November 8, 2017
One of the grand themes of this Maatsuyker adventure is and always will be the separation and isolation of this island. It is rarely in the forefront of our minds but has built a quaint home in our subconscious.
Less than a week ago, my grandmother passed away. She was 91 - all spunk and sweetness! The last words she said to me in a near death haze, looking straight through the phone, “I love you and all of your family”. Struggling to reach the same words across to everyone, she wanted to fare us well, and for us all to know that we are loved.
Her final moments of selflessness were inspiring. To be in so much pain and still just trying to give to those around you - amazing!
Sure, she wasn’t always perfect, but she was a great person and one hell of a supporter of my mom and I. When my parents made the split, she moved in with us on our 35-acre property. She transported me to extracurricular activities, while my mom tried to run a business. She would often cook dinner for us, take care of us when we were sick, and console us through our rougher days.
When there was a crisis, she shuffled her way up the stairs so fast, she could have burned a hole straight through her slippers!
Anticipating my departure to the island, and with the knowledge of her deteriorating health, Jesse and I thought it would be best if I visited both her and my other grandmother before traveling to Maatsuyker.
That decision turned out to be a great blessing.
For the past 8 years, my “Oma” has stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Florida. They have cared for her and loved her with the sincerity and tenderness any one of us would wish for in our later years. They are truly the most spectacular human beings, with the most veracious hearts. The rest of the family will always live in awe and appreciation of their boundless capacity for kindness.
While I said goodbye to my grandmother a little early, my mom and her siblings were there in the end.
Death confronts us all in many different ways: some experience sadness, others anger, my beautiful mother seems to be in a slight state of shock and denial.
On the island, we are so apart from the large land masses of the world, the idea of death seems to live just offshore - within visibility but just out of reach.
Therefore, I was able to push away the reality of my grandmother’s death. That is, until I found my favorite bird, a currawong named Charles, who only had the use of one eye, dead in the center of the road while I was mowing.
At first, I clung to hope that the mangled carcass I had stumbled upon, that had been picked clean to the bone couldn’t have been Charles. He never ventured this far north on the other side of the island! We always found him hobbling safely between the houses, head cocked to one side, utilizing his good eye to scratch around in the dirt for food. In truth, the eyes of this poor bird had been so completely eaten out that I failed to see any distinguishable marks that might enable me to determine which bird it was and which bird it wasn’t.
Heavy hearted, I made my way back up to the house to find Jesse so we could pursue the truth together. “Have you seen Charles today?” I asked. He hadn’t seen him, and we usually spotted him once a day, especially when we were mowing and brushcutting.
The weight on my chest grew heavier and my heart began desperately clinging on to the idea that there was no way that the one bird out of 900,000 on the island that I loved this much, that had become the equivalent of a family pet, a welcomed friend to happen upon, could possibly be the one bird I found in such a sorry state of lifelessness.
Jesse grabbed a shovel to bury the little creature and we very slowly made our way to the other side of the island, where I discovered him. Not many words were exchanged on that walk. We both knew what it meant if it were him.
As we reached the body and Jesse knelt down to examine it, my heart almost leapt with the idea that it couldn’t possibly be him! Something inside me just said, “No way!” But the longer Jesse knelt and the more thoroughly he inspected, the more the tears began to well up behind my eyes. Then, he flipped him over and with the angle and the light, I yelled and sobbed, “I see it! I see the thing poking out of his eye! It’s him! It’s Charles!”
I turned away in exasperation, completely dumbfounded with the idea that something so hurtful could happen in a place so special, so beautiful.
Jesse was silent. He carefully scooped up our fragile, little bird friend and suggested we bury him in his favorite spot. As we made the journey back, I cried and asked all sorts of questions: how could this have happened, why was he so far away, how could he have gotten all the way over here? I devised horrific theories about how he was possibly taken by an eagle or by some of his own and eaten alive. Jesse calmly insisted that he probably died from natural causes and was then taken away and eaten after.
It didn’t matter, he was dead; and to me, in that moment, nature was cruel. Of course his handicap and slow pace made him a target for other birds. I hated that he was gone!
My anger made way for sadness rather quickly, and I told Jesse I was going to get some flowers for his burial. When we met back up, Jesse also had found various wild flowers that he had delicately placed on Charles. He had even covered the horrible empty spaces where his eyes had been with yellow dandelions.
I thought how much I loved this man.
We traveled to Charles’ favorite foraging spot and buried what was left of him with the flowers.
In that moment, death had in fact reached Maatsuyker Island; and the pain of both Charles and my grandmother flooded in.
Until then, my grandmother had seemed so far away, but the close proximity of our feathered friend made everything REAL and RAW.
And so that day, I mourned the loss of my island mate, and the woman who helped raise me - the loyal, kind, generous woman she was, my Oma, Edith F. Rodgers.