This lonely forest
That alleged “loneliness” which some city visitors assure me would inevitably overwhelm them were they compelled to live for long in this quiet forest place, seems to me a state of mind rather hard to capture during recent days. Yet, where one has learned to find life and pageantry, others would possibly discover only boredom and unutterable weariness of mind.
From my bed, close beside an upper window, my whole world comprises a few square yards of lawn (backed by laurel, lucerne, and japonica, all in flower), a mere scrap of garden border, and, in the right foreground, close beside my head, a huge hawthorn just breaking into bud.
Upon this delectable stage dramas of absorbing interest are enacted. The characterization is perfect, the plots varied and realistic; the love interest perfectly sustained; and the performance is continuous.
Ubiquitous sparrows supply ballet and chorus and fill most of the low comedy roles; soubrette and ingénue parts are supplied by dainty thornhill honeyeaters; hawk, currawong and kookaburra are the bold, bad villains, and the prima donna is a golden-voiced grey thrush.
Just at present, domestic drama is the order of the day. In some cases, nests are just being built; in others, the first brood is already well a-wing and the second on its way.
One morning lately, a diminutive honeyeater perched for rest in the hawthorn. She bore in her beak a downy white feather, which she had garnered from the pigeon loft. Her air of matronly triumph told plainly of the downy feather’s destination.
Presently, down beside her, perched an old friend of mine, one Sam Sparrow, an avian tough and feathered trickster if ever there was one. I failed to overhear the conversation; but his manner was friendly, the pert cock of his head eloquent of quizzical banter.
Then, not forcefully, not aggressively, but tenderly and gently polite, he removed the feather from the honeyeater’s reluctant bill and bore it to his own nest.
Half an hour later (and this is where I will not be believed) as if to emphasize how like are birds to men in simple trustfulness, the same honeyeater was back on the same hawthorn branch with another white feather toilfully acquired. Sure enough, the wily Sam Sparrow again “strutted his stuff,” while a puzzled honeyeater brooded upon this world’s lack of justice for the witless and the weak.
A few mornings later, into this sunny, singing world, grim tragedy came swooping out of the blue. A kestrel had made his kill, and was gone. For a while the lusty singing gave place to scared silence; then one by one the songs burst forth again.
But the usually bright and perky Sam Sparrow since then has lost much of his debonair and carefree mien. Also, since then, his demure little wife is missing.
These are but passing incidents in the morning’s many-sided drama. To tell it all would need a volume.
But what has quite absurdly delighted me most of all lately is the triumph of the swallows.
For several years now, welcome swallows have been attempting to build under my window hood. But each year their masonry fails to cling to the painted wall, and each year they have given up in despair and built elsewhere.
This year, the same persistent pair — or perhaps others more ingenious — have discovered a shelving timber close under the hood, and this year the nest is complete.
I don’t know why I should be so ridiculously pleased about it. Perhaps it is that, while to most the swallow is a remotely distant creature of the upper air, having little in common with man, I have, before this, known him intimately.
And I know, too, that when these strangely gentle and friendly people have built their home and the most urgent household cares are done, I shall be regaled each morning this summer with one of Birdland’s sweetest, purest, gayest, yet least celebrated, songs.
C. J. Dennis, The Singing Garden, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1935, pages 57-59
gay = happy, joyous, carefree (may also mean well-decorated, bright, attractive) (in modern times it may especially refer to a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; may also refer to something which is no good, pathetic, useless)
mien = the air, bearing, demeanor, or manner of a person, especially as showing an attitude or personality