Possum Tales

Change, for me, is always slow. Before it arrives, I’m already there in my mind, just waiting for the physical components to slide into place.

When I came to this happy little hovel by the sea, it was like stepping into a well worn slipper.

Common Ringtail Possum

Common Ringtail Possum by David Cook

The oasis, marking with finality an end to years of complicated share house living, long past due.

I didn’t care about the shabby paint job, or the brown brick walls, or the fact that my neighbours could stare straight through my kitchen, into my living room, and out the other side.

It was my home. Where I could be myself, with the only other person on the planet who’s ever seen what that really means. And asked to stay.

Six years on, why am I so restless?

I’d like to blame it on the screaming single mum, and the fact her kids have finally found their voices, too.

Or the retiree who, bless his knee-high cotton socks, still manages to get excessive joy from pruning the wildlife out of the trees.

Or the fact my house is now bursting with skerricks of unfinished things – ointments and clothes and discarded trains of thought.

“This place is too small!” It screams, everywhere I look.

But that’s just an excuse.

Recently, during a rare afternoon spent cleaning up my garden, I heard rustling.

High up above, from within a thorny hideaway, I glimpsed a gleaming bit of tail.

Possum Tail

My little Ringtail Possum has moved house!

That evening, I placed a pear on the fence by Lady Possum Tail’s home. A goodwill offering to the gods.

She took a bite, and hurled it at the ground, I discovered the next day. Shame on me, for insulting her sense of self determination!

A few nights later, when I was washing up the dishes, I spotted her sitting on the fence. A little garden sentry, looking at me, looking at her.

And I realised, it’s not the neighbours, or the house. It’s me.

This home was only ever a holding pattern. A place to go underground a while, to find strength to face the world again, on my own terms.

In her ever gentle way, Lady Possum Tail came to tell me. It is time.

What’s the longest you have stayed in one spot?

Appeasing the Dragon

Between the shamelessly ‘touristy’ chapters of our holiday in Bali, Ms and I took a detour to a more remote part of Indonesia.

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A one and half hour flight found us on the island of Flores – the gateway to the largest and oldest lizard on the planet – the Komodo Dragon.

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The dragon is endangered, its population numbering less than 4,000 and increasingly threatened by habitat loss due to tourism and a rapidly increasing human population.

Unaware that we were part of the problem, and keen to catch a glimpse of the mythic creature, we chartered an Indonesian boat and headed for an overnight tour of the islands of Rinca and Komodo.

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View nearby Golo Hilltop Hotel

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Our first surprise was finding the boat manned by two boys young enough to be in high school.

Captain Ajib, age seventeen…

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And his First Mate, Parman, age fourteen.

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While the rest of us, including our own personal tour guide, Lexy, sat back and – well, sat back – Parman hopped quietly about the boat, forever engaged in some duty or the other.

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His most important role was food preparation.

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A tasty menu of stir fried noodles, seafood and tempeh, sautéd vegetables, battered eggplant, potato fries, rice and banana pancakes – all came from a kitchen the size of a cupboard.

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His skills, picked up from his mother, frankly, put both of us women to shame. I will never again complain about my kitchen.

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Thanks to Parman, we had the energy we needed for our ‘moderate’ treks through the tropical jungle and savannah in search of the dragon.

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Our tour guide, Lexy, with the National Park Ranger.

We learned the dragon has over 50 types of bacteria in its saliva that will slowly poison the blood supply of anything it bites.

Wild buffalo (as well as the elusive wild boar)…

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Deer (as well as dogs, goats and anything smaller).

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The dragon also eats its own young, who are forced to take refuge in trees from the moment they hatch until about four years old.

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This one was about 3 months old.

We saw the whole family of dragons – the frisky teenager…

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Tired Mama (yep, another ‘Kodak Moment’)…

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Exhibitionist Papa…

And even the Grumpy Old Grandpa, whose been hanging around camp ever since he broke his leg in a fight with another male dragon.

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We were told the dragons often come to the camp, because they can smell food. But the connection between the dragons and humans goes way back…

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According to local legend, Princess Naga, the spiritual ancestor of the Ata Modo people, once gave birth to twins – a human child and a Komodo Dragon.

For this reason, the local people never kill the dragon, and would traditionally leave a deer or goat on the outskirts of the village, as an offering.

But since the islands became a National Park in 1980, this practice has no longer been allowed.

In 2007, for the first time in 33 years, a local 8 year old boy was killed by a dragon. Attacked on the outskirts of the village.

Then again, in 2009, two dragons mauled to death a fruit picker who fell out of a tree.

