Things to do in an Empty Garden

For as long as I can remember, a family of kookaburras have lived in my neighbourhood. Some years, there have only been three kookaburras in the family. Other years, there have been as many as five. This year, there are six of them.

The kookaburras live alongside a family of magpies that are much shyer about revealing their presence. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how many of them we’ve had over the years, but the numbers in their family group don’t seem to fluctuate as much as the kookaburras’. This year, I count five among their number.

Last year, when Sydney went into its hard lockdown for what seemed like ages, I started watching the birds in my neighbourhood more closely. I took photos. I like to travel and take photos of exotic places, cataloguing new experiences. But while watching the birds, I learned that there’s something calming — even stabilising – about taking photos in the same place, day after day after day.

Each morning, I’d wake up early. While the others in my family slept, I set up my tripod in the backyard. I’d take photos from a different position every morning, the angle of my photo depending on many factors, including the position of the sun and the general state of the light. Then, with a hot cup of coffee in my hands, I’d wait for the birds to fly through.

Initially, when I started watching and photographing the kookaburras and magpies, I didn’t know much about the birds. I had a vague notion that both kookaburras and magpies were territorial. But beyond that, I didn’t have much knowledge. As I watched the birds, though –day after day — I became fascinated by their behaviour. I started to understand why birdlovers could be so enthralled by these wonderful, beautiful creatures. Animals that had once seemed like a picturesque backdrop to a location – who doesn’t love a kookaburra in a gum tree? – became prominent characters in the scene.

Slowly, bit by bit, day after day, I not only got through the lockdown. I started to get used to the fact that my mother had died.