My place. Thursday, 5.30am
It’s early. It’s that special time, pre-dawn, when birds fill the valley with morning sonatas. For the last few years, this time of day has become more special to me because bellbirds aren’t early risers, they’re still dozing in the lantana, so this time belongs to the other birds.
This year, in January, the bellbirds came – in force – to the valley, their relentless chiming signalling the start of the end for the eucalypt forest that surrounds my shack under the cliffs.
Eight years ago, cane toads invaded the valley. Goannas, once the rulers of the range, pretty much disappeared. And it’s a painful death when you eat a cane toad. The goannas’ disappearance left a hole in the local ecosystem which was quickly filled by scrub turkeys, who went forth from the forest and into the gardens – and multiplied.
I slip gently from the bed trying my best not to disturb an angel who lies there. (I don’t know if there’s God, but I do know there’s heaven.) When I see her face, I stop my exiting for a moment to watch her sleep. Love is all I have – all we have.
Her eyelids quiver and open. She smiles. God, I love the pre-dawn. Her lips part and a croaky ‘Coffee?’ escapes.
I have been writing a weekly column for nearly 15 years. During that time, many things have changed. Local newspapers have suffered from the rise of digital media, social media has emboldened cowards, politics have become unworthy and barramundi is from Vietnam.
All the while, the ecosystems upon which we all depend are being broken by a toxic system that places money ahead of people. This system, which has the planet in a choke hold, cares nothing for me or my children. It demands compliance and consumption and, in return, offers bluetooth baubles and extended credit.
‘Yes,’ I say to the angel, grabbing a sarong and heading to the kitchen.
I used to be a journalist working for the Lismore Echo when it was an independent community paper. That’s when I started writing a weekly column. When that paper was killed, my column moved to the Echonetdaily where it has happily lived for six years. I also ditched journalism and became a teacher at uni. (My mother was so proud.)
I used to drink tea in the morning, but coffee is the new ritual. I put beans into the grinder and press the button, adding my own noise to the birds’. It’s loud, but it’s music to my ears.
The digital age has us swimming in an ocean of words. Some are truths; some are lies. Fact and fiction, reality and virtual are confused. The Great Barrier Reef is dying. Truly. Go there and see. It’s a tragedy in the real world, but most of us don’t spend much time in the real world anymore, so we are impotent there.
There are three parts to the coffee ritual, and every part has a smell. There is the grinding where the aroma is first released from the bean. Then there is the smell when the coffee is on the stove, hot water seeping through the fresh-ground beans. At this stage, I heat and froth some milk.
I pour the steaming coffee into cups made by Pilliga Pottery, a supporter of the Pilliga forest where, in the real world, people are defending the land (which they love) against government-backed vandals.
I add the milk, and the third heavenly smell wafts through my shack, calling.
The angel appears, luminous, beside me. The first bellbird tolls.
A thought rises like the sun, clear but inexplicable: This is my last Here & Now column.
Thank you, dear reader.
Want some more quality summer reading? S Sorrensen’s previous columns can be found in our Here & Now archive.