Day 4

It’s a beautiful evening. The tui are sending out their last and simplest songs of the day, just a few notes.

The bellbirds in the Marlborough Sounds–that are not Sounds, neither are the fiords of Fiordland fiords–at their most improvisatory outdo tui, and are often mistaken for them, although, in taxonomy and appearance they couldn’t be more unalike: tui–black and scintillant with cardinal blue, a preacherly tuft of white at the collar; bellbird–smaller, green, with a duller blue on wings and head.

Did I tell you I saved a kakariki in Paradise?

It had flown into a post on the porch, fallen, its head at a silly angle to its body. This was where we were staying, a cabin, also, as we might say, improvisatory: the porch out of reclaimed glass louvres, the kitchen with gas hobs under a lean-to, sheltered from the wind by reclaimed windows in frames posed in a V behind the hobs, one room, windows at the foot of the double bed, double-glazed as it happens, so at night, when I lit the Little Cracker, it was like a sweat-tent, until the early hours. And the view through those windows at the foot of the bed! Up the Dart Valley, the giant on his back belching pounamu all up and onto the West Coast. The weather coming in and the light dancing on the valley over the crags.

I thought at first the little parrot to be a rubber ball I’d picked up in Mapua, where we stayed at a camping ground advertising clothes optional. A saving, in fact, being able to drop duds and change clobber without the worry of bare bottom land exile.

But then when I stooped over it I saw it’s little neck to be broken. And its wings splayed out, I tried to scoop it up. It skittered away, now dragging its wings as if these were lost of its control. Just before it disappeared under the cabin, where the rats would get it, I caught and cupped it in my hands.

Its head still at a silly angle, it eyed me. Its orange iris, wide eye. Probably stunned.

J. said drip some water on its beak to bring it around, like Opa used to do (when he rescued birds, as he used to also).

I caught some drops on my fingers and dribbled them off onto its tightly clamped parrot beak, miniature.

I don’t know what it was saying with its big orange eye and dilated black pupil, like a sunflower. It looked fucked.

I took the kakariki and placed it on the picnic table which stood some distance on the flat from the cabin. This is where we ate dinner and where I wrote in the mornings. It’s also where we ate the pancakes, bacon, maple syrup and banana J. cooked up for breakfast. Must have been a Sunday. The pancake mix came from Foxton Windmill, a wonder. The only working windmill grinding grain in the country.

It was dusk and we went inside, sat at the foot of the bed, looking out every so often at the kakariki and reading books.

We decided it had been too late for the little bird. Ought we put it on the ground? No, the rats would get it.

Its wings were out from its body. It hadn’t moved its head.

And as the light was halved, J. said: it looked around.

It had looked quickly around once, and as I turned I saw it gather itself up and fly off into the manuka.

As if it had been waiting to be sure. And as if it had been quietly gathering its reserves, checking its escape route, running over the plan. Coast clear–away.

I hadn’t wanted to photograph it in my hands in case it just died. But when I think about its eye and the brilliance of its plumage, parrot greens and blues, unlike the dull earth tones of most New Zealand birds, and their nebulous and indistinct colours, their shy colours, I think it knew: it struck me it was not timid, not a self-effacing creature.

Dark now outside. Tui quiet until tomorrow, when they start as they end the day with their simplest songs. Maybe one or two notes, answering each other over the valley. The family is watching Country Calendar.

Strange miracles. Somebody said quick to tears, my age.

Or course the kakariki probably didn’t need me to move it in order to perform the ordinary miracle of surviving its stupid accident: what kind of bird flies into a post? But perhaps it needed whatever passed between us, or we did, from its bright orange eye.