The Miricle of Life

 

 

One of Ten Chapters 

Just a solitary speck in an otherwise vast empty blue sky, Kaz soared, his wings outstretched gliding almost effortlessly on the hot air thermal breezes rising from the barren Australian outback far below.  A long way from home and his natural habitat Kaz glanced back as if to see just how far he had come, but all he could see was endless sky and a haze of shimmering heat where it merged into the parched desert scrublands below.  He opened his long pointed beak and with all his vocal power called out as if for all the world to hear.  There was no mistaking his call, it was a happy sound, a musical laughing sound, a sound only a kookaburra could make.  ‘I’m here it,’ said, ‘here at last, away from all the noise and endless chatter of the bush.’ 

Yes, Kaz was a long way from home, but that is what he wanted.  Back nearer the coast from where he had come the climate was much more tropical.  Lush green and teeming with life, and that’s just what he wanted to get away from, for a while at least.  It was also the rainy season, and Kaz did not like the rain.  Long dreary dull days spent just perched on a branch, water dripping off the end of his beak, with nothing else to do but wait for the rain to stop and the skies to clear.  So once, sometimes twice a year he simply decided to get away from it all.  He jumped off his branch, flapped his long colourful wings and headed for the peace and quiet of the outback.

Not far now he told himself, and with his keen kookaburra eyes he made a long slow sweep of the red parched sandy ground below.  At first glance it looked empty, barren and devoid of any life, but Kaz knew different.  The first thing he saw was his old enemy the crows.  Jet black and menacing, the natural scavengers of the outback.  From their posted lookouts in the scrawny dead trees that dotted the landscape, he could hear them calling warnings of his presence to each other.  They had spotted him long before they heard his laughing mocking call, but he knew they would not come at him for the moment.  They would watch and wait until he came in to land.  Then they would come at him, maybe a dozen or more, all at once, flapping and crowing and trying to scare him off.

Kaz also knew that they were natural cowards.  All he had to do to be rid of them was to fluff up his feathers, spread his powerful wings and lunge at them a few times.  Even pluck a couple of tail feathers he chuckled to himself, and they would soon be off and leave him alone.  They would never be far away, but that was fine with Kaz, because they would inadvertently act as lookouts for him also.  At the first sign of danger their lookouts would sound off and Kaz would know to be on his guard.

Ignoring the crows for now he searched around for other signs of life.  It wasn’t hard to find.  Still early in the day, scrub lizards were out sunning themselves on the rocks.  Cold blooded, they needed heat to warm up before they could move around freely.  He also spotted a family of wild pigs scratching around in a dry creek bed.  The old boar alerted by the crows lifted his head skyward.  The sun glinted off his menacing curved yellow tusks that protruded grotesquely from his upper and lower jaws.  He stuck out his dark brown, almost black, matted hairy chest and snorted angrily clawing at the ground with his sharp cloven feet, and a small dust cloud momentarily hid him from view.  Bad tempered critters, born mean, thought  Kaz, making a mental note to stay well clear of them.  Soon they would be off to find some shade, a bushy thicket or rocky outcrop where they would spend most of the day snoring away the worst of the fierce heat yet to come.

As he started to descend Kaz could feel the ground heat rising to meet him.  The lower he flew the hotter it became.  Circling round to avoid the pesky crows for the time being, and staying well ahead of the noisy pigs, he followed the twisting path of the dry creek bed.  He followed the creek for another couple of miles. 

‘Not far now,’ he told himself, and then as if by magic the shimmering outline of an old cattle station began to take shape.  He could now see the main house with its rusty red corrugated roof and sun bleached rotten supporting timbers beneath.  Behind and to the right of the main house were what was left of the out buildings and the wooden corrals that once penned in up to two thousand head of prime Queensland cattle.

Drought, year after year of cloudless skies had driven both cattle and owners away.  Most of the cattle had died of thirst, and the impoverished owners had long since given up and headed for pastures greener, but there was water here, and Kaz knew it, for this was his secret place.  When the creek had dried up the owners had drilled for water, and they had found it, just not enough to sustain their vast herds of cattle.  Kaz headed straight for the squeaky old windmill that still managed to trickle a few cool clear gallons daily into a rusty trough conveniently situated over near the stock pens. 

Kaz filled his beak to overflowing, then threw his head back to let the cool clear water trickle back down his gullet.  Again and again he filled his beak until he could take no more, then he flapped up into the shady branches of a eucalyptus tree that also drew its life giving waters from the spring below.  Life was good he told himself.  This was the only water for miles around, and from his perch here in the shade of the tree he could watch all the many different animals coming and going in their daily quest for survival, for this was a harsh land, a beautiful rugged land, a place where only the strong survived, and the weak perished.

Even insects needed water, so Kaz sat back and waited for his lunch to fly by.  He watched the crows begin to gather, but they didn’t seem so aggressive this time.  They perched on the rickety timbers of the corral watching him from a distance.  Maybe they were remembering their last encounter, and would leave him alone.  He snatched a couple of fat juicy insects from the air as they unsuspectingly buzzed by, then settled down for a well deserved afternoon nap. 

‘Caw! -Caw! -Caw!’  Kaz was startled back to consciousness.  ‘Those darn crows,’ he cursed to himself, ‘how dare they wake me from my nap.’  Then as his senses kicked back in, he realised that he was not the object of their attention.  They were calling a warning.  Something was wrong.  The crows were not looking at him; they were all focused towards the west.  Kaz shook himself to clear his head, and then peered out to try and see what all the ruckus was about.  At first he could see nothing, and then yes, there was something there.  A faint dust cloud, stationary at first he thought, but no, it was moving very slowly in this direction.  The crows took off in a squawking mass to investigate, but Kaz stayed put in the relative safety and cover of his tree.  Whatever it was, the pesky crows were giving it a hard time.  They marked its position with their erratic flying.  Some of the braver ones were diving down and trying to drive the unwelcome visitor off.  Kaz could hear their infernal cawing even from this distance.  Then he saw it lunge at the crows, its jaws snapping viciously, and he knew instinctively what it was. 