I wonder.  What happens when local customs are outlawed? Does the dragon magically forget its god given right to be appeased?

Or is this story symbolic of a wider imbalance between the needs of nature and the needs of humans?

Perhaps there’s no easy answer. But I know one thing – I wouldn’t want to mess with this fella…

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Have you ever seen an endangered species in the wild? Do you think they have a right to be appeased?

Kodak Moments

Hi everyone! I am back from my Bali trek, rested and more than a little mind blown.

Our travels took us to Kuta and Seminyak – the most popular beachside “villages” where most of the shopping and cocktail sipping takes place.

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Cocktails at Ku De Ta

Much of what I saw made sense when I learned that Bali’s population of 4 million is far eclipsed by the 7 million annual visitors it gets per year. Most of whom are from Australia.

Despite the overwhelming hospitality and warmth of the local people, it was impossible to overlook what they really think about us Aussies – giving pause for more than a little cultural cringe.

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Shopping sights in Seminyak

But leaving the tourism epicentre and heading inland to the arts and culture capital of Ubud, I experienced both the high and low point of my trip.

At an Australian operated Elephant Safari Park, we were introduced to a herd of 31 elephants.  Three born in the park, and the rest rescued from Sumatra due to habitat loss from palm oil plantations.

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The lodge was its own little oasis – a small tropical jungle with ponds and fountains, a lake and a safari track.  A little Garden of Eden tucked away in the hills of Ubud.

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Booked in for three nights, I had high hopes for an elephant hug or two.

On arrival, we were informed a schedule had been drawn up for our stay.  At 6.30pm, an elephant would collect us from our room and take us to dinner and a show.

We would rise for an 8.00am elephant washing, 9.30am safari ride, lunch and another show, and the whole routine would be repeated daily during our stay.

There were many opportunities for ‘Kodak moments’, as the staff insisted on capturing our fumbled attempts to scrub an already clean elephant…

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If I look like I haven’t had coffee, it’s true!

Our ‘swim’ with the elephant, that consisted of the elephant dunking us in the water, and lurching back up for a photo…

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Our hand feeding of hungry elephants, and their on command moments of gratitude. Click. Click.

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We learned that the elephant’s day typically starts from 8.00am and ends at 9.00pm.  On a busy day, they can take up to twenty rides around the same thirty-minute circuit – in addition to the rest of their activities.

Sometimes, this means eating on the job.  But on quieter days, they get time out for a feed, tethered to small patch of dirt amidst the park.

On one of our Safari rides, the elephant suddenly stops on the track.

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“She’s tired,” her mahout explains, pressing her ears with his foot to push her forward.

“It’s okay,” we say. “Let her rest.”

Relieved, they both relax. The mahout swivels around on her neck to talk to us as we pause there, in the man made jungle.

We ask how he enjoys his work.

“I love the elephant,” he redirects, politely. “My wife is jealous. She says she is my second wife.”

He explains he came with her from Sumatra, and has worked with her for thirteen years. A job for life.

“There is no training or study you can do
that can teach you how to love the elephant.
You either have it or you don’t.
Some say it is magic. But it isn’t magic.
It just comes from your heart… ”

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I’m tearful as the mahout gently encourages her to move on down the track.

When we reach the end of our ride, and disembark, I reach down to pet the elephant’s head.

She sighs, and leans her head and trunk on the platform next to me, hungry for the recognition.  Her eye searches mine, and a tear escapes us both.

“Thank you, you are a very beautiful elephant.” I say. And she lingers there until her mahout gently pushes her to go.

In that moment, I forget to take a photo.

And perhaps that’s just as well.

Do ‘kodak moments’ make you uncomfortable? What’s your favourite kodak moment that you didn’t take?

Travel Wag

After last week’s technological shutdown, I’m glad to say, things are back to normal, so now I can introduce you to some furry friends I’ve met in my recent travels.

The animal hospital’s oral history project has taken Ms and I from one end of the state and across the border to another, around the bay and everywhere between.

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Many cups of tea and 17 hours worth of interview footage later, my ears are ringing with a wealth of tantalising gossip.

But, it’s the patient bystanders who are the real heroes of this story.

On one side of the bay, in the cosy seaside town of Portsea, we met Coco and Utah.  Coco, intent on giving away some home truths, and Utah, bored silly and a little sulky after being locked away in a room for more than an hour.

The challenge of recording interviews with animal lovers is, of course, convincing their pets to be quiet and still while the camera rolls.

I felt more than a little sorry for this galah, who was intent on dancing to what was clearly the memory of a tinkling bell.

On the other side of the bay, overlooking the stunningly wild Airey’s Inlet, we met Sally – a beautiful ten year old, who did her best to feign ignorance of her misdemeanours.

