Scraggy Maggie

One of the most amazing things about Magpies and Butcherbirds is if they trust you or have developed an attachment to you, they will actually bring their young to visit you. It feels like an honour to be presented with the offspring of a bird that’s been visiting you since it was a tiny fluffy bundle of feathers itself.

I never in a million years thought I would become so familiar with wild birds that I would be able to discern between them. They all look the same right? Take the Magpie for example. Black and White? They all look the same … beautiful and majestic in their own way but hardly distinguishable from each other.

Well, that’s what I thought until Scraggy Maggie showed up. The proud parents presented Scraggy Maggie to us a couple of months ago. Mother Maggie looked pleadingly at us. Please love my baby. We know she looks a bit … well … a bit higgledy piggledy … but she’s ours. Scraggy Maggie didn’t have a feather sticking the right way and she looked like a pinto horse in bird form. It was as if Mother Maggie was relieved we accepted her as one of our own because after that Scraggy Maggie just showed up on her own – her parents were off- warbling and frolicking further down the paddock without a care in the world. Free at last!

I thought at first Scraggy Maggie would change colour as she got older – but she hasn’t seemed to so far. Her feathers are a bit tidier these days but that’s about it. She’s quite a ballsy bird too. If we’re not out there with provisions or water first thing in the morning she hunts us down – she literally stalks as through the window or on the back balcony. ‘Oi where’s my breakfast? I can see you in there you know.’ We actually try not to feed her as we don’t want her to get lazy and rely on us. That doesn’t do any wild bird or animal any favours. But every now and then when we are feeding Fergie we’ll throw a few seeds her way.

She’s actually much more trusting of Mr P and has taken food from his hand, but Angus is always glued to my side so I think she is rightfully a bit more wary of him. That said,. she doesn’t fly away, she just creates a bit more distance between us. One of my favourite things about Magpies is their warbling song. They throw their heads back and call out to whoever is in the area. “Come and get it – free grub here.” It’s the most beautiful sound. It’s a good job Scraggy Maggie’s got a great voice because she ain’t much of a looker …lol. There’s probably a song about her – but she’s too scraggy to be a Maggie May.

The Scottish Spider

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned my fear of spiders and made mention of the fact I had grown up in Scotland – and there was no such thing as a Scottish spider that could bite or kill you. Mr P informs me every spider can bite (even the Scottish ones) but my experience would suggest otherwise. I cannot recall ever having bitten by a spider anywhere in the UK and definitely not in Scotland. Like everything else in Scotland – the spiders are friendly. I mean why else would they rush towards you across the floor or ceiling when they see you?  ‘Come back fren’ it shouts as you scream and run in the opposite direction.  I digress!

The astute among you will have noticed the name of this blog is – ‘The Scottish Spider’. A bit like me though, this Scottish Spider calls Australia home. It is the most beautifully named Orb – the St Andrews Cross. I’ll give you three guesses as to why it may be so-called. This particular specimen has taken up residence on the side of the shed I was planning to knock down but she looks so happy there right now.

The St Andrews Cross design on the web is due to the construction of bands of silk forming the arms of an X-shaped cross, (similar to the one upon which St. Andrew is traditionally said to have been crucified). 

Juveniles of this species sometimes build a spiral-shaped pattern of silk. These web decorations or stabilimenta, (bands in this case) are thought to increase the volume of prey capture, however,  it is also thought that these decorations help protect the spider against predators. I guess because when this spider is resting it stretches its legs out in this x shape – which probably makes the spider look bigger.

These spiders are not aggressive to humans and their bite (if you were unlucky enough to be bitten) does not seem to be toxic or be cause for alarm. With that in mind, I’m quite happy for her to continue wrapping up her dinner,  and hanging out for the day on my shed.

NSW Hen Rescue

If you read my fist post on my desire to keep chickens, you may remember I had wanted to provide a home for some rescue chickens. I had done my research and knew what was involved. These birds would come with a range of health issues and would have to go to people who could commit to their rehabilitation and vet bills. And I was ready. Right up until I realised that the nearest Hen Rescue was over 4 hours away in the car – so an 8 hour trip all in. No matter which way we tried to work it out – it just didn’t seem do-able.  It’s a long way for a poorly chicken to sit in a box.

