January 1, 2014
The Wollemi pine is fading. The trunk is less green, and nearly all of the points where the branches meet the trunk are completely brown. I stare out at the paddock beyond, at the rudely healthy wattles and gums and white cedars, as if I’m hoping for a sign. Maybe a sign of forgiveness from the universe. It’s new year’s day, a time of new beginnings, but there’s no magic for this poor tree. A male Leaden Flycatcher lands on a strand of the fence. It’s my favourite bird at the moment, maybe because it’s so new in the garden, maybe because of its perfect plumpness, the beauty of its colouring, the precision of the place where the colour of lead meets white. It’s not my sign from the universe. It chastises me with a bossy tch-tch-tch.
I keep one mournful eye open for snakes in the grass around the Wollemi. We had planted it in a part of the garden we’ve been leaving untended. You can’t cultivate everything at once, and this section remained as long grass while the rest was tamed, through mowing and brushcutting and digging and planting. Martin cut a path through to the middle of it for the planting last week, but that remains surrounded by a large swathe of tangling kikuyu. The fact that we haven’t seen a snake for a few weeks makes me all the more wary. It’s hot, and there are plenty around.
The second-last snake was on the deck. We were having our coffee when I heard a chilling sound. I heard stealth. We looked behind the old floorboards we have piled up in the corner, and a coil of black snake stopped moving, its head lifted and stilled. We went inside, closed the glass doors, and watched. It uncoiled – well over a metre of red-bellied glossy snake – across the deck, but instead of heading for the garden it came towards the house and slid into the track of the doors. It moved down the track, undulating up the face of the doors, becoming more and more frustrated as it pushed itself higher up this solid void. It so believed in the penetrability of the glass that I stopped feeling safe. I couldn’t admire the close-up of its belly, but joined it in wondering if it would find a way in. It didn’t. It gave up, slouched behind the pumpkin rack for a while then disappeared.
That afternoon we were back on the deck, drinking tea. A pale pink-brown snake rushed out of the silverbeet, heading straight for us. Its dark eyes met mine and I called out ‘Snake!’. Martin and I both jumped up, pushing back our chairs. One of the chairs hit the metal dog bowl, which scraped loudly along the paving. The snake jumped too, and u-turned back into the silverbeet.
No snake sightings since then.