Close look into our future

January 05, 2018

The kingfisher - little things will disappear quickly if we don't look closely.

If you are going to change anything — your hair or your habits — now is the time to do it.

The breathless excitement of New Year’s Eve fireworks is still in the air, so refresh your lists and your promises — by this time next week they will be dust in the corners of pockets as the comforts of sugar, alcohol, tobacco and Netflix return.

But pessimism aside — it is still January, so change remains a possibility.

Janus was the god of beginnings and endings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, and passages.

So let’s all just stand in the doorway for a little longer.

I am resolving to spend less time staring aimlessly into the void from the verandah and more time staring with purpose through a pair of small binoculars at things that matter.

Santa brought me the binoculars and a re-usable glass coffee cup to stop me drinking lattes from plastic cups that take 10000 years to dissolve.

I saw a sacred kingfisher on my pool fence this week.

I was able to look long and deep because my binoculars afforded me the privilege of distance.

I took in its black beady eye, its latte-coloured chest and the turquoise-blue of his wings.

I think it was male because my bird book says the female has duller upper parts.

No gender-specific comments intended there — this is nature okay?

Kingfishers are easy to hear because they give a loud ‘‘ek ek ek ek’’ when they are excited.

The chief gardener taught me that.

She learned that from her mother who was an avid birdo who could spot a bird a mile away by its call without ever seeing it.

She once took a 30-minute walk around bushland near our place and returned with a list of more than 30 bird species — including a sea eagle.

Where she learned that I don’t know, but it was not from Facebook or Netflix.

And so these small details of the world are handed down and become embedded in the fabric of what seems to be our increasingly useless human knowledge.

Anyway, kingfishers are difficult birds to spot because they are so small and quick, so this was the first time I had a chance to really notice their jewel-like beauty.

It spent long periods staring at the pool water or surveying the surrounding trees with a flick of its sharp black bill.

I thought it might scoop a dragonfly off the surface or dive for a frog.

But it flew away as quickly as it arrived and returned to the cloak of the bush.

I felt a tinge of voyeurism, but also privilege to have shared a moment with this tiny creature in its unknowable world.

It always refreshes me to realise there are lives and patterns that continue with no regard to the increasing echo chamber of mirrors in which we live.

But everything is connected — so these little lives ultimately depend on the way we chose to live our big lives.

Plastic, coal, fertilisers, mass manufacturing, industrial farming and our whole overheated system of continual growth at the foundation of our society will kill the kingfisher and us if we don’t change and start to examine closely the little things around us.

Not a cheery thought for the new year, but here at the doorway it is a good time to reflect.

Janus was shown on Roman statues and gateways with two faces, one looking back to the past — the other gazing into the future.

The Romans did not have binoculars, but we do.

John Lewis is chief of staff at the News.

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