wildlife chapter 1


A polite yawn

The little ball of fur I bring home and make a nest for is definitely not a dog. Her chest is much narrower than a dog’s chest, her legs are long and she is extremely light for her size. Her fur is beautifully soft and made up of hairs of many different colours, lengths, and textures: fine fluff near her skin and longer hair on the outside. She is brown with white socks and a white tip on the end of her tail, with a black shadow line along the top of her back.

It began like this: I was driving to town through the forest of tall eucalypts on a narrow one-lane dirt road winding around the foothills of a large steep mountain. At the top of a high ridge I turned a sharp corner and noticed a very small furry animal standing in the middle of the road in front of me, looking a lot like a fox. The pup sat down and then rolled over, looking very scrawny and bedraggled. I stopped the car and got out to have a look, not really wanting to know. I had often picked up injured animals on country roads and it usually meant a fair bit of trouble to find the right person to care for them, or heartbreak watching them die from their injuries.

My first thought was that this pup’s parents must have been poisoned by wild dog baits that were regularly laid in this area of the State Forest bordering farmland. The pup got to its feet and rather weakly walked down the road, then stumbled and fell over. I noticed a large tick on her, and decided she must be in the final stages of dying from the deadly paralyzing poison ticks release into their host’s body as they feed. I had seen a dog die from tick-bite, and it was a hard way to die. I knew the local veterinarian would take injured wild animals until the local wild animal rescue people could be contacted, so I decided I would take her into town.

As I went back to the car to find a box to put her into she stood up and trotted off a few meters down the road, then stumbled again and fell off the steep edge of the road, with her back legs caught in a forked branch. I walked over to pick her up and she snapped at me as I touched her, so I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. I picked off the tick that had not yet embedded itself in her flesh and went over her for any others. She was just bones and fluff, with a strong wild animal smell.

The vet’s office was closed, so I took her with me to a friend’s house. She readily took milk from an eyedropper, then a saucer, and the next morning was wolfing down canned dog food. I realized she had been close to starvation and the staggering was due to that and not tick poisoning. Her scats consisted mainly of sticks, leaves and dirt. She never relinquished her status as a wild animal, and always tried to hide when she heard me coming. Only once, that first night, with a belly full of warm milk, did she relax her guard and fall asleep on my knee for a few seconds, before she woke and remembered where she was.

So I took her home, the ideal place for her to grow and return to the wild, not far from where she was born. I certainly needed a friend. I was holed up like a wounded wild animal myself, instinctively seeking solitude to heal, in a half-built house on an isolated block of land deep in the bush on the edge of a huge expanse of rugged, mountainous country in the sparsely populated south-eastern corner of New South Wales, close to the east coast of Australia.

I was forty-three years old and halfway through a year-long chemotherapy treatment for Hepatitis C, a treatment notorious for producing severe physical and mental side effects that had inflamed my underlying depression like pouring petrol onto a bonfire.

I wake to the sounds of birdcalls and the background hum of thousands of insects in the full throng of urgent spring life. My body hurts with the usual myriad complaints, and my mind begins its regular negative examination of my life, and everything that is missing from it: love, companionship, success, wealth, respect, etc. I know I should get up and not listen to it, but the whisperings are subtle and convincing. Where can I possibly start when everything has fallen to pieces? What is the point of going on living? From outside a polite canine yawn reminds me that I am not alone, and it is time we went for a walk and had breakfast.

Chapter 2