I’ve lived in the bush for the majority of my life and the thing that appeals to me most about the lifestyle is the surprises. Case in point: I had a training partner this morning, of the avian variety.
I run and sweat a few times a week, normally before dawn when the country is still rolling and farting. The magpies haven’t left their roosts and their chortling is pillow talk. The log trucks are on the move in the valley. I can’t see their lights exactly, just the illuminated trees and fog preceding them. Their rumbling is the only evidence that there wasn’t a zombie apocalypse while we were sleeping.
There was a touch of frost in the valley this morning and the waning quarter of moon did nothing except make the shadows deeper. I stumbled my normal route up the drive then up the hill—a gradually increasing slope, steep enough to be inimitable on a treadmill, but not insurmountable for an amateur like me. I disturbed an animal on the road verge just beyond the spotted gums. I’ve set wild sheep and goats to flight in the same spot and, about a year ago, a small family of fallow deer—a rare and timid sight in this part of the country. There are wallabies and wombats there, too, but the creature I disturbed had mass—a bipedal bulk that, when it stepped from the shadow into the moonlight, was taller than me.
Emu. Well, Fred, to be precise. Jack and Emma, who live at the top of the hill, have been mates with Fred for some time and Liz (their landlord) has peck scars on the top of her head. Emma reckons they were love bites. Liz now wears a bike helmet and carries a broom in Fred’s company.
Fred boomed a greeting and I upped the pace and headed for the opposite verge, giving her as much room as possible but I could hear her nails on the tarmac and turned to see her shadow bobbing towards me up the middle of the road. I remembered that little kid from The Gods Must Be Crazy II, holding a lump of bark above his head to appear bigger to the pack of hunting dogs who were stalking him and I clapped my hands in the air above my head. This seemed to excite Fred and soon she was trotting beside me and booming joyously. I stepped on the gas and a gap opened between me and Fred, but her legs were still pumping and it seemed like no effort at all for her to close that gap. The hill got steeper and steeper and my breathing became ragged and desperate. Finally, I realised Fred could probably run the pants off a kangaroo, and I surrendered to my fate.
‘Morning Fred,’ I said, gently.
She took a step closer, her head now a looming silhouette with the moon at her back. She surveyed me for what felt like a full minute, and then turned and wandered towards Jack and Emma’s place.I dragged myself home thinking emus could make a decent wage for themselves as personal trainers, but what would an emu do with cash? Just eat it.