Night is quiet in quarantine. I didn’t realise how loud it used to be. Now just the gentle sound of autumn rain and the drip drop of overflowing roofs and gutters full of brown, decaying leaves.
It’s a mild night, almost warm – actually, come to think of it, isn’t it too warm for this time of year? I time travel to ten years ago when I first moved to this country and try to remember autumn then. Wasn’t it colder? And in the winter I remember frost in the morning. Do we still get frost in the morning? Are we getting enough rain for this time of year? Will we get enough next year? Ten years from now? Twenty?
Yesterday, I was on my knees in the garden when I became awestruck by the diversity of life in our backyard. Looking down at the lawn, it was like an aerial view of a jungle, tangled plants that we might call weeds if we chose to and snails, butterflies, praying mantis, spiders and flies. I hate that being renters means that we have to regularly mow this eco system to the ground and my stomach sickens when I think about monoculture lawns where people eradicate dandelions and everything except one sort of grass, the sort that looks like plastic and sometimes is. I hate that astro turf is more socially acceptable than an overgrown lawn where bees might forage. Why aren’t we letting our lawns go wild? Our tidying and taming of nature is genocide and suicide. Why?
I wonder how long the trees in the yard will last before future water shortages cause them to dehydrate and die? Introduced species, they are, oak trees and the likes, the stuff brought over by homesick colonisers who took their desire for the comfortable and familiar and named it “civilization”. What will this place look like in ten years? Will this precious little pocket of life have been sold, bulldozed and replaced by another Mc Mansion made of plaster and painted beige? Where will I be? Where will my loved ones be? Was that article I read right? Will the ocean’s eco-systems have collapsed? Will the water continue to heat and rise and slow to sludge? Will any child anywhere know the planet as I did? Abundant and green?
I time travel back to almost 30 years ago and I’m on our little hobby farm in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I’m 5 or 6 years old and the world is immense, endless wilderness. Our backyard here is tangled vines, flowers, bugs, berries, old tyres full of water and mosquito larvae. I ramble about carrying pet chickens, followed by a dog or cat and with snails on my face because I like the feeling of their trails of slime and I like my parent’s reaction to my living accessories. By myself I explore 5 acres of land with dreams and swamp full of koura, pukeko and once, a rainbow trout that had swum upstream all the way from Lake Rotorua. Every spring I catch tadpoles which I keep in an old outdoor bathtub or indoor aquarium so that I might watch them grow legs, their tails vanish, their transformation over time from fat tadpole to tiny frog. I remember the feeling of a small, silky skinned amphibian in my hand, like a strange green jewel.
One day, I’m about 7 years old, with two little black dogs and my toddler brother, we are at the stream normally abundant with tadpoles and frogs but this year we only catch one. One. I’m upset and frustrated… where are they? And then my little brother stumbles and knocks over the glass jar so the water and solitary tadpole tumbles out and is lost somewhere down the grassy bank. I search in vain for the tiny creature but after some time I have to accept that it is probably doomed to a fate of slowly dying out of the water. I scream at my brother and hit him so that he starts to cry and the guilt is still with me now, my responsibility for the tadpole’s death and my brother’s tears.
My father suggests that the old lady next door, the one who has two giant St Bernard dogs, has been feeding the pukeko too much and so their population has increased and they’ve eaten all the frogs. In any case, I never see another frog on our farm and years later, I will read about how sensitive frogs are to pollution and I wonder about agricultural runoff in the stream.
The St Bernards died, my little black dogs died, the old lady must be gone by now and my parents sold the property 10 years ago now and only recently did I really allow myself to feel the heartache of that. Late one night while I was suicidal in New York, I experienced my first real feelings of homesickness and the understanding of just how much was now completely in the past. And now, while we are all in lockdown waiting for the plague to pass, that homesickness is acute again. I’m homesick but actually also timesick. I’m longing for a time when tadpoles were everywhere, nature seemed to be thriving and life was endless. Timesick for back when a sunny day was only a wonderful thing, not poisoned with premonitions of drought, famine, plagues and pestilence.
I’m here. Now. Lying in bed in this rental property in a rich Melbourne suburb where I feel completely out of place. I try to tune out from my spiralling thoughts and fears for a moment and into the simplicity of the sound of rain. Can I listen to the rain, just for a moment, without thinking about death?
I imagine the water as it falls from the sky and soaks into the earth and suddenly I want to feel my feet on the cold, wet dirt. I get out of bed and walk out the front door in only my underwear and as I step outside, the security light comes on and abruptly I am exposed to the neighbourhood. But it is late and dark and only one car passes swiftly by. I stand still and watch water sparkle in the streetlight, wet leaves and mud are cold on my feet and the rain is cleansing. After a time, the security light goes off and, slowly so as not to activate the light again, I raise my arms to my sides and this is how I stay until my hair is soaked and my body is chilled all the way through.