So we made the decision that if we happened to come across any local hens needing our assistance, we would step in.  Perhaps, we could help Rescue Hens in other ways.

If you live in NSW, and you are interested in rehabilitating these poor birds, then check out https://www.facebook.com/NSWHenRescue  (or http://henrescue.org ) as they are doing amazing work – voluntary work.

They rescue, rehabilitate and rehome all sick, injured, abused, and abandoned animals that come into their care. They are 100% volunteer-run and provide the individuals rescued the veterinary care and love they need. I’m sure there will be similar organisations nearby wherever you live (though by the very nature of Australia – it’s a big place – you may have to travel – unless of course, you start your own rescue). 

In the meantime, we have decided to donate to NSW Hen Rescue and look closer to home for our girls.

The webs we weave – and other meandering tales

No this isn’t one of my witchy or philosophical conversations, though it is about ‘Spidey’ senses in a way.

I always considered myself an arachnophobe – a gagging, skin shivering, tearful, screaming arachnophobe.

I’m pretty sure my fear of spiders came from a pretty horrific episode of Doctor Who when I was about 3 years old. When I think of it now it was probably quite hilarious with the level of special effects available back then, but the notion of huge jumping, red-eyed spiders must have stayed with me.

All through the years I remember spotting spiders from across the other side of the room, screaming at them, throwing things in their general direction before screaming the house down for help. The laughable thing is – I was living in Scotland back then. I don’t actually know of any Scottish spiders that will kill you.

Fast forward many years later and Mr P took me to Tallow Beach, near Kilcare on the Central Coast in NSW. We had the whole beach to our self for camping. It was so romantic apart from 3 life threatening scenarios – 2 for me and 1 for him.

The first being, I had told him about my reluctance to camp because of these little bottles of gas that power the stoves. As a child I had been in a significant tent fire (I was stuck in the back of the tent as a fireball of flames came towards me (as the result of a gas canister exploding at the front of the tent). The old canvas girl went up in an instant – meanwhile the stepfather (qualified Fireman no less) ended up in hospital after trying to stamp the fire out. My mother ripped the tent apart to grab me out from behind – oh and her hair had caught fire too. I’ll tell you more about that another time.

As Mr P and I sat preparing dinner, I thought how brave I had become sitting with him in close proximity to one of those gas bottles. Suddenly to my slowly unfolding horror, I looked down to see a trail of fire heading straight toward me. My brain could not quite comprehend what was happening. Was this a joke? Apparently there had been a leak and once lit, the trail of fire was somehow attracted to me! Near Death Experience No 1.

The following day we left our tent and supplies to go on a bushwalk. It was stunning to walk in what seemed to be previously undisturbed bush land so we had to take care not damage the flowers and plants beneath our feet. After about an hour’s walking my eye was drawn to spiders up ahead that seemed to be hanging in mid-air – about 5 Foot 2 inches from the ground (yes that’s my height exactly). I became aware that the trees had crowded in around us  and our walking was becoming more and more stooped.

“Where the hell are we going?” I demanded. Forget the romance by this point.

“I just want to get to the end of the headland.” Mr P pointed the way ahead like some sort of ‘my life depends on it’ deranged explorer.

“But the spiders … there’s lots of spiders.” I protested.

“Oh they won’t hurt you – just think of it as therapy.”

“Are they poisonous?” I  need to know. It seems a fair question.

“Well they’ll give you a bite. All spiders bite. But you’ll be alright.”

I was quietly fuming behind him and chanting all sorts of mystical swear words until I made the mistake of stopping to catch my breathe.

If you are a Stephen King fan, you’ll know where I’m heading with this. The trees on either side were all knitting closer and closer together, bowed down to meet each other making a gnarly archway for us to walk under. Sounds kind of idyllic doesn’t it? Except I kid you not, for as far as the eye could see every single one of these trees had spiders hanging from them – big huge fat Orb spiders … not just your teeny weeny St Andrews Cross or some random, non-descript spider … big fat abdomen bulging, orangey looking Orbs.

