Desert Writings 2: The Lesser Wee-Bit
Written at Hamilton Downs Youth Camp, Day 2, on a hill overlooking the Chewings Range, with black cockatoos flying over
I have named this bird the Lesser Wee-Bit, because it is not even so large as the Greater—which is thumb-sized—but only perhaps the size of a grown man’s thumbnail. A clean white below, shading to lemon under the black tail, it has a neat grey head with a beak that is no more than a speck or pinpoint of black, and dapper grey wings which when folded give it the appearance of a tiny gentleman in a morning suit, who has doffed his top hat momentarily for a lady or superior.
This bird arrives whenever a person seats himself among the thinner scrub, where it springs straight out to many branches without preparatory uplifting by a single trunk, or where it rises uncertainly on its withered black-barked stem, to branch quickly and to branchlet, disappearing like smoke off a burning brand. He comes, then, to this sort of poor cover, seemingly out of a curiosity towards the lumpen creature, all bulk and careful breathing, lowered into a place in his domain. He positions himself on a vertical twig, which gives him a very jaunty aspect for one so small and frail, and with his jet-bead eye fixed on the interloper he will then, if one maintains one’s calm and does not crane too eagerly towards him, release upon the desert silence notes that you will hear nowhere else, and that you will find both mysterious and entrancing.
It is as if with that pin-prick beak the Wee-Bit stabbed a tiny hole in the silence, through which membrane plumped, like a honey-drop or red sphere of tree sap, a piece of the heaven-noise beyond, the chaos of a whole heavenly city, perhaps, with its criers and its beasts of transport, its bustling markets and its busy apartments. It’s as if in its passage through the skin from that bright world to this the piece was rounded and polished, and a little lamp lit inside, the tiniest lamp imaginable, perhaps the size of the gleam that in real life lights the Wee-Bit’s eye. And then, snick!, the piece is through and the skin shuts behind it making it perfect, freeing it to float across the intervening space, to lodge in this earthly, eager ear.
This bird will not come to you if you do not pause in your exertions towards your day’s or journey’s end; this song will not be brought forth from the little throat if you do not position yourself within the landscape and aspire to becoming rock, or stump, or grass-tussock yourself. To receive these polished seeds of beauty into your ear, you must delude yourself that you entered the scrub and became scrub, earless and careless and thankless. To see the fleck of bird poised against the rough twig, you must affect to look entirely away from the world, to indeed pluck out your eyes and cast them away as useless, to become instead a tight-strung wire or gut, against which the bird’s bubbles collide most subtly and intensely, setting you at once to singing at a different pitch.