Darwin’s Wet Season Arrives

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There was always one sure sign the wet season was beginning in Darwin. In the backyard of my parent’s house it would happen every year after the first good rain finished and the sun came out. The lawn seems to start dancing, twisted and wriggling it’s way towards the sky. The movement is like a blanket of white noise, constant and unceasing. You’re drawn closer to find out how the lawn can do that, what’s happening?

As you look down at your feet in the writhing mass, you see something is walking amongst the short grass. It’s not clear what it is, so you drop down to one knee to have a closer look. Just in time to see a small head emerge from the ground and pull its body slowly out. It’s a moth. It’s a thousand moths. The ground is swarming with them as they emerge and move around to dry their wings. They are very docile when they first emerge, you can pick one up with no struggle and put it down somewhere else to continue its meanderings. After a while they seem to gain energy and confidence and spread their wings to dry them more quickly, slowly moving them in the light breeze.

From this level, as you look across the yard, there’s now a new layer of moths gently floating above the lawn, flying lazily in random directions; getting used to their new wings. It’s like a strange dream as you reach out to them and they sometimes land on your hand when you hold it still. Then out of the corner of my eye I see something larger moving on the lawn. I turn to watch a small skink strutting along, picking up a fresh moth and gobbling it down. I turn my head around the lawn and notice other lizards gathering to the feast.

From skinks that are barely twice the size of the moths, to a young monitor lizard the length of my forearm, they are taking full advantage of the sudden bounty. Each of them moves in short, sharp burst to seize another moth; whilst still keeping a careful eye on the other lizards. They move to cover and watch over patches of the lawn, but there are so many moths that no fighting is necessary. The larger lizards raise their heads and turn them carefully to survey the area as they slowly gulp down each delicious insect.

I’m not sure how long this has been going on now, I’ve just been lost in the moment, watching the scene unfold in levels of amazement. An ibis suddenly flutters down from the sky and starts pecking at the insect feast as well. This causes some smaller skinks to slowly back away from the bird and the larger ones maintain their watch more carefully. I’m watching the gently wafting mass of moths that have become airborne and are now drifting past the fence and out into the street. There are enough to fill the space to about a metre above the ground, even though they are being eaten at a prodigious rate by the lizards and birds; another ibis has discovered the sudden food supply and lands to take advantage.

Just as I’m wondering why the smaller skinks are worried about the ibis (I’m sure they only eat insects) there is a burst of frenzied activity. The two birds leap into the air and seem to explode in different directions. A moment later a kitehawk swoops across the lawn and snatches one of the skinks, flying away with it’s meal in its beak. I cannot believe I’m watching this happen in my backyard. I feel like I should be recording it somehow, to make some kind of documentary. I somehow expect David Attenborough to walk through the front gate with a few cameramen to catch this amazing scene.

I turn back to watch the larger lizards moving to more sheltered places on the lawn and the ibis return quickly to keep eating. I look up to see if more birds are coming to join us for lunch. I’m just in time to see another kitehawk swoop across the lawn and pick up a skink. Now I begin to wonder what would come and eat the kitehawk, or if the hawk will get bored of the lizards and try an ibis for main course. That’s when I realise that I am the only real predator a kitehawk has. Caught up in the feeding frenzy, I begin to think I should complete the chain by catching a hawk. In a moment I understand how living for survival might feel. Take any opportunity you find. If you dont catch it, you dont eat. A simple driver to push us forward and live. Live at all costs.

I can feel the bloodrush coming over me, but then I look down at the lawn again and notice it isn’t dancing anymore. The madness drains away with the remaining moths drifting on the breeze. The skinks disappear into the undergrowth. The larger lizards regard each other more warily before walking steadily away too. The ibis pick at the ground for a little longer before also jumping up onto the fence and then flying into the blue sky.

Only I remain. Walking along the lawn wondering what just happened. I walk inside with an idea to tell someone about it, but there’s no-one else at home. The clock on the microwave tells me it’s been fifteen minutes since I walked outside to fuel up the lawnmower. All of that life happened in a moment while the rest of the world turned oblivious. Cutting the lawn. Wow. I’m glad I didn’t start that earlier, would I have destroyed this magical scene? I walk around the lawn once more to make sure the explosion of nature is complete and I feel like I complete the cycle as I trim the grass. The wet season has truly begun.

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