“A Dingo!  A lone dingo?”  ‘Strange,’ he thought!  Dingoes usually travel in packs.  Something must have happened to separate this one from the group.

She had indeed been separated from her mate and the pack.  Among her own she was the dominant female of the group, the queen of the pack, but because she was heavy with pup she had been unable to keep up, and had become separated and hopelessly lost.  She looked around in forlorn hope that the pack would find her, but there was no sign of them.  “They will come,” she told herself, and then headed for the only water for miles around. 

She was getting closer now, and the crows were keeping a more respectful distance, well aware of the damage those snapping fangs could do.  It was still moving very slowly, and for the crows to have ventured in so close they must have believed it was injured in some way.  Kaz could make the dog out more clearly.  It was a female, and by the looks of her she was heavy with pups.  Her belly was swollen and her teats hung low with the excess weight of milk she was carrying.

That’s why the crows were making such a fuss.  They sensed her weakness and were testing her resolve.  She was obviously very weak, thirsty too, and heading this way for a drink at the trough, at the same time looking for a place to have her pups.  Kaz knew that dingo mothers often crawled off somewhere where they could be alone to have their pups, but never this far from the main pack.  This bothered him.  Something had happened to split her from the family group, and by the looks of her, whatever it was, it could not be too far away, for she was in no condition to have come far. She made directly for the water trough, and drank for a long time as if her very life depended upon it, as it did, her life and the lives of her unborn pups.  Kaz watched her, still curious as to her predicament.  He looked out towards the west again, half expecting to find the answer to his fears, but there was nothing there. 

‘Perhaps there never would be,’ he told himself, but still his feeling of uneasiness persisted.  The dingo was still weak because of the load she was carrying, but the water had revived her, and brought back some of her strength.  The crows for the time being had given up harassing her and settled back on their perches, but they still watched her. 

They knew that she was pregnant, and if they bided their time they may be able to snatch a pup or two when the moment was right.  It was now mid afternoon and the searing heat of the sun scorched everything that was still out in the open.  The mother-to-be, tongue hanging out and panting heavily was sniffing around the whole area, looking for a suitable shaded spot to have her brood.  She crawled in under the old station house.  The house was on stilts so Kaz could still see her quite clearly sniffing around.  Under the house was the perfect spot for her.  Heavily shaded from the searing heat of the afternoon sun, and open enough to pick up what little breeze there was, no matter from which direction it came.  She chose a spot quite near the front, from where she could still have a good view of anything that may approach.  Then she re-emerged and began to collect stalks of dry grass and a few loose feathers that fluttered around in the light breeze. Although she was clearly exhausted, time and again she collected the bedding and took it back under the house, until at last Kaz could see her going round and round in circles trampling it down and using her long nose and mouth to arrange and re-arrange her bed until it was just perfect.  She came out one last time for another drink, and then went back to her den to settle down and await her labour. 

‘She will make a fine mother,’ thought Kaz, who by now was fascinated by the whole procedure and could not take his eyes off of her.  He began to feel protective towards her, and at least for now would make sure that the crows did not bother her.  She knew he was there, and seemed to sense his guardianship.  She looked up at Kaz, and although she said nothing he knew from the look in her eyes that they were friends.

‘Any time now,’ thought Kaz.  She lay with her head forward and nestled between her two front paws and her back end curved round towards her front as if ready to expel the pups.  She tried to rest in order to gather her strength for the big event, but Kaz could see she was both uncomfortable and restless.  Every so often she would struggle up, make another couple of circles and then settle down again in almost the exact same position. The afternoon wore on and began to lose some of its heat.  Kaz plucked another insect from the air, and then, as he was about to swallow it, almost choked as the first pup showed its tiny head, ‘Yes!’ he squawked with glee, and then the whole pup, sack and all, fell gently onto the soft bedding its mother had prepared.  Still encased in its birthing sack, it began to struggle for life.

Mum reached round, sniffed at it first as if to check that it was truly hers, then with such tenderness bit through the clear jelly like sack and discarded it.  Next she gently lifted her first born by the scruff of the neck and placed it between her front paws, where she began to lick it clean.  No sooner had she started this task than another one popped out, she barely had time to start the procedure over again, and another, and another. 

‘My goodness,’ said Kaz aloud, ‘four!’  He felt like a proud father sitting up in his tree watching the goings on below.  Mum was still far too busy cleaning her new family to pay much attention to Kaz jumping up and down with glee on his branch.  Even the crows could not figure out what all the fuss was about, after all they were no more than a hearty snack to them.  ‘Keep your distance,’ squawked Kaz in warning to the black opportunists, who now were just as interested as he was, but for different reasons.  He had been so distracted by the crows, that by the time he turned back to the domestic scene below, there were another two pups. 

‘Six!  Oh dear me,’ he thought, ‘what a handful, poor mum.  How will she ever cope with six greedy pups?’  Already they were hungry for her milk and jostling with each other for the ripest plumpest nipple.  Just as Kaz began to relax believing the worst to be over, another one popped out, and another.  He could not believe his eyes. 

‘Eight pups,’ he said, ‘surely that is all.  Any more and I will lose count.’ He ruffled his feathers, and gave himself a good shake, as if to confirm what he was seeing.  He started to count the pups, to confirm for himself what he had just witnessed.  He was counting aloud, and reached six when another wriggling sack appeared. 

‘Nine!  Eight males and one female, Oh my goodness, what a handful.’

 

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