19 April 2006

Springtime in the Pond

Western Banjo frogs (Limnodynastes dorsalis) - or Pobblebonks - the male 'hangs around' until the female lays her eggs, in a distinctive foam nest, so he can fertilise them. These do quite well at the Eucla Roadhouse where there is a beautiful garden and large water feature, although they are more common around Perth to Esperance.

These frogs are so named because of their explosive call, which sounds not unlike "bonk!", or the plucking of banjo strings.


16 April 2006

A Modern Fairy Tale

Fairytales have fallen from favour…become unfashionable…because there is a belief amongst adults (and adolescents of ever-diminishing ages) that there no longer exist knights in shining armour and beautiful princesses who are strong enough to yield to the softer emotions. But I know of a fairytale that had its beginning in the not-so-distant past – depending on your perspective – that has all the elements of the sweetest classics. You see, fairytales are not impossible, just exceedingly rare. They are not the thing of the imagination, but they are elusive as a will-o'-the-wisp.

Once upon a time, in an era when there was a terrible war and a time of great change,
there was a beautiful princess who was searching for direction, some meaning in the midst of all the chaos of the age. Having rejected her pursuit of learning, she joined the empire’s legions to seek meaning there, for these were not the olden days when princesses were consigned to stitching tapestries and naming pets; no dear readers, this was not the case. After an appropriate time, this beautiful princess was dispatched to a place made for fairytales, a place far away, yet close to home. There the sun shone with an intentional fervour and a magic spell was cast upon all people who travelled there, across shining waters and over the bodies of countless and delicate creatures made of the finest bone. Upon her arrival there, she came to know a dashing young man, also in the service of the empire.

Here was a man who may well have been the last of the knights in shining armour. He was not perfect, as knights of fairytales go; he had a mysterious past, had fought many battles, many of which began from the time of his boyhood, some of which caused him to seek out dangerous places where he planned to meet dragons or Death itself…and lose. But the dragons could not kill him, nor Death find him, and he found himself in the magical land where he also found the fair princess.

If this were the old-fashioned kind of fairytale, the knight in shining armour and the beautiful princess would have met at a court ball, or in a gallant contest for her hand. As it was, they met accidentally, quietly, but the powers of the universe took notice of their instant and terrible love. They could not know that the universe had noted their delicate happiness, their fragile connection, or their fevered passion. They knew only that under the spell of the mysterious land and each other’s arms, they were transported beyond anything most men and women dream of. For nearly the length of the transition of the moon, they laughed and played, loved and made love as only fairytale characters can. Then the knight was called away, and the beautiful princess was left alone in the magic land. While many other men in the land sought her out, there was nothing as joyous to her as the news that the knight would return, however briefly, to the magical land, which he did. In between the demands of a practical world, they immediately resumed life in the spell that had been cast upon them. The sun shone with an enchanted light, and even tempests could not shake the bond they had. And when their time together drew to a close, and they knew the knight was going far, far away, perhaps never to return, the beautiful princess devised a plan to tell her knight in shining armour that she had fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with him.

This, however, was the very thing that broke the magic spell over them. The brave and sometimes arrogant knight became fearful as he had never done when facing dragons and Death; and while the beautiful princess tried to speak to the man, now stripped of his armour and all magic, the spell had indeed been broken and they found it difficult to understand each other, speaking what had become two separate languages. The knight departed to other places, other seas, and eventually the beautiful princess was cast out from the magic land, which no longer held any magic – no – which now was just an ordinary place that had no rainbows, no promises, no laughter. They continued to pen letters to one another, for reasons that this teller of tales cannot fathom. Whether to remain connected, should the magic spell reoccur, or to merely keep hold of a beauty that once was, it is difficult to tell, dear reader. But eventually, as often happens when unwitting fairytale participants break a magic spell, the thin, silver filament that connected their hearts was terribly broken, and they moved into the world to wander alone.

