29 August 2008

Life after birth

Winter willows

In the front paddock a kāhu stands in the rain, tearing at an afterbirth. Tugging at the membrane, from time to time stopping and raising its head to check for danger. Bending again over its work. It's usually there at the end of a life — the shot possum; the road-crushed hedgehog a mess of guts and spines; the car-struck silvereye tumbled along the tarmac, feathers blowing away like life — but the kāhu's not fussy: it'll take the aftermath of a birth any day.

All the lambs seem to have survived, though, and there's no way of telling which ewe and lamb left the big bird's breakfast. The rain drives down; the bird eats; a ewe shakes a shower from her sodden fleece as her lamb stumbles on shaky legs, searching for the udder. Mist in the valley creeps up, forms on the edge of the terrace, turns the old apple, the leafless black locusts, the manuka and lacebark, the fence that's seen better days, and the feeding hawk into a kind of dream, a memory lingering on the edge of awareness.

That livid mass of slimy tissue lying on the rain-drenched grass sustained new life for five months, feeding a growing lamb until some time early today when it followed the lamb into a cold, wet world, its primary purpose — perhaps its only purpose — completed.

Yet, even now, cast aside, its job done, it nurtures another life. The kāhu bends forward and tears another shred; swallows the past in the winter rain.

1. K
āhu: Australasian harrier, Circus approximans; silvereye: tauhou, Zosterops lateralis.

1. Willows in winter, Pohangina Valley. Playing again.

Photo and words © 2008 Pete McGregor


Zhoen said...

Nothing going to waste.

Bob McKerrow said...

I can feel the blurred, wet, stringy day. Some days it is better to hibernate with your dreams and let nature work without our gaze.


pohanginapete said...

Cheers Zhoen. Here, kāhu fill a similar role to vultures, but don't suffer the prejudice with which too many people view vultures elsewhere.

Bob, true, but sometimes it's also good to get out in weather like that. It keeps you grounded.

Anne-Marie said...

Pete, it would be easy, I think, to use beautiful language to describe the kahu - such a gorgeous creature and one of my favourite birds. But you use beautiful language to describe what the kahu does, which is any thing BUT gorgeous. It's a wonderfully written piece; I can see the scene exactly in my mind as I read.

And I like what you've done with the image. This is very dark and melancholy. It's quite different from your usual style.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
Very dream like for some reason, like a clagged in day on an unknown Ruahine ridge still to traverse. Cheers.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Anne-Marie. I hadn't thought consciously about your point, but like you I do love kāhu. It's one of the common birds around here that I don't have a good photo of — ironic, or does that tell me something? Glad you liked the picture; I wasn't sure how it would be received, but I have to say the small size doesn't do it justice.

Robb, that's the kind of impression I was trying for. Pleased it's worked for you. BTW, I trust your 'flu has begun to ease up. Must catch up again soon.

DrAW! said...

i like your artwork

very creative

Beth said...

Hi Pete, sorry to have been absent from your comments for a while. This was a beautiful post and meditation on the way nature uses everything. I too like vultures; they're just doing their job.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks draw!, I appreciate the thumbs up. :^)

Beth, thank you. We have no vultures here in Aotearoa, so seeing them overseas was special for me — like seeing something mythological, reified.

Peregrina said...

A rather shallow thought on kahu/vultures, Pete, that ignores the deeper implications of what you've written. (I'm struggling on an unfamiliar computer that uses - heaven help me! - WINDOWS, which not only disappear unexpectedly in a way no self-respecting window has any right to do, but which display everything in a shade of grey that almost obliterates your image and renders the text on it illegible. I must practice patience, as I know I'll see it in an imMACulate state in due course.)

Anyway, while vultures and kahu fulfil the same carrion-eating niche in their respective environments, do we perhaps feel differently about them because of their appearance? Kahu look elegant and graceful. Vultures don't.

pohanginapete said...

Peregrina, it's a good point, and leads inexorably to that difficult question about what causes us to think of some things (in this case, birds) as beautiful and others repellent (personally, I find vultures beautiful, but I have to admit it's not in the usual sense). How much is determined by what we know of their habits — if vultures sipped nectar from pretty flowers, would we still see them as repulsive? Thanks for the thought.

P.S. I'll offer no opinions on the Mac vs PC debate. It's about as meaningful as Canon vs Nikon ;^)

Peregrina said...

Re Mac v PC: Ok, I'll admit it. It's this operator, not the machine!

Gustav said...

The black and white contrasts in the photo remind me of where I grew up in Wisconsin of North America.

There is bleakness, yet, there is hope. From the barren branch emanates the green leaf.

Spring and its eternal flame is on its way in NZ and Tassie!!!!!

Emma said...

Everything has a purpose--contrary to the delusion we humans like to hold, that only what we perceive as beauty contains goodness.

pohanginapete said...

Gustav, Spring's really kicking in now here. I love it — that promise of being warm at last. ;^)

Emma, I've often thought that real beauty is often not apparent, and what's superficially beautiful can often have little lasting appeal.

PATERIKA HENGREAVES, Poet Laureate said...

Hi Pete
You have painted the scene very well with your descriptives. On the whole it provided an interesting read. BTW Don't they have signpost to say "Wildlife crossing, check speed", I'm smiling.

pohanginapete said...

Thank you Paterika. I haven't seen that signpost, but in places we do have signs simply showing the silhouette of a kiwi — the bird, that is :^)

butuki said...

Hey Pete, sorry it's been so long since I last visited... (I went and fell in love... you can see her on Facebook...) I'm still trying to ground myself again, too.

It's funny how so many people carry right into adulthood childhood stereotypes of creatures. I've especially insects since I was a small boy and long dreamed of becoming an entomologist. I never did become one, but even today I find insects beautiful and fascinating. Perhaps because I spent an inordinate amount of time with most of the common insects here in Japan (where there are a lot more than in Europe or the northern part of the States) I can usually predict their behavior when among them and can even act out how they move or how they will react to my presence (learned by trial and error, of course... my worst mistake was looking too closely at a bombardier beetle. I think the scream must have been heard for kilometers! :^) ). So it is always a big surprise for me when I see people on trains screaming and scrambling wildly out of the way when they see a bee fly battering against the train window. I will capture it, hold it by its thorax, and show it around, saying, "Isn't it beautiful?" Well, no, not to them. I was once almost thrown off the train for waving a "dangerous wasp around". Oh well...

But creatures like the kahu and vultures are a part of the "real" world. It is what is around us all the time, and should be a deep part of our education of what makes the world tick.It doesn't help that we are brought up on stereotypes that are not based on reality. I think if, for example, a vulture was closely looked at, shown to children for its amazing abilities and why, for instance, their lack of head feathers contributes to its hygiene, maybe people would grow up with less irrational fears and gut reactions.

Though, try as I might, I just cannot stomach fly maggots. Man, talk about a creature that comes straight out of a horror movie!

So I guess that puts me right back at square one (^J^)/"

pohanginapete said...

That's great news Miguel [about your new delight, that is :^)] I wish you both abundant joy.

As for fly maggots, well, while I'm hard pressed to think of any that could reasonably be described as beautiful, many are awesomely weird and wonderful. Simuliid (blackfly) larvae, for example; or the larvae of net-winged midges (Blephariceridae), which live in only the purest, swiftest mountain streams, attaching themselves to the rock with a row of suckers — and among those suckers, protected beneath the body of the net-winged midge larva, lives a different kind of midge larva! On the other hand, there are fly larvae like the Congo floor maggot, or the various bot and warble flies...