Nothing can so predictably raise a tisky grumble from me as people being late for dinner. Especially when dinner has just been dished and is then left to grow cold on the table. Growing up, my sons well knew the pitch of the call, ‘Dinner!’ and did not dare disobey (at least in that).
But the thing about my husband is, not only is he regularly tardy at the table, he always has a good excuse. Ten minutes before a meal is the time to fix the leaky tap/dodgy internet connection/wonky cupboard door. Or, in the case of yesterday evening, the time to dash outside to try to take a photograph of a hitherto elusive bird.
This bird has followed us from the Mountains and through two house moves, to find us once again here at The Bend, in Millthorpe. Its call is as distinctive as mine – loud, high and insistent – but brightly conversational too, as if it’s declaring with some particular enthusiasm, ‘Oh, it must be dinnertime!’ or in the mornings, ‘Breakfast! Marvellous breakfast!’
In Leura, on lazy afternoons, we’d lounge about waiting for its chirp to burst above the silence. But we never saw it. Our house there was perched on the side of a steep gully, snug in the trees. We were surrounded by birds of all kinds, from tiny flame-flecked finches that would swarm the grevillea in flower, to magnificent sulphur-crested cockatoos that would come to merrily destroy the woodwork, sharpening their beaks. We loved them all. But the call of the one we could never see was always the most striking. Intriguing..
It became Our Bird. In strange, dark times after our move west to Orange, when Dean was ill and I felt lost, dislocated, scared, alone, that little bird returned to us, and it sang me away from strange, dark thoughts. I came to think of it as some kind of totem, a tiny orb of magic tugging me back to the light. A love song, imploring, ‘Come on! Cheer up! You’ll be fine!’
It would call me into a smile right under the bedroom window, where the garden was sparsely suburban, all neatly edged and snipped. But still, we never saw it.
When the call came again at The Bend, though, not long after we finally found the place and settled here, the bird quickly revealed its location. ‘Oh dinnertime!’ .It had to be coming from somewhere in the line of thickly foliaged mop-top robinias at the front of the house. Sat as our house is in a paddock largely waiting to be filled, there was nowhere much else for the bird to hide.
Or perhaps it wasn’t hiding at all but only singing us home. At last.
And then Dean saw it – a grey bird, a black pencil-point of a beak, a flash of something gold, hanging from the grape-wire strung against one of the verandah poles. He stalked it with his good camera, across the yard to the paddock gate and back again as our curry cooled.
‘Got it!’ he grinned.
Snapped on a magnolia branch, a jaunty pose before disappearing back into the mop-tops, where it nests.
And here it is. It’s a yellow-faced honeyeater. Apparently.
Perfect, lovely thing. It’ll always be Our Bird.