During the years that followed, on occasions that could be neither foreseen nor expected, something magic would still
happen to them. Usually, these magical things did not involve each other, but they were enchanted, beautiful things still; they imagined they fell in love with other people; they had babies who were, by virtue of their enchanted parent, magical themselves. One day, the beautiful princess met a wizard who boasted that he could find anyone in the world if one had the proper spell. The beautiful princess did indeed know the spell that would conjure her long, lost knight in shining armour and entrusted this incantation to the wizard who returned to her with joy encased in sadness…her knight was alive and well in a land not far away, but he had won the hand of another lady. The wizard refused to share his information with the beautiful princess unless she made a magical vow to remain a distant friend to her knight, abandoning all hope of regaining the magic that once made them lovers. Because she loved all things good and also because she did not want her knight to suffer any more at her hands than he already had, she made this promise not just to the magician, but to herself as well. The wizard revealed his magic to her, and she was able to speak to her knight for the first time in a very, very long time. She had forgotten most of the magic things they used to say to one another, but she remembered the knight’s magic name, and once she spoke it, he also spoke her magic name. Immediately, flowers began to bloom where none had been planted, the stars came out in the middle of the day, and the two lovers were reminded of the magic they once shared.

Remember, my dear reader, however, that they were both under the spell of other lovers, and they had come to love the magic that was left to them, not fully realising that it was pale in comparison to the enchantment they’d known in the magic land. So they occasionally reached out for one another – one would hold out a hand, and the other would clasp it gently, carefully, in friendship. Miraculously, they even saw one another once when the knight was travelling across the land. This was a sad and glorious day for them, as they suddenly realised that the magic spell was once again in effect – their laughter and enchantment were just as lovely as in the magic land – but they could not act upon this knowledge because they did not belong to one another. The beautiful princess had made a vow to the wizard and to herself, and the knight in shining armour was just beginning to awake from a spell of forgetting he had conjured years and years before. So the beautiful princess eventually ran away to a land that could not be farther away from the knight unless she flew to the moon. It was more difficult to reach out and be sure of one another. The knight’s lady did not trust the beautiful princess, even though she was in the distant land and under the spell of another knight. Once or twice a year, they would cast their magic messages; once or twice a year, they would receive an enchanted response.

However, you must understand, my dear reader, that magic will have its own way no matter what mere mortals do, and it came to pass that our star-crossed lovers were unable to sustain the magic in their own lives. The lovers who they thought could maintain some semblance of magic with them grew weary of the spells, the incantations and the need to nurture the faith that the world is still a magical place. The beautiful princess sent a message to the knight that she was very sad. It took many, many days before the knight could reply that his life had also been consumed by the monster of a great longing and sadness. By this time, these two people – the knight and the beautiful princess – were, unbeknownst to them, very powerful magicians in their own right, and they began to exercise their new powers, which they had never tested before. Thirty-four years after they first met, the knight in shining armour cast a spell of reclamation. The beautiful princess cast a spell of hope and happiness. They thought they were conjuring magic to heal themselves, but the more magic they wove, the more the other was healed. Very soon, a delicate, mystic, golden chain spanned the vast distance between them, and this enabled the spells they cast to become even more powerful. Suddenly the years and distances fell away; their magic was the most powerful kind the world had ever seen, and nothing could keep them apart. Now, instead of being bound by the danger that their magic could work only in a magic land, they became such powerful magicians that they could take their spells with them wherever they went; however, they never went anywhere without the other, so their magic became the greatest the world had ever seen. And this, my children, meant that they no longer needed to practice magic to stay together, to love one another, or to be happy. The world of magic and enchantment recognised that no power existed that could ever cause them to part again.

This magical power, of course, as with all fairytales, was an ability they had always held; they had always been the most powerful magicians in the world. But they did not know this when they were very, very young. If they had been told, they would not have believed it. But in the wisdom that comes after years of living without magic, they realised that there was no force in the universe that could separate them if they did not choose to be separate. The magic is, of course, that they would never choose to live apart again. And that is the magic of love.