I met this little fellow in the garden today. The resident pair of peewees were kicking up a godawful racket (something peewees are quite adept at) so I went to check it out, expecting to see the neighbour’s cat trying to climb the grapefruit tree that houses their nest and newly emerged hatchlings. Instead I found a juvenile barking owl hiding in the long grass I reserve for my rabbits.
If you see an owl on the ground in broad daylight you’re probably not looking at a happy, healthy bird and sure enough it was soon clear that this one couldn’t fly. So, lacking leather gloves, I wrapped my hands and forearms in old t-shirts and equipped myself with a large cardboard box. Luckily for me the owl was placid, despite its obvious fear, because if it had wanted to it could have shredded those shirts within seconds and sunk its powerful talons deep into my flesh. As it was, one claw found its way through to a finger when it tried to grip my hand as I lifted it into the box, but I wasn’t hurt.
I was a bit anxious taking it to the RSPCA. If a wing had been broken they would have put it down. But trying to care for it myself was out of the question even if keeping owls in NSW wasn’t illegal. I have no aviary and where was I going to get the live birds and animals I’d need to feed it? (As I write this my pet rabbit Ananda is peering suspiciously at me.) When I rang back a couple of hours later I was assured the owl wasn’t seriously injured and was fit to be handed over to the specialised wildlife carer who was on the way in to pick it up. A happy ending.
Barking owls are extraordinary for a couple of reasons. One is that they will prey on almost anything that moves, including birds and animals larger than themselves. That includes rabbits (calm down Ananda), possums, cockatoos and frogmouths. No wonder the peewees were upset.
More extraordinary than the dining habits of barking owls are their calls. Their namesake noise is almost indistinguishable from that of a small dog and their nocturnal territorial cry is bloodcurdling – it sounds just like a woman being hideously murdered.
When Europeans first came to Australia barking owls were common and it seems my Aboriginal ancestors decided to have a bit of fun with the naive settlers, telling them of a terrifying monster called a bunyip which had learned to mimic the death screams of its victims. I can tell you from personal experience that when you’re out in the bush at night, miles from the nearest town or homestead, it can be difficult to convince yourself that what you’re hearing is just a medium sized bird. Of course there are no bunyips in Australia really. The drop bears ate ’em all.
I just read through my first trial judgement on AUSTLII for over a decade. God. I’d forgotten how pompous and self-indulgent they can be.
The majesty of the law is a medieval sham. Camp acting in bad costumes. And the judiciary knows how hollow its authority is and tries way too hard to bluff it out.
The archetype dates from an era when to be able to write your own name was probably to be over-educated and judges still pretend they’re far wiser, more knowledgeable and more cultured than the rest of us. Some, such as Michael Kirby, can almost pull it off, so long as you don’t listen to what they’re saying. Otherwise you’ll notice its just pub wank, but with formally correct grammar, legal precedents and the odd gratuitous classical reference thrown in.
And it goes on and on. Those guys can make the judgement seem longer than the sentence.
If you look under horsehair expect to find a horse’s arse.
You can’t know beauty.
Let go the distinction between subject and object.
You can’t know innocence.
Let go the distinction between good and evil.
You can’t know love.
Let go the distinction between self and other.
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass … – Isaiah 40:6
I scrupulously wipe the final gobbet of flesh from the plate, lifting it to my mouth with an index finger, rolling it slowly across my palate, savouring the last delicious morsel before consigning it to the enzymes and acids of my gullet.
At what point does it become part of me? This miracle of biological process. This relay baton of life. Passed first from the sun to the green leaf of a plant. Packed into a grain in the forlorn hope of reproduction. Absorbed into the body of a battery hen where it is broken down and rearranged into new protein, different DNA. Now feeding my gut flora even as it releases nutrients through my digestive membranes and into my blood. Soon that sunshine will be captured by my own cells. My muscle, my fat, my neurons. Is its energy already flowing from my fingertips into these words? Has some of it now become part of you?
And what of the suffering that has been transmuted into my pleasure? Could the chicken have enjoyed eating the grain as I enjoyed eating it? A bird born and bred to be consumed, living its stunted life alone in a tiny cage even as its ancient genes cry out for forest and flock. Could it have known elation and despair? Yearning for something that was not to be? Or just a grim, grey emptiness that could only find relief in the terror of the slaughterhouse. How much misery in that tasty mouthful?
To live is to suffer. To live is to inflict suffering. Even in the midst of pleasure.
I roll the words around my mouth like pieces of well cooked corpse.
Carnage. Carnal. Carnivore.