It's four days, now, since you've visited. The garden is a ghost town without you, the quiet too stark a contrast to your exuberant activity and noisiness. My ears are continually on high alert for signs of you. I miss your full-throated guffaws heralding the family's arrival into the tree outside my kitchen window, or the fence surrounding the fernery – all four of you sitting in a row like swallows on a wire. Regarding me with your 'Well, we're waiting' attitude. Oh, Noisy One, first out of the nest but last to learn independence, I miss you most of all – your continuous caw, caw, caw, calling for fast food.
I miss stepping out the back door to greet you with freshly cut strips of steak – only the best for a growing family – and watching you take the meat up in your beaks, ‘killing’ it before tossing your heads back and swallowing with gusto, you, Noisy One, always managing to score the biggest meal. I miss looking, in turn, into four sets of intelligent brown eyes looking directly back at me, trying to read your thoughts, wondering if it’s my company you enjoy or simply the food. I miss coming home from work to see the tree empty (sigh), only to find, as I take my cup of tea into the sitting room, you, Noisy One – quiet in the absence of a parent – sitting on the railing on the back deck, peering in at me. (Do you remember the day you followed me up into the garden, alighting on the Hills Hoist as I hung the washing, watching my every move?)
But it had to stop. You knew that. I explained it to you each day as I rationed the steak to smaller portions and fewer feeding times. It wasn't the cost – I never minded cutting down on a few luxury items in the weekly shop to afford your breakfasts and dinners. I never intended to start feeding you in the first place. But those stiflingly hot 40 degree days – so many of them in a row – when you came to take refuge in the shade of my fernery – all four of you open-beaked, and you, Noisy One, wings wilting, head drooped. It was for the moisture more than anything. The steak would deliver you a drink as well as nourishment. I phoned Yvonne Cowley, 'The Possum Lady of Boronia', who'd looked after Mordrid, the blind Tawny Frogmouth, for years, to check I was doing the right thing. 'They need all the help they can get', she'd said. 'They'll go in search of their own food when they're able.' So began a ritual. You visited every day. And I came to know each one of you – Mum, Dad and two kids – recognised you individually, came to know your quirks and temperaments as well as the subtle differences in your magnificent plumage.
Then you began to spend the whole day with me, Noisy One, waiting for food. You'd always be close by, in the tree, on the railing, the fence, even peck-banging on the back door. I was so conflicted. Your company brightened my day. But it wasn’t my company you needed. I pleaded with you to go find your family, learn how to hunt for yourself. But you wouldn't listen. I put the rest of your steak in the freezer for the dog. It broke my heart.
Last night I thought I heard one of you call from a distant tree somewhere in the park. I tried to picture you all, heads turned backwards (like you, Noisy One, during your afternoon naps) hunched up for sleep on your branches.
I am not used to this solitude, this quiet.
Today the Noisy One came to visit me, after an eight-day absence, to show me she has been doing some hunting for herself.