She had the sadness, and the knowingness, of a dog surrendered by an overstretched single mum family to the home of a doting older couple.  And that is the most touching part of our journey.

Almost all the animals we’ve met are rescue cats and dogs.

In the middle of surburban Melbourne, we met a couple who spent thirty years rescuing strays cats.  Their home and yard is a cat paradise – as Bob’s leisurely pose seemed to suggest.

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There’s a separate dwelling for newly acquired trauma victims, and the yard is fully enclosed to prevent escape.

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I was impressed with the ingenuity – empty cans hanging on curtain rods around the fence, designed to spook the cat that dares to jump.  Simple, but very effective.

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By far, my favourite visit was the small town of Barooga – just over the Victorian border in New South Wales.

When we arrived, we were welcomed by the exuberant Misty and Paddy.  The minute the car door opened, Paddy was in my lap, landing a giant wet kiss on my nose.

Paddy Dog

Later, I learned he had been dumped out the front of the property, and spent three days running in a circle, refusing to leave the spot in the hope his owner would return.

He had the demeanour of a well loved dog, who milked his hard luck story in a constant quest for petting.

But the best part was watching him play with his new friend.

There’s nothing quite like the love or the gratitude of a rescued animal.  And as my new friend, Margaret, so eloquently put it…

“The thing about dogs is -

they wag their tails, not their tongues.”

What makes your tail wag?

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My apologies to anyone who might have been feeling a little neglected of late. My haphazard schedule has been getting the better of me. And in other news…

I’ve also been busy making preparations for a little trip to Bali. As of today, I will be away for two weeks,  making the most of an extended summer, ignoring the fact that I’m turning 36 and, hopefully, hugging an elephant or two for comfort.

Look forward to catching up with you all when I get back… Until then, love, peace and tail wags :)

Dear Pepi

This week, I mourn the loss of the fur being who supported me through my first sixteen years of adult life.

The end came sooner than expected, and I am unspeakably sad.

But Pepi now dreams of a world without pain, of eternal golden orbs and endless grassy meadows…

He is at peace.

Dear Pepi RIP

1 June 1996 – 26 September 2012

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Out of respect for Pepi, there will be no new posts until further notice.

Instead, please visit the boy with a hat.

While you’re there, download his free eBook, 50 Tales.

They are beautiful, whimsical, sometimes naughty, often funny little vignettes of life, and are sure to make you glad to be alive.

The Goose that Got Away

Recently, I had a dream.

Before you groan and run away, yes, there have been times in my life I’ve been guilty of over-sharing when it comes to dreams.  But this one has a point, I promise – so stay with me.

A baby goose grew from my hip and started demanding food.

It was a greedy little critter, and soon became unwieldy attached to my hip.  So I tried to detach it and accidentally separated the poor beast from one of its legs!

It didn’t seem to mind, it just wanted food.  Lots of it.  Now.

I took the goose to the local supermarket, but somehow, they had run out of sardines.  We began to get desperate.

I stood, holding my flailing goose, by a rocky, surging coastline.  How am I going to catch fish in there? I wondered, but before I could answer, the goose wrestled free and dove in.

No!! But he hasn’t learned to swim!  He’s too weak to fish!  He’s disabled!  He’ll be crushed on the rocks!  I screamed, silently, watching for any sign of a resurging goose.

Then, on the crest of a massive wave, I saw my goose.  Head held high, swimming with the glee of a bird wild and free…

Coming back to reality is always frightening after one of those dreams.  What does it all mean? you ask, not really wanting an answer.

The truth is, I’ve been keeping a little pet project all to myself.  I thought if I don’t tell you, then it’s not real.  I can back out anytime.  It can die a hungry death and no one need be wiser.

Except my pet has started growing up!  It’s become greedy and snatching and uncontrollable.  I’m afraid you’ll start to notice my strange behavior – unexplained absences, slurred comments and an oddly non-existent life outside of blogging.

So it’s come to that point in a parent’s life when, even if I don’t think he’s ready to go public, he has other ideas.  He might be missing a leg or a whisker, but the time has come to share my work in progress with some friends…

Say Hello to Pepi.

Some of you might remember me telling you about the day I realized Pepi was the Best Man in My Life.  How I had a second chance to honour his being before he says goodbye.

Pepi never was one to have his picture taken.  Quite aside from the fact that he would never sit still long enough, he hates the camera.  And for a long time I was too allergic to budgeting poor to own one.

Instead, his story will soon come to life in a series of illustrated verse.  Above is the illustrator’s first sketch – I don’t know about you, but I think she’s done a mighty fine job.

