Roadkill

It’s a smoky day and the western sky is red and grey. I drive away from the sun towards town. On a straight stretch on the lefthand road verge there is a kookaburra, upright, watching me pass. I slow, pass it without incident, wonder if it is sick because it does not fly away.

On the way home I think of it again, decide to stop if it’s still there, to make sure it can fly – see if it will allow itself to be chased away. I pass a black cat on the roadside, eyes bright in the headlights. It stays clear. As I near the spot where I saw the kookaburra, I watch for it on the right. But something looms pale coloured and fluffy on my side of the road. It is too tall to be a dead bird, I think – but then I am close, and it is, and I drive over it, wheels to either side of it. 

I stop beyond it, park in the gravel, leave the dog in the car. With the vehicle off it is quiet and dark. There are the gentle rustles in the bush, the sense of the spaces of paddocks, the distant sound of the sea. There are no cars, no sounds of people.

I walk back. It is surprising how far I have come, driving at 90, between deciding to stop and stopping. I can see nothing in the gloom at first, and then the pale shape emerges. I shine the torch. The kookaburra is on its side, one wing is extended to the sky. As I approach it waves a little in the breeze and I start: it seems alive. Closer, and I see its eye, the one not planted on the road, is open. The wing is fanned, as though in death one half of it continues to fly. The eye seems bright, alive. I turn the bird with a stick and its head flops, the brilliant wing falls. I roll it onto the gravel.

*

Nearly a year on and it is early morning in the forest. The kangaroo on the roadside, flat on its stomach, is fresh: there seems no hint of the roughness in the coat or the darkness around the eyes to signal the presence of flies and birds and beetles.

I stop, and again the distance to walk back along the sloping shoulder is unexpectedly great; the forest unexpectedly quiet. I spend so much time spent driving through quiet places with road noise and engine noise and conversations and music. Don’t spend enough time stopped to listen, with no cars to ruin it and no one to talk to.

This roo looks as fresh as I thought, but it has grown stiff and feels hollow already. I lift one hind leg and roll it half over: it is a male. There is a small matting of blood on the other side of its body, mixed with faeces, involuntarily expelled. 

Crouched there on the roadside with the dead roo, its eye open to the sky, I am not sentimental. But it is powerful being close to wild death, with its sharp, immediate reminder of wild life.

I remember others, with more sadness. A wombat, somewhere, years ago; such a solid creature. A small wallaby on the road to Meekatharra – this one we watched breathe its last. A wedge-tailed eagle on the Nullarbor, except this I don’t really remember at all; only my mother talking about it many years later. An echidna, feet to the sky, on the edge of the Hume Highway in Victoria.

And always, with the animals recently dead, the sense as I walk to them along the gravel shoulder that they might jump up as I near them, just to surprise me. But they never do.

Feature image: Nicolo Bonazzi

Another year on: where do we go from here?

A year ago today I wrote this post, and these words:

… today is not just any day; it is the birthday of someone very special who is no longer here. The first birthday will always be the worst – at least, I hope so.

I was right in that today is not as bad as 8 February last year. Our lives are changing and the beautiful dog that we inherited when that someone died is now the happiest and most constant thing in our lives. She is eight and a half years old now; her owner would have been 84 today.

The dogs are scattered about the state: M in the city with us; G in Sunbury; another, the little brown and tan kelpie, out in the eastern hills; the old black-and-white sheepdog passed away in Ensay. The cat that went to Perth for a new life is gone now, too; although he settled in well, a year was enough for him.

The dogs and some of the cats were the lucky ones. There are other animals who seem to be alive in the back of my mind, still living as always up there on the farm. But when I stop and think, I remember they are gone: the lone goose, the old brown brumby, the grey horse who had died a few years earlier and who had been there my whole life, the two poddy sheep and the rest of the cats.

It is as though they exist just out of focus until I try to look at them too closely and then they are gone.

But I did not start this meaning to write about animals. I meant to write about loss and beginnings. This date has come up again, and all of a sudden I realise this is the beginning of a departure.

In a few months I will leave Melbourne. In many ways this city has no relation to the person that we lost, but it is much closer to her home than the place I will move to next. It is also the city where we brought M and it is the city where she has become our own.

By June this year things will have changed yet again, and it will be nearly two years since the loss that shook us all. I feel a little more lost, this year, further away from Ensay and from the person that we lost. A year ago my grief was raw. In fading it becomes more complex.

I go outside to sit on the step with M against my knees. These days this beautiful dog stalks magpies on the paths and parks of Melbourne suburbs in lieu of sheep in the paddocks of Ensay. She doesn’t seem to mind.

I think about the complexity of grief. Amongst it, a realisation that a year ago I felt as though I was minding M for someone else. Now, I think of her as part of the family. My responsibility is to her and her happiness, not to her previous owner.

I never thought I would write in such a public space about something as private as grief. But this loss feels that it should be shared, perhaps because of that web of people across the state and across the country who grieve as well. I don’t know if they will all remember the date today, but I know that the loss I feel is present for them too.

Incongruously, the words from a song in Evita come to mind:

Where do we go from here?
This isn’t where we intended to be.
We had it all, I believed in you.
You believed in me.

Where do we go from here?