My son asked me what the baby birds looked like because, unlike his sisters, he'd been too short to see into the nest.
"Davros," I said.
I waited for the first of several fiendishly difficult follow-up questions but he appeared dreamily sated and I was filled with the ineffable sense of accomplishment a parent feels when they've managed to silence their seven-year-old with two syllables that don't begin with "shut" and end with "up".
The pair of grey fantails had used spit and spider web to build the wine glass in the brittle fork of our Forest Pansy. It's the second time I've planted the species, this time in a large stone pot near the back door near the tap, as opposed to out in the exposed garden. The despair I'd felt upon discovering a savage frost had killed that first young tree a few years before was akin to that I felt upon learning something had murdered our three hatchlings. I wondered if some malevolent currawong-like demon had done the same to a family of nestlings to which Melville had bonded because my urge to seek revenge on nature was overwhelming.
The vain hope the useless little things were somehow more advanced than common sense dictated and had actually flown the nest just a day after opening their pepper-corn eyes was dashed when I found a bit of inchoate wing attached to the red flesh of breast under the tree.
That evening, when I'd scored the Davros coup and the whole family had taken advantage of a rare break from the insane heat and wind and watched the gymnastic fantails take turns feeding their young with insects plucked from the sultry air, seemed a long way off.
On this last day of 2019, when the trio had been preyed upon, the wind had returned along with the heat, the latter the reason for our keener than advisable interest in something so vulnerable in the first place (apparently 83 per cent of juvenile fantails don't make it, or so says Google, to which I fled searching for succour after I'd reached up and felt inside the empty nest).
Three days before, as the temperature nudged 40, we noticed the fantails trying to shade their brood with their outstretched fighter jet wings. By this stage, the fledglings had developed wide, yellow Jagger mouths and long, extendable necks to enable efficient scoffing but their lack of feathers and paper-thin skin meant they'd likely perish under the relentless sun.
I watched the wilting scene and considered erecting some kind of elaborate tarp-and-rope system but quickly realised such a project would do little else than scare the birds off or, at least, provide the house with a mainsail to rival that of the Pequod's which, in this hot westerly, would have us leaving Ulladulla Harbour in about five minutes (even though it's 60km away).
In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed the watering wand, turned the dial to 'mist' and began spraying the nest so the tag-teaming parents and the kids prickled with cool water. We repeated this about every half hour between 1pm and 5pm for days (my son's Star Wars Garmin from Santa disturbingly useful) until the birds were finally gone but at least (we arrogantly believed) our strange family exercise amid this mad summer had made their final few days bearable.
I do, however, suspect our extra attention somehow doomed the birds; the same way I wonder if the predator, probably watching from the tall stand of ash, knew they'd been there all along and was just waiting for them to become meal-sized.
As news of the devastation from the coast gathered momentum, we again prepared the house for the coming fire, which, to us (unlike the genuinely unlucky ones), has become like Godot.
The wind turned on a dime, the southerly buster sent the pall back into the village and we kept one smoke-stung eye on Fires Near Me and an ear to community radio (cheekily breaking the excellent updates with Donovan singing "they call me Mellow Yellow" as the outside world took on an eerie urine tinge).
Rain wet the ground but hardly enough to stop one of the new factory of wasps enjoying its fresh desert ecosystem and drag a stunned caterpillar into a hole.
That's how you lay eggs, I thought.
I rechecked the pump and we repacked the car, hurrying in and out of the back door, each time looking over at the empty nest being tossed about like a perfect little boat on a boiling purple sea.
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