When I was a kid, I used to dream about growing up to live in a burrow in the forest, eating roots and leaves and learning how to talk to the animals, like a combination of Dr Doolittle and Cinderella (you’ll recall how every time Disney Cinders pops outside, mice and birds start singing duets with her).
But how do you entice said animals to come close enough for a chat (or an impromptu comparative linguistics session, whatever)? For example, the Thing that Goes Ha. This thing lives in the little wood next to our vegetable garden, and I have no idea what it is – except that sometimes I hear it going, well, ha! That is, a sort of cross between a grunt and a cough. Is it a wombat? Is it a panther escaped from Mogo Zoo (a couple hundred miles away, but still..). Is it a pig? If it is a pig, will it charge me one day with fiery red eyes and razor sharp tusks, like the evil beast in Kenneth Cook’s action thriller Pig?
Recently, I was in the kitchen and heard Something loudly rooting around in the wood – so I took my courage in both hands and crept up on it (making sure that there was a big rock in between me and the Thing, plus a tree to climb up if the situation got desperate…yes you get a little unhinged living on your own). So anyway I stand on tiptoes to see the cause of all this ruffling – and two big brown birds with long legs and startled necks leap out of their burrow like a couple of lovers surprised under the boardwalk. So – not The Thing, on this occasion.
There are two factors you need to establish a Doolittle-esque relationship with the wildlife, I’ve concluded. One is food. I know an old guy whose back doorstep is infested with wagtails, because he strews it with biscuit crumbs. I’m too greedy for this – if I have a biscuit, I eat it all myself. The second is stillness. You have to sit quiet, in the same place, for as long as it takes for the local beasts to think you’re a weird looking tree and get on with their business around you. Having failed Meditation 101 many times because I can’t bear to sit still in one place for more than five minutes (without a book, that is), this presents difficulties.
I’ve tried naming things. We have Ferdinand the Skink, Hector the Wombat, Cecil the Black Snake, Melville the Mouse, and Mildred the Rat. Mildred ate parts of our flyscreen window, which prompted The Man to suggest rat poison…but maybe Mildred was listening, because she’s made herself scarce since then. We have a frog, still to be christened (any suggestions?).
A colleague complains that when she visits one of her clients, wombats chase her to her car. My nephew had one take up snarling residence in the kitchen and refuse to leave (except at the end of a broomstick). So, unlike Doolittle, I want to get close but not too close.
What do black-faced wallabies like to eat for treats?