Podargus strigoides


A night of country darkness and white dust, narrow roads and missed turnings.

Earlier, the slow escape from the city, the long freedom of the highway. Twenty minutes’ uneasy sleep in a tiny roadside reststop; exhausted pacing in pools of hard light; speakers spilling a slowdance of low voice and brushed drums, string and woodwind, through lowered windows into cool air. Chocolate bar and ginger beer scoffed in service station carpark; coatcollars drawn up against sudden bite of cold. Restless adjustments of seat angles and legs in the cramped interior of the car. Conversation circling in the pleasant caution of new friendship.

Now, shadows of trees flicker past. Mist across the gravel. Headlights, dim against the depth of the black ahead, skim past farmhouse wall and rockface, the placid shapes of sleeping cows and the stark pallor of ghostgums. There, on one white fencepost at the crest of a hill, the first bird. Four more follow, each perched silent and still, taking wing to snatch moths from the glare of the headlights. Blurs of grey feathers, wide beaks, golden eyes.


When we finally turn down the long driveway of our destination, the last bird sits unconcerned on the gate. Shoulders hunched, head tucked into chest, camouflage plumage useless against stainless steel. The crunch of boots on hard dirt, metal cold beneath my hands. And the frogmouth blinks, glares, at the moment before contact launches upwards in a steady thrum of stubby wings. Flaps over my head, passes into invisibility.


Inside the house, warmth and light, hot tea in handwarming mugs, tired driver collapsing into the cushions on the couch. But I stand by one window, stare into the dark outside. Hoping to catch another glimpse.