poetryrepairs #242 17,10:119

SUE LITTLETON : The Vanishing Lake

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The Vanishing Lake

Still another tribe camps beside a gleaming lake, Its borders filled with water fowl, frogs, stiff-bladed reeds and cattails, and in its depths swim silver-dappled fish. An impressive body of water born in a year of flooding rains, only to die twenty years later, evaporating slowly as the sun leaches its moisture into the air in a glitter of reflected light rays. Slowly the lake returns to a wide, grassy depression stretching for miles, abandoned by its fowl, fish, frogs, water vegetation, gone as if it had never been. There are the years when the drought comes: soaring temperatures and desiccated foliage, the very air so hot the birds perch in the trees with beaks half-open, panting like little dogs, then tumble lifelessly to the ground. These are the years when the rains spill their bounty onto the sea, ignoring the desperate land. The grass and brush become tinder that ignites at a flash of heat lightning, loosing fierce demon fires that skim across the parched plains, snapping and leaping as they turn the eucalyptus into gigantic torches. Flickering orange tongues lap mercilessly at plant and animal alike, smoke-filled jaws devour all in their passage, leaving black devastation behind them.

poetryrepairs #242 17,119:


The fauna of Australia, long isolated by oceans and distance are as wonderfully peculiar as the Continent to which they are particular. The armour-plated crocodile skulks hungrily in the shadowy swamp, huge yellow reptile eyes slit with black pupils protruding above the long lethal snout, glaring wickedly about in search of prey. A stout female waddles awkwardly toward the opaque water, carrying her newly-hatched young tenderly in nightmare jaws (instinct advises her not to trust the hatchlings to their father’s indiscriminate appetite). At the edge of wooded grassland, ears swiveling to catch the sound of danger, the soft-eyed kangaroo grazes peacefully bounding away on powerful hind legs at the crack of a twig, a tiny “joey” tucked safely away in her stomach pouch, gigantic kissing cousin of another, more widely-spread marsupial, the humble opossum of the American continents. The timid koala clings tightly to the branches of her slim-leafed eucalyptus tree, a look of perpetual surprise on her fuzzy, tuft-eared face – so like a natural teddy-bear the white man has named her koala “bear” when in reality koalas are no kin to bears-- here is another marsupial, carrying her undeveloped young in a stomach pouch-- a gentle, arboreal herbivorous creature whose closest relative is that stubby tailed fellow marsupial, the wombat— whose claim to fame is found in scat in the shape of cubes. Nor shall we forget that unique mammal the duck-billed platypus of Eastern Australia, sighted occasionally peering from isolated riverbanks or moving otter-smooth through water. About the size of a housecat, a bill like a duck, a tail like a beaver, feet like an otter; during mating season the male platypus produces a spur on his hind legs that carries enough toxic venom to kill smaller animals, or cause extreme pain to any unlucky man or dog who might hunt the strange little animal for its soft fur. The platypus is the only egg-laying mammal; the female delivers her young in one or two membrane-shelled eggs. which she incubates between her body and her tail. The eggs hatch in about ten days but platypus infants, which are about the size of lima beans, are completely helpless. They nurse at certain milk-giving patches on the mother’s skin, (since no nipples are provided) for three or four months until they grow enough they can finally swim on their own. Father platypus calmly ignores the domestic situation. When the platypus was first discovered, it was at a time when clever naturalists liked to play a game where they would stitch together various animal bits and then see if they could convince people they had discovered a new species. Poor Platypus! Proclaimed an elaborate hoax, even when brought back as a live specimen! He finally came into his own and is now an admired and protected member of Australian marsupials. The dingoes, shaggy, reddish-brown wild dogs, are desert predators that cheerfully adjusted to the bountiful new circumstances provided by sheep and cattle stations at the edges of their territories. Unfortunately their new prey (woolly lambs and wobbly-legged calves) are leading them into being hunted to extinction by guns and poison (and whose weapons are those...?) The aborigine hunter once followed the dingo to find game, sharing the offal with his wary hunting companion in gratitude and mutual respect. Victim and villain, the imported rabbit proliferates endlessly, nose twitching, sharp front teeth tugging voraciously at grass and ground cover. He piles bodies in stinking heaps of carrion against the high wire fences built to stop his advance, burrows frantically to avoid the deep-set wire striving to reach the vegetation on the other side that he may nibble it into bare, drifting sand. As so often happens when newcomers to a land import seemingly harmless plants and beasties to improve matters, a great deal can go so very wrong.

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The Vanishing Lake