It’s just fine to be seen by the birds

Photo: Stefan Mutch
Photo: Stefan Mutch
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see when I open my eyes is Mopanui.

When I get home from work, it’s me and the hill. Where the weather waits. Watching the sunset fade into dark as the train rumbles past on the far side of the estuary, its light a magical beacon, here at Bird’s Nest bach I’m not waiting for anything to happen. Plenty of things have already happened, in other places, and many of them were not good.

I have the view, and the little blue house, to myself; birds are the only visitors, and this is how it’s been for months and months. I’ve become used to being alone and a routine of going to work, coming home and swimming down at the boatshed, not talking to very many people. I’ve carved a safe space where there are no surprises, and I like it just fine. I guess you could call it hiding. If that’s what it is, then I have to say it’s very healing.

The birds all have different personalities. Tui are good-looking rakes, perching on the flax flowers just an arm’s length away, swooping to the highest tree to shout about how great they are, how handsome, how clever, what fabulous lovers; woodpigeons are drunk uncles in feather spats, crash-landing into the kowhai. The fantails have a breathless energy, swallows swoop together at dusk, the kākā hop about the back fence in the morning, giving me the side eye.

If I am a bird, I am a huia. Not seen any more, mysterious by virtue of my absence. It’s not extinction, I have just walked away.

Once, when I was living in Oamaru, I had a very bad day and decided to take my paddleboard and go to the beach. You know when you’re so annoyed you do angry crying? Like that. There were only a handful of people in the water and no waves, so we all just bobbed around when suddenly a family of Hector’s dolphins appeared and started playing around the surfers, swimming under our boards as we smiled across the water at each other, delighting in the absolute marvel the world had given us.

And that’s what life is like: some good, some bad, and then, before you know it, you’re swimming with dolphins.

Sometimes when you least expect it is when good things happen. When you’re not waiting, or even considering the possibility of possibilities, just getting on with the business of life, the most amazing person might just walk up your path (even though you live in the middle of nowhere), like something out of a fairy tale that has lots of birds in it.

I’ve never believed in wonderous synchronicity. I am a cynic who sneers at dreamcatchers and my experiences of love have taught me to always expect a bad thing to happen. I struggle to let go of resistance and fight the need to flee every situation that might involve real feelings. I do a thing where if I don’t want people to see me, I pull a stand of my hair in front of my face, under my nose like a blonde handlebar moustache. As a vanishing tactic, this does not work. Being seen, really seen, frightens me.

But I might just have to surrender to this good thing because if you don’t flee, you just might find yourself seeing the world with new eyes, lying in the marram grass in a sand dune looking at lenticular clouds stacking like pancakes. Watching the birds, laughing until your stomach hurts, being brave enough to trust a stranger.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see is still Mopanui and the train still chatters over the bay at night. Nothing is different in that regard; however, a particular tui has been visiting my garden who may have found my nest his place to sing from. A morning chorus worth sticking around for.