Strange birds

It was late afternoon. The houses, so sprawling and airy they could hardly be considered ?indoors?, spread in a lazy curve around the oval. Football posts peeling scabbed white paint stood in the bleached grass at either end. As I walked across the oval to the schoolhouse, the sun stretched long fingers across the floodplains in the west, lighting up the escarpment to the east that marks the border of the lands owned by the Emu Point people.

The carcass of a wild pig lay discarded in the middle of the oval, flies buzzing and crawling over it. Two crows perched on the rump, pecking at wormy flesh through coarse black hair. They flapped a few feet into the air as I drew near. It didn?t occur to me to steer clear until a shadow passed over the grass in front of me, and I looked up to see a hawk circling just metres from my head. Above it, spiralling, turning and turning in the widening gyre, were five or six more?swooping in close to the carcass one after another, looking for a chance to dig in their talons and beaks. For an unsettling moment it felt like it was me they were circling, and the jolt it gave me left my hands tingling.

In the city, death is sanitised. White sheets and chemicals strip the blood and spit and shit from death and halt decay, because we prefer instead to see quietude, composure, rest?as though the reward for a hot, quick, electric life is inertia. And when the muck of it manages to splash through, it?s unexpected. In our shock we sensationalise it, dramatise it, and talk about tragedy and grief and respect to remove ourselves from the reality of rot and disintegration. But out in remote country, those white sheets don?t exist. Death is everywhere, raw. Blood and dirt mingle and open wounds fester. Temporality feels as close as skin.

The Europeans were afraid of the bush. They tried to stifle it, to conquer it. It was a quest, a duty: man against nature. Even now, we barricade ourselves in and push the world out?hiding from sunlight, from storms, from insects, from snakes, from people, from possibility, from ourselves. How could such a passionate need for control be anything other than an acute manifestation of the fear of death? I wonder sometimes if everything?if Western culture in its entirety?can be boiled down to this.

Sometimes in the city, in the deep hours of the night, I hear birds. They don?t sing at that hour; they cry. Sometimes I think they?re crying for us, for our fear of nothingness, of not knowing, of not meaning. Sometimes I think about crying with them: so afraid, not of death, but that the weight of possibility will bury me before I?m finished.