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The Scrivener: This Mortal Hurt

…The rain came shortly afterward. Hesitantly at first, in unsteady large drops. I went outside, stood in the street, and welcomed it with open arms…

Writing with the passion of a true nature lover Brian Barratt, an ever-fruitful wordsman, recalls the day the rains came.

To read more of Brian’s satisfying columns please click on The Scrivener in the menu on his page. And do visit his mentally invigorating Web site The Brain Rummager www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Juliet: 'Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say good-night till it be morrow.'

Romeo: 'Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast! Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest! Hence I will...'

And then there was such an almighty crash of close thunder that the house itself might be afeared. The DVD player switched itself off. The TV screen went black. Best to switch them both off during a fierce thunderstorm. Watching Franco Zeffirelli's superlative production of 'Romeo and Juliet' would have to continue later in the day.

The rain came shortly afterward. Hesitantly at first, in unsteady large drops. I went outside, stood in the street, and welcomed it with open arms. Eventually, it turned to a tropical torrent. What a splendid relief in this season of drought! I hied me through the gate in the back fence and watched the lake waters rise.

The ponds, lakes, marshes, call them what you will, had already merged and flooded over the concrete footpath. So much so, that busy black ducks were paddling around on the footpath. Handsome wood ducks, which we haven't seen for a while, had arrived with their families. A few resident chestnut teal were in the crowd, of course. And I was soaked to the skin, so decided to go back indoors and don a dry shirt.

Early next morning, I was out there again. The flood had receded but separate ponds were still merged, their dividing strands hidden beneath the water. The teal were very excited, rushing around, arching their necks, uttering their raucous croaks. Ducks occasionally pursued each other on some mission known only to ducks. At this time of the year, it's more likely to be ancient grudge and mortal hurt than the exchange of love's faithful vow.

Further along, the little pied cormorant, alone as always, dived repeatedly for underwater fast-food. Only its neck and head were visible while it swam between dives, the rest of its body hidden below the water. Another head and neck kept popping up — the smallest and most attractive of our local waterbirds, the little Australian grebe.

If you want to see a grebe, you watch the surface until you see a splash through the corner of your eye. Watch the area of the splash, count slowly up to nine, and a little head and neck will pop up nearby, glance jerkily left and right, and disappear again. But the one I saw this time was in the wrong lake. Two pairs live in the farthest lake and never venture further west. Here was one, all by itself, in the lake (or pond) on the eastern side of the long timber footbridge. It must have swum through when the water level was high. Given that they don't often fly, and have difficulty walking, it will presumably wait for the next flood before it goes home.

No point in looking for the myriad gambusia (mosquito fish) and tadpoles in the shallows, because the water was brown and cloudy. Anyway, the tadpoles disappear into the muddy bed as soon as they sense your presence, and the gambusia swim into the reeds. You have to wait, standing still and silent, until they reappear several minutes later.

Back home for breakfast and the morning news on the wireless. It wasn't about rivalry between the houses of Capulet and Montague, or squabbles among ducks, or wandering grebes. It was about the rising flood of insurgency and death in Iraq and the USA's use of 'rendition' and torture outside its own judicial system. Shirts are soaked not in rain but in blood while here we stand and watch.

And so back to the balcony scene. The handsome Gypsy sultriness of Leonard Whiting as Romeo. The pleading South American beauty of Olivia Hussey as Juliet. However, I realised that it was Mercutio who had already summed up my thoughts about the morning news: 'A plague o' both your houses!'

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2007


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