My skin is rippling in a series of chilled goosebumps. My goosebumps have multiple goosebumps. I feel myself rooted to the spot unable to move forward and too scared to go back.  The gag reflex is strong. The desire to cry is strong. Thoughts of spiders in my hair, across my face, down my back, around my neck all send me into a freak-out frenzy. Their webs are strong, sticky and binding – holding me long enough for them to move in with their spidery fangs. I am cursing the man ahead of me for luring me to certain death!

Suddenly my kind, soothing ‘meditation’ voice kicks in to save me. Deep breathes. Remember your box breathing she says. I obey, happy to have something to focus on other than the Suicidal Halloween scene presented before me.

I make myself move forward to catch up with Mr P who will shortly experience his very own near death scenario when I get him back to base camp!

Then as though some Divine miracle opened up before me Mr P turns around.

“Yeah it’s getting too tangled up here. Impossible to fight your way through there to the headland, we’ll have to try another way.”

He’s … he’s giving up! YAY. I thank all the Gods and Goddesses for this joyous turn of events. Now we just have to get back through the spidery chandeliers of death we’ve already negotiated – and I’m in front.

“Um – you know my sense of direction is terrible. It’s probably better if you go in front.” I try to sound pleasant, nonchalant even. Of course Mr P is always happy to oblige – he knows his woman is challenged in many ways and it’s a good job he’s around to save her (Lol). It’s a great Bush survival tip – always have a leader (that’s not you) – or if that’s not possible – always have a big stick. That way you can wave it in front to disturb any stray webs that want to wrap around your face and throat, or use it to stomp the ground. The vibration will scare away the snakes. All in a day’s bushwalk in Australia!

We get back to our tent eventually and I release a tirade of pent up expletives.

‘But they were more scared of you. Imagine how massive we must have looked heading towards them. They got out the way. They didn’t attack you or drop down into your hair. You walked through all those spiders and not one of them attacked.” Damn him for making so horrific sound reasonable.

In a way, perhaps he was right. Exposure therapy of sorts. After all nothing could ever be so horrific again.

Hard to believe after that experience but I still married the guy! Even harder to believe, we now live on a property surrounded by bush. So those beasties are out there right? Everywhere …

In another turn of events – we have a BBQ – with a 9kg gas bottle! Yup you’ve guessed it. That’s the thing I’m more afraid of these days.

Home Sweet Home

As the plane circles for the final descent over Sydney, I reflect on our month-long trip to Scotland. It’s a trip that always makes me reflective. Mostly I have learned to reflect on the good.

I think about phrases that talk of ‘home’. Home Sweet Home. There’s no place like home. Home is where the heart is. There is something special about coming home isn’t there? So much tied up in the whole notion of ‘home’.

I confess my own feelings about home are complicated. I love going ‘home’.  I love reconnecting and renewing the bonds of friends, family and familiarity. There’s a lure, a deep calling on an altogether more innate level – and yet -it’s a trip that always unsettles me for a few weeks afterwards. Like the guilty feeling of being unfaithful (I imagine), gnawing in the dead of night. I constantly ask of myself, where does my heart truly lie? Scotland? Australia?

I left my childhood home when I was quite young – still at school in fact. And then, in my 20s, I left my home in the wider sense. A lot of things happened back there. Some of the happiest moments of my life – the birth of my daughter, my brother and my sister. Times with my best friend. Catching frogs. Immersing myself in the raw natural beauty of my surrounds. The enveloping embrace of Loch Lomond.  The awe of Glen Coe as it rises up, looming above, as majestic as the stags that rutt high on the Great Glen.

But there is also rain, howling winds,  granite and grey skies that meet the grey waves. There is a harshness. A grit. Painful cold times. Suffocating sad times. The death of my mother for one. But in all honesty, there were many dark times even before that. Some days I wonder – was it that painful, cold darkness that made me make an exile out of myself in the first place? Is that why I feel the push and pull so violently when I return – when I leave?

