-trunks of a towering eastern hill.

Two grey thrushes already have called for the customary bed-time snack and, having supped, neither has failed to pipe a little song in gratitude — or so it pleases us to think.

An impertinent blue wren, perched on a rose spurt close by my head, inspects me with an air of comic impudence, then lifts up his head to a refrain that, in such a mite, seems absurdly vociferous. Then he, too, flutters off with his brown-clad family to some secret abode in the denser scrubs. From his perch on a high gable a kookaburra chuckles rather drowsily and cocks a shrewd eye earthward.

As the gloaming deepens, there descends upon this scene a mantle of peace so profound that it is past explaining — a feeling of content so deep, of such calm and unquestioning acceptance of all things, that it seems to hold some quality of mystery that ’twould be folly to explore. Out of the brooding forest, the darkening sky, the last goings and comings of birds, the little whispered calls and secret songs and rustlings, there steals to one a sense of infinite well-being, definite and real enough while the mind accepts it without question; yet so impalpable as to vanish utterly the moment it becomes a problem for curious enquiry.

In his book, The Nature of a Bird’s World, the English writer, H. Eliot Howard says in the preface, “There is more joy in finding a problem than in trying to solve one, for to solve a problem is vain delusion. There is a mystery of song, a mystery of flight, a mystery of nest; and yet, not three mysteries but one: a bird is the mystery, for it steals our values of beauty and mingles them strangely in form no less than in feathers; in colour no less than in song; and in what we value most, devotion to its home.”

That, I feel, in some vague and general way, defines my attitude towards our birds — if ever I trouble to conceive an attitude at all — and, indeed, towards all nature in this Singing Garden green-walled by towering trees that hold a mystery all their own.

It is darkening rapidly now; the kookaburra is still perched upon the high gable, though I can discern little more than his silhouette. As I watch he becomes suddenly alert and, diving straight as an arrow for a spot on the lawn not three feet from my chair, swiftly, with perfect confidence, plunges his great bill into the earth and unerringly draws forth a fine fat worm. He calmly batters it twice against a rung of the chair, gobbles it, turns about awkwardly on clumsy feet and, before he has flown thirty yards, darkness conceals him.

Here is yet another mystery. How in that half-darkness, from sixty feet away or more, did that kookaburra know with such unerring certitude that the worm was exactly at that spot and so easily accessible? Is he possessed of vision so unbelievably keen that, from that distance and in such feeble light, he detected some infinitesimal earth movement that betrayed the worm? Did the unlucky worm betray itself by a sound-vibration too minutely high in frequency for human ears? Or again, has the kookaburra some sixth sense that we lords of earth are unable to discover or to comprehend?

And, last question of all: is it vastly important that I or any other human should know?



Source:
C. J. Dennis, The Singing Garden, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1935, pages 183-186

Editor’s notes:
amethyst = a purplish tint or moderately purple (from amethyst, the purple or violet transparent quartz used as a gemstone)

Dead Heart = the remote and arid interior area of Australia (popularized by the title of a book by John Walter Gregory, The Dead Heart of Australia: A Journey Around Lake Eyre in the Summer of 1901-1902, with Some Account of the Lake Eyre Basin and the Flowing Wells Of Central Australia, published in 1906)

gloaming = dusk, twilight

sup = to eat or drink; imbibe drink or food by drinking or eating in small amounts (small mouthfuls, sips, or spoonfuls), especially liquid foods (such as soup); drink; have supper, eat an evening meal

Old spelling in the original text:
’twould (it would)

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