Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Up a tree like a goanna

There's a big cottonwood tree outside my bedroom window at my parents' house.

(c) divacultura 2012

It has big leaves and even the slightest rustle of wind makes it sound like a storm that will blow us all away.  It is never silent, constantly whispering and murmuring.

Thinking about this big talkative tree brought to mind a random song lyric..."and listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees".  This fragment has swirled around in my mind for the past few days, unable to find a place to rest with the rest of its words.

Yesterday I walked out the back door on my way to hang washing out on the clothesline.  Movement near the base of the tree caught my eye and I heard a sudden sound, different in the landscape.  I looked up to see a goanna just stepping up onto the trunk of the cottonwood tree.

I went into my standard reptile response: freeze, go tingly, stop breathing, feel my heart stop and predict certain death.  Standing stock still is apparently exactly the correct response to being chased by a goanna. Family folklore has it that they will think you are a tree and run "straight up you".  How comforting.  What the hell do they do if you run for your life?  "Chase ya!"

If push came to shove I think I'd put my money on me breaking the land speed record and slamming the door behind me.

When I was working in Darwin I took time out with a friend to visit Crocodylus Park, a working crocodile farm.  It's the kind of place that scares the living daylights out of you at crocodile feeding time and then scares the living daylights out of you when you price a handbag in the gift shop on the way out.

My friend and I decided to attend a talk about crocodiles and have the opportunity to hold one afterwards.  The talk was conducted by a sexy, tanned, khaki-clad park ranger type - all blokey charm and wry humour.  He held a crocodile for the duration of his talk.  It was a young one with its snout securely shut with gaffer tape.  The instructions to the group before anyone was allowed to hold the crocodile was to hang onto it for dear life because the buggers can run fast and if it got away he'd have to spend the rest of the day looking for it.

I was very clear from the beginning that no matter how khaki the khaki and no matter how charming the bloke, I was in no position to have a close encounter with any kind of reptile. Ever.  The mere thought of one - of any variety - makes me go prickly.  But I was happy to take photos of my friend.

She lined up with all the four and five year old kids who calmly held the crocodile and smiled for the cameras.  Then my friend stepped up, took the crocodile and immediately jumped in the air, went to swear, realised there were kids within earshot, said something which could be interpreted as "Jesus Christ" and juggled the crocodile while running on the spot - after her feet had touched the ground again.

Meanwhile, I was a safe distance away, crying with laughter.

She said she was taken by surprise because she could feel it pulsing with life and it was very unexpected compared to how still they look.  You know, when they are lying there doing an impersonation of a log.

The goanna climbed up the tree and disappeared up into the leaves.  The birds became very talkative.  I could see them on the outer limbs of the tree, higher than the goanna, telling that goanna where he could go if he even so much as thought about harming their babies or stealing their eggs.  

Then on the television news tonight was the story of a boy bitten by a goanna.  There are plenty of stories about that too.  A goanna bite never heals, so they say.  I have no idea what that means.

The rush of adrenalin caused by seeing a goanna brought me the song lyrics I've been searching for.  The cottonwood trees murmur in Cole Porter's song "Don't Fence me in".

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