This is a little house, a single-fronted maisonette with a front garden the size of a hanky, and only three rooms apart from kitchen and bathroom.
But then when you look out the back door, you realise the yard goes on forever, long and narrow. The large tract beyond the garage was pretty much reclaimed as bushland by whoever planted the fifteen or so native trees that have, since I moved in nine years ago, grown to twice the size they were when I arrived: eucalypts, acacias, ti-trees, bottle-brushes, Geraldton Wax, a pepper-tree that used to be a sapling but isn't any more. The back yard is so big that instead of the usual three neighbours (both sides and down the back), I have five. It's a very old suburb with some nineteenth-century law about subdivision.
So I was down there today, attempting some hopelessly small and fussy task by way of land management, when I heard an explosion of bird-chatter over my head and a little off to the right, which is, I read later in the bird book, what happens. I followed the noise, expecting to see a flock of noisy littlies -- sparrows? Honey-eaters? Or rainbow lorikeets, perhaps? -- but instead what caught my eye was a big, dark shape on a branch about twenty feet up. At first I thought it was a possum, but it was completely the wrong shape. Then I thought "cat" -- but no cat up a tree would sit in that position.
Then I registered that it was looking straight at me. Out of big, unblinking, yellow eyes.
It was an owl.
Four o'clock on a sunny Easter Saturday afternoon in suburban Adelaide and I'm being stared down by a boobook owl.
The bird book says they're active at night but roost in the daytime, when they are often buzzed by flocks of little birds, usually honey-eaters. (Honey-eaters are cheeky little sods and wouldn't think twice about buzzing a velociraptor, much less an owl.)
I don't think it took fright at me. We looked at each other for a bit -- if I didn't know better I would have thought it had come to tell me it was time to get down to Diagon Alley for next term's Hogwart's supplies -- but then the buzzy little birds started to annoy it and it flew away: low and slow and heavy, but silent, in that glider way they have. The most I heard by way of noise was a soft whfffff, like an arrow.
And then my heart, going kafoomp kafoomp kafoomp.