Frost Secrets in the Wetlands

Hairy whiskers grew inside my tent last night
There they are  – sprouting all furry from my orange balloon
and shedding like dog hair onto my sleeping bag
as I shift to find my water bottle
Mmm – it’s frozen too.
Spiky air prickles my nose like nettles but it’s warm in bed.

Unzip the world –
A line drawing develops in the first light
twiggy bracken and twisted webs sketch discrete silver outlines
Parabola tussocks draw random spirally doodles
while birds talk quietly about cold.
The old matai filters the first glints of lacquered dawn
and I squeeze on cold-stiffened boots.

Sudden hints of colour spark into existence and my fingers freeze –
a dragonfly lightshow; fireworks of shattered light
I think the swamp is talking in light-code
playful grasslands glittering with chromatic chatter
green red orange argent and gold
My swamp is exploding into spherical diction
precise as insect wings
Can you decrypt ice-speak?

Soon the grasses are nodding and shrugging
as the sun warms them
Rainbow marbles wheel down arcs of grass blades
some roll in
some roll out
dripping conversationally
Some will seep into little ponds and streams
and some will rise as mist

frost gone –
message erased

 

Kokako encounter at Tunawaea

Christine and I take the Tawa line –
This weekend we are rat trappers in a hidden valley
Lovely Tunawaea, nestled behind the folds of back blocks King Country
and guardian to an elusive bird…
We pursue a wiggly web of markers and bait stations
the pair of us at sea on waves of ridges,
like Pericles setting out from the island of Tyre –
Off we go trustingly following from point
to numbered point
and matching them up with our chart
Christine does the odds and I’m the evens –
Where on Earth is north in all this waggle?
I can tell when the sun comes out

We stop for sandwiches, Christine and I,
in a tawa cathedral
We pause to gaze up the dim columns
ethereal and vanishingly tall,
hazed with a fresco of leaves against light
Dripping banks of kidney fern glow green in candlelight
like a cloak of blown glass fragments
wrapping the soft logginess of the damp sponge floor
But this place has an extra gift for us;
This cathedral has a choir:
Kokako

Ghostly divas in an invisible circle
weaving gentle magic
It feels like eavesdropping on mellow love songs from a lost world
It sounds like the haunting creak of an old swing
Strangely resonant, languid and drooping out of key
Sighing wine glass harmonics heavy and full
Low modal voices leaning into each other
to sing in otherworldly harmony,
the plangently intimate conversations of forest beings
who are utterly indifferent to us on the ground –
beguiling bells that would taste, if they could,
of dark plums on the edge of overripe.

Perhaps they are like gleams of sunlight concentrated into sound –
Energy escaping from one form to another –
Light fall distilled into eerie oboe antiphony
Pooling light, pooling water unspool in sound –

Who can spin the golden sunlight into song?
Who? Who? Who?
Kokako can!
And who can gather the loose skeins of silver rain and give them form again?
Kokako can, kokako can!

The richness of the trees
and the fullness of the earth
combing out the mist and weaving matter into music
teasing out strands of energy into soft waves
belling, welling…

Days later, I’m still open-eared for reedy tubish sounds but there’s really nothing like it.
For me there was a sense of grace but also of loss.
Our kokako choir was an evocation of a past I was born too late for –
remade in imagination as if through curtains of mist,
from fossils, stories and bones –
a dream of an ancient untouched Aotearoa
like a great beached waka,
Alive with vast forests and giant eagles
loud with bird song,
Once were moa
Once were huia
Please don’t leave us, kokako

 

Photograph: Jacqui Geux

 

A Myna for Maree

Indigenous birds are our most treasured, but this Ponsonby identity has won a few hearts. My friend Maree raised an orphaned myna bird from a chick, and now it’s part of the family, when it chooses to be.

Peeking puppetwise over the guttering, a street urchin myna joins us for coffee one Sunday afternoon.
I think her name is Clementine, for the miner 49er, and his light-footed daughter.
She’s hilariously trusting – which is a bit of a worry,
even though the cat has no less than seven bells.

Maybe, if she turns out to be he,
he can be Gavroche – the Paris street-kid from Les Mis!
He certainly employs all that one’s cockney charm –
feet planted wide, tilted hat,
cheeky grin – a tiny David, undaunted by we tall Goliaths.

He hops after the car like a dog and right on into the house where he takes refreshing baths in the kitchen sink,
fluffing up the grey and white feathers on his breast and dipping his beak (or her one)
yellow as a traffic light pole
spatter, spatter, spatter! Oh dear, more cleaning!

Tilting her head like she’s totting up a shopping bill, she follows our conversation – drinking in voice tone
and tugging at my shoelaces in case they’re tasty.
She deigns to accept bits of jammy scone
but is too sensible to actually sit on hand –
oh, but then she jumps on Maree’s knee after all.
A loveable rogue – eyeing us up shrewdly –
curious as a crook.

I think of Ping on the Yangtze River –
or that robin that visited by my tent once to sit on my sleeping bag as I read my book, near Flora hut.
She dances and struts in front of a mirror and poses for a blurry photo
almost squashed up against the phone;
the beak appears as a slash of yellow paint.
A cocky, fragile opportunist,
of somewhat short life expectancy I fear –
All cockney rhyming slang and rude words;
she haunts the cafe on Richmond Rd
stealing the froth off cappucinos
hen hiding among legs when expelled in disgrace
(for numerous sins – especially pooping).

Already the odd feather short from a brisk feline encounter,
She’d better keep her wits about her or she’ll lose the lot.
She has her own lodgings in Bird City,
which is the phoenix palm in the garden, along with the sparrows and pigeons.
It’s such a privilege to hobnob with this little alien person;
to be trusted seems like a miracle.

She’s just young and gets tired quickly;
soon she falls asleep on my foot – and makes my day.

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