Does everyone feel this way when they leave ‘home’?  Is it the curse of being a citizen of two countries? Or is it, quite simply, the natural order of things? To embark on the Hero’s Journey, hoping to return ‘home’ one day with the magic elixir, the prize – whatever that may be. Something that enables you to see how granite sparkles and glistens when the sun skims its surfaces instead of a cold, grey reality.

It strikes me the notion of home is all about ‘relationships’, bonds and ties – connections. It’s about that network of nerves, neurones, transmitters all sparking into action to create or re-create emotion, feelings and memory. I have those in Scotland. A complex tangle of childhood relationships that never grew into fully formed adult ones. But there is a strange comfort in that. When it’s not a frustration or a resistant force.  Sisters, brothers, friends – they still see you as you were. They own that part of you. You are that version in their memory.  Just as they remain suspended, imprinted on mine. And yet we are all very different. Life shaped us all in the intervening miles and years.

My sister has married and has a son of her own now. My brother has married and has two boys of his own too. New connections. New memories. So painful to leave behind. That wrench of the last hug. Warm. Clinging. But I fear the ‘darker’ memories of the past would make it just as painful to stay. 

And yet, there are painful memories across those new horizons. We carry painful memories inside – on to the next place. At least I was able to lick my wounds in privacy, 10,000 miles from ‘home’. Still, I wonder, even now, did make the right decision? Leaving Scotland when I did? How could I leave such connections, such memories, such hysterical laughter and such deep friendship that could never be rivalled? 

I reflect on all of this. As the plane skims the nodding, outstretched fingers of the verdant bush,  I anticipate the smell of Eucalypt that will wash over me, cleansing me, lifting me as I emerge from the confines of the cabin. Reborn. I think of seeing my daughter. My dog. My Home. Hearing the cacophony of Bell Birds in deafening harmony. Chit, chatting with King Parrot and his mate. Until those bovver boys – the Cockatoos make a noisy appearance, strutting around, trashing and thrashing like East End bad boys. They’ve got a twinkle in their eye – even when things get rough. The Juvenile Butcher Birds will be wondering where we’ve gone no doubt as they tilt their inquisitive eyes, this way and that. It’s the time of year when the three Kookaburras laugh the evening away in the Ironbark. I picture the stallions Brahma and Baby as they stand, staring and nodding to me from their paddocks, still waiting as patiently on their carrots and feed as the day I left.  And of course, there are the frogs sounding their bellowing mating calls into the scented heavy heat.

This is where I’ve come to – to repair. To heal. To become me again. To be grateful for all I have in this life.  To unite the polarities within me. To connect. But most of all – to breathe! And to live that good life – the one I used to dream about when it was cold and dark.

The plane is making its final descent. I can see its reflection on the great expanse of water below at Botany Bay. Reflections. I squeeze my husband’s hand in silent thanks and I take a deep breath and swallow to make my ears pop. I think to myself- it’s good to be home. 

Happy Adoption Day

It just so happens as I write this we are parted from the beautiful boy himself.  However, I’ve been blessed with photographs and videos sent from afar, showing how happy Angus is. One such video Matt sent us was of Angus paddling at the beach!

Paddling! In water! Joyous as this was, we felt like we had ‘missed baby’s first steps’ … Our boy normally runs in the opposite direction to water and quivers at the thunderous sound of the waves.

As is typical of all babies/children – furry ones are no different – they play up to your sympathies when you’re around. They manipulate you into cuddles and affection with sad eyes and heart-wrenching whimpers. They lull you into thinking they can’t possibly survive without you. 

And then they go off into the big wide world without you and they are perfectly fine! They paddle in the water, they play nicely with other children (uh hem…dogs). 

As with children though, this is the sign of a happy, secure individual. The ones that run off without a kiss or a wave at nursery when mum’s standing at the door a shaking, crying mess. You did a great job. They are confident. They are safe. They are happy.

It’s at this point I remember. One year ago today we brought him home. A tiny black mysterious bundle of teeth and ears. Happy Adoption Day Angus. I hope you have had the best year of your life – so far