Everyone knows our place better than we do.
It's one of the occupational hazards of occupying a home viewed as part of the village fabric, regardless of how frayed. You don't necessarily purchase your lodgings, you contribute your patch to the quilt and eventually move on, hopefully having avoided burning the structure to the ground - a daily proposition considering our pile of sticks shares Wicker Man bonfire properties.
It became obvious when we arrived about 16 years ago, three years before child number one, that many people had some kind of relationship with the house.
Oh yeah, I did the kitchen.
Oh yeah, I did the back porch.
Oh yeah, I was born there ...
While comforting enough, this communal investment can come with a few unsavoury side effects, such as when the owner directly previous to the house-flipping couple from whom we bought the weatherboard, let himself in their front door one night to sleep off an assiduous session down the pub.
Thankfully, the charming drunk had selected an empty bedroom and the place, at that stage, was still child-free. There was no real harm done but it was certainly a catalyst for new locks (and bedding); a none-too-subtle signal that even though the welcoming abode was of the late 19th century, the rules of access were now firmly of the early 21st.
We've experienced nothing as gratuitous as louche home invaders playing choose-your-own-bed-and-breakfast, although my wife and I swapped looks of dumbfounded violation when, only a few days into our habitation, a busybody drove into the yard as if it were her own, proceeded to gossip about various strangers for a good half-hour, then blithely tootled off, negotiating the tricky, overgrown egress at the bottom of the block with such aplomb, we suspected our slippery acre might well have been her personal peak-hour detour.
Again, no real harm done, although we couldn't hang a gate fast enough.
Not that some level of gossip isn't appreciated around here, required even. It just depends who's providing the intel.
Unlike the diverse, genetic jungle of big population centres, there is so much interconnected complexity to a small community that without reliable information you're constantly running the risk of offending someone ("Oh, that's your daughter ... you must be very proud ...").
We were blessed to be adopted by a few level-headed locals who furnished us with a potted history of the town, its surrounds, and - for the most part - its wonderful inhabitants. My wife, the public relations branch of the household, absorbs this kind of stuff far more efficiently than I, and is already capable of joining the Milky Way of dots linking the place as if she were born here. Conversely, like the Jerry Seinfeld joke, I'm still that annoying cinemagoer whispering for the plot to be explained to him: "Who's that guy? Are they related? Where do they live? What's our street called, again?"
Despite at least one of us developing a comprehension of the village mechanics and family tree, and especially the many souls to have come and gone under our roof, we can still be surprised, even a little shocked, when a new nugget breaks the surface.
"That was the old poisons shed," a long-term resident replied when I happened to mention I'd finally demolished the eyesore in the top corner of the property.
"The what now?" I said, a clutch of web-footed grandchildren waddling through my mind.
Given what we've managed to uncover ourselves over the years, this shouldn't have been quite the revelation it was - it's just unnerving being armed with confirmation someone felt it necessary to dedicate an entire micro-hangar to toxins so they could spend a lifetime chemically castrating the immediate environment.
The fact is, our property forms part of a once working farm of an era when DDT was all the rage and the Rachel Carsons of the world were only just beginning to smell a rat.
And unfortunately, like Carson, we still smell lots of rats.
They breed rambunctiously in our walls and roof cavity. Knowing the noxious history of our smear on the planet, we try our darndest to avoid using poisons, but when the house begins to literally start-a-rockin' (and because traps are useless) we'll relent and lob a few of those vermilion grenades under the fridge and up through the ceiling manhole.
Things tend to fall quiet for a time - you even forget your pusillanimity - until, that is, you're confronted by a half-dead hairball on the grass near the crawl space. It shivers and shudders like something from a Japanese horror film and, reflected in its haunted eyes, you know by laying that bait you've joined a cursed ring of matricidal saboteurs who've helped see off Mother Earth.
But we are trying.
The rodent shame aside, we've never used herbicides, insecticides come only in the spiral form of mosquito coils (although God knows what manner of evil spirits they release upon ignition), and snail pellets have been out for the past couple of years, too.
I have a passing affection for gastropods but a confirmed soft spot for the solar-powered critters that emerge this time of year ravenous for a slimy garden bed smorgasbord, hopefully uncomplicated by escargot laced with lethal doses of metaldehyde.
We're lucky to have all sorts of reptiles but we're particularly fond of our Cunningham's skinks, a species with a spiny dinosaur tail and a mien of contentment. The whole family joins these big brown recliners (we give them bowls of water) on the verandah, all of us beaten into dreamy submission by the Sunday sun, as if Attenboroughs lolling about the Galapagos in the company of benign iguanas.
It's fair enough the beautiful birds get all the kudos, but spending some "cold-blooded old times", as Bill Callahan might say, with a lazy lounge of ectotherms brings its own contemplative magic.
Bruce Dawe - a muted loss amid the white noise of the pandemic - knew as much when he said "sometimes gladness, sometimes grief, the lizard on the laurel leaf".
Dawe was the master of capturing little Australia and his Homo Suburbiensis sums up nicely the unassuming life to which we - and many others, these strange days - aspire: "... the air smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon the palings ..."
Bet he didn't spray those vegies, either.
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