It was a lazy Saturday afternoon; Antarctic breezes kept our hands clasped around our warm coffee mugs and each other. The goal: to behold the glorious mass of flying foxes (aka sky puppies aka Pteropus poliocephalus) along the Yarra River. “It’s absolutely incredible!” I said, “You’ve never seen so many bats, and so close!” I was preparing Dave for a spectacle and exciting myself in the process. One of my favourite things to do in Naarm (Melbourne) is to walk along the river under the flying foxes, take in the tangy scent of Eucalyptus, and hear myriad bird calls without needing to know who they belong to. I wanted to share this quiet joy with someone who loves nature as much as I do.
So, as you can imagine, I was somewhat disappointed when our journey began with a sign that stated something along the lines of “the bats leave for the winter so good luck trying to find any” (I’m paraphrasing). Once I quelled the embarrassment I felt from the assumption that wild creatures would stay where I left them, we started walking. I desperately searched the canopy for any stragglers. Surely we’d spot a few if we looked hard enough? I powered on, zeroing in on any and all things that remotely resembled a bat-cocoon.
As worried thoughts about ruining the day frolicked through my mind, Dave - in his infinite wisdom - suggested we stop. “I really like slowing down and looking closely at things. You see things you’d never notice.” I took a breath and remembered why we were here: to enjoy nature in whatever way it shows up. So we took each step a little longer and let our eyes grow a little wider. We looked to the sky, to the ground, to the river. We listened for the sounds of moving water and songbirds. We stopped to revel in the bark of a tree, and witnessed whole universes in its folds and cracks. We laughed with delight as we watched ordinary creatures behave in surprising ways. We felt the sweet kiss of a winter sun on our faces.
It was near what we thought was the end of our walk when we got distracted by a bush covered in tiny flowers and even tinier beetles. Groups of walkers passed us by as we played spot-the-beetle and tried (vainly) to take a half decent photo of our our new elytra-covered friends. All of a sudden, despite being on a relatively busy thoroughfare, we found ourselves - the fascinated observers - become the objects of fascination for a Little Raven (Corvus mellori). She perched on a wooden post, not three meters from where we stood, and studied us intently. And time passed as we all stood - Dave, the raven, and I - considering each other with curiosity.
Call it anthropomorphising, but the attention this raven paid us felt special. What did she want to know about us? What drew her towards us instead of to the other groups of people around? Perhaps it was random chance, perhaps she did this every day. Perhaps she was plotting our death along with world domination. Or perhaps, to her, we were the ordinary creatures behaving in surprising ways. Maybe by being quietly curious we invited a kind of interaction with this raven - with nature - that simply can’t be accessed on a power walk.
After some time spent inside this beautiful moment, our glossy friend finally decided to move on and pursue more important things, like her next meal. She stayed close and we continued to watch her for a while, enjoying this urban bird that we were seeing with entirely new eyes. Like all things however, our walk eventually came to an end. But for me something else was starting: a new-found appreciation for stopping - really stopping - and marvelling in the little things, the unseen things, the ordinary things. When you do that, everything is spectacular and precious.
We didn’t see any flying foxes like we set out to do, but we saw a raven, and for that I give our walk a raving review and five stars.
Author Bio: Allie is a PhD student and Park Ranger and is her happiest when she is hiking in the forest or snorkelling on the reef.
Twitter handle: @CuriosityLeague