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. Willows in winter, Pohangina Valley. Playing again.
Photo and words © 2008 Pete McGregor