Caught by the Canberra

18 August 2015 // On Nature //Walking

xU1Tn Words and pictures: Peter Papathanasiou

My wife is forty-one weeks pregnant. So we’re going for a short walk through the Australian bush in the hope it brings on the first twinges of labour. We’ve already tried acupuncture, raspberry leaf tea, sex, and a ridiculously hot vindaloo. It’s our first baby, and the first is notoriously late. Thinks they’re special. Which they are. Being upright and moving is supposed to encourage the baby’s head to move down onto the cervix. Our birth plan is written, our bags are packed.

The day is clear but cold; August in southeastern Australia, midwinter. It was equally cold, but nowhere near as sunny, the day my wife did a home pregnancy test and saw two thin pink lines. That was in a small flat in grey North London frequented by a friendly but equally grey neighbourhood cat with big paws. Since then, we spent a white Christmas in northern Greece where temperatures plummeted to minus eleven in the afternoon, and lay on a Western Australian beach in the fading warmth of late autumn. All the while, primitive cells divided and migrated, forming new body parts in the ambient body temperature deep inside her belly. A child conceived in winter, to be born in winter, so it was no surprise it was reluctant to leave the warmth of the womb. I’d be in no hurry either. We considered a wintery name, but decided against it. We crossed the equator and returned home to feather the nest and were promptly inundated with outgrown baby gear from friends and family.

We dress in layers, beanies, scarves, woollen socks. Our house backs onto the bush and a mountain which often hosts joggers, walkers, and mountain bikers in body armour, but also mobs of grey kangaroos. Every morning, our front lawn is littered with new souvenirs from the previous night’s soiree. It’s a challenge driving home in the evening. Drawn by glowing headlights, honour guards of kangaroos line the roads of suburbia, bouncing along beside the car as I ease my foot off the accelerator. Some of them have the floppy heads of tiny joeys hanging from their pouches, their eyes glowing in the reflection of headlights. The roos breed throughout the year, with peak births in summer. The local government culls the population to sustainable numbers during winter.

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I take my wife’s gloved hand in mine as we walk slowly, careful not to slip on any dirt loosened with recent rains. She looks like she’s about to tip over, her centre of gravity shifted forward, her feet invisible. We check the spot where we once saw a spiny echidna; a ritual we repeat each time we walk up the mountain. We are heading for the place we call the duckpond, which is halfway up a winding single track lined with dead and twisted branches. The crisp air makes our cheeks blush pink. We encounter a big grey roo on the track, over two metres in height. It’s standing on its rear legs and appears to be sizing us up for a fight, its ears rotating like satellite dishes. We are, after all, encroaching on its turf. I want to remind the intimidating fellow about last night’s raucous party on our lawn and the mess left behind. Fortunately, we arrive at the duckpond and ease ourselves unthreateningly onto its banks. The water is calm, glassy, a mirror. My wife is out of breath. The roo stares at us a while longer then bounces off up the mountain, safe in the knowledge the intruders have been kept at bay.

My parents are understandably excited. Collectively, they’ve waited for this day a hundred and seventy years and survived two cancers. They rarely leave the house now but it’s enough to have them nearby. Mum used to walk me up this same mountain in a stroller when I was a baby. She had chestnut hair then and two natural hips. There’s even a photo of us beside the duckpond.

Today, there are ducks but no ducklings. It’s still too early in the season. Spring is not for another month. The first buds have only just begun to appear on the bare bush branches. The golden wattles are in full bloom though, flowering from July. We sit quietly listening to the warble of magpies who are gathering sticks and twigs to build their nests. It will soon be swooping season and the mountain will resonate with the trill of eeping offspring, demanding another regurgitated feed. Three months later, snakes and shingleback skinks will emerge to warm their cold-blooded bodies on baking hot rocks. At least once every summer we’ll find a venomous brown snake in our garden. They’re a protected species and are supposed to be removed by a licensed handler. When I was young, my dad told me to go inside and cut the head off a snake with an axe in our backyard.

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The light fades, and more roos come out to play in preparation for their nightly shindig. My wife puts her head on my shoulder and her hands on her round belly, rubbing gently and humming lightly.

The world is amazing, and this place is pretty special. I can’t wait to show it to my son or daughter soon.

We’d like to extend our congratulations to Pete and his wife on the birth of their baby boy!

Read Pete’s blog here, and follow him on Twitter here

Peter Papathanasiou on Caught by the River

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