Pepi’s not so sure.

Now when he hears his name, he’s suspicious it’s a rival dog that lives in the computer.  His fears are confirmed by the barks of Youtube Pepi look-alikes that get played on repeat!

Anyway, the point here is – I’ve been keeping this quiet in case it all goes to pot.  But now that the illustrator is weaving her magic, it is taking up hours of my day – finding reference material, reviewing sketches, researching Kindle formatting (argh), tweaking verse…and the list goes on.

This, unfortunately, leaves less room for chit-chat in the virtual social-sphere.  I’m doing my best to keep up with you all, but let’s just say, I’ve bitten off more than I can comfortably chew in learning curves this year!

At least now you’ll know it’s not because I’m sleeping on the job ;)

Do you have any wild dreams you’d like to share?  Maybe a goose that got away?  How did you handle it?

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Credit for images not mine is as follows:

One Tiny Possum

I’m blown away by all the lovely people who came by last week – from all across the globe!  If I haven’t caught up with you yet, I promise to be around in the next few days.  In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy a bit of Aussie talk.

It might surprise you to know that most Aussie neighbourhoods don’t in any way resemble the cast of Neighbours.  Strange, but true.  If you don’t believe me, check out this hilarious South Australian post, Writing, Not Bludging.

My neighbours think I am the biggest bludger on earth.

This wouldn’t be a problem if I lived in an arts suburb, like Brunswick.  But alas, I live a much less glamorous existence in a block of units housing several retirees.

On one side is Ethel.  Her biggest preoccupation is cleaning up possum poo so that her cat, Leo, doesn’t roll in it.

One day she handed me the broom and suggested I might like to have a go.  I, of course, politely declined. I could see it in her eyes, Young people these days…Whatever does she do in there all day, anyway?

So as not to make an awkward situation worse, I scampered away back inside, confirming her belief that I’m a shiftless layabout.  Later I heard her grumbling to Leo, “Those possums make such an awful mess! I don’t know where they keep on coming from…”

On the other side is George.  He has many preoccupations – watering the garden, pruning the buggery out of the trees and Friday morning bin collection, just to name a few.  He also dislikes possums.

One morning, as Pepi and I ventured on our walk, I happened to compliment him on his lemon tree.

“You know, the possums?” he booms, “They come here, from the golf-course, I think – ” he gestures, “Anyway, they come here – they eat the buds, you know? The buds!”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah! The buds. The skin. Everything…”

“Oh! No, I didn’t know.”

He proceeded to tell me how, when he chased the possum away with a stick, it ran across the power line.

“They are very clever, you know, but – yeah…they eat…”

Now, just in case you’re wondering, possums in Australia don’t breed in epidemic pest proportions.  They are unique little natives to Australia.

Brushtail possum by dr_yew courtesy stock.xchng

The smallest, forest dwelling types, like the Leadbeater and the Pygmy Possums, are on the brink of extinction.  Others, like the Brushtail and Ringtail varieties, exist in urban areas quite happily, despite our best efforts to run them out of town.

What I didn’t bother to tell George or Ethel is that I know exactly where our possum neighbour lives.  And it’s not over at the golf course.

Outside Ethel’s guest room window stands a tall conifer tree.  Invariably, there is always a small sprig of green that stands out at an angle from the tree.  The OCD in me had always wondered at its messiness.

But then, one moonlit night, as I pulled up in my car spot, there could be seen the faintest outline of two ears and a tail.

Up there, sitting on that sprig of green, was the smallest ringtail I have ever seen. He watched me, curiously, from his open door.

We stared at each other for a long while, and then I went inside.

Over my back fence is another neighbour I refer to as The Gorg.  Unfortunately, her main preoccupation is screaming at the kids before they go to school.  I’m not talking a couple of minutes of raised-voice frustration.  I’m talking spine-chilling, half-an-hour, top-of-lungs tirade.

The Gorg is growing a lemon tree by the fence so she can’t see us from her kitchen when we come out our back door.  We don’t talk much, for obvious reasons, but her cat, Lollipop, loves to spy on Pepi from the fence.

Another moonlit night, I took Pepi out the back to pee.  I heard a rustle, and assuming it was Lollipop, braced myself for a Pepi-sized tirade.

But when I looked up, it was my little possum neighbour staring from the fence.

While we stared at each other, Pepi wandered back inside, oblivious.  And then, after what seemed like an age, my possum friend jumped back into The Gorg’s tree for a feast.

One tiny possum, eking out an existence against all odds, and quite despite our petty people politics.

I don’t know about you, but his secret’s safe with me :)