Sunday, March 27, 2011

In Oz the Pigs Don’t Fly. But the Foxes Do!

Deb and I went for another stroll yesterday. Our target was again the Yarra River.
This time closer to the Melbourne CBD in a reserve called ‘Yarra Bend Park’.
The Yarra is wider and lazy here.

We followed this trail which parallels the river. As we approached the bend we looked across the river. Notice something hanging in the trees on the other side?Really big fruit perhaps?

I recognised this fruit as soon as I saw it. As you get closer you can see more clearly. Can you see what they are now?Closer still.Look at this face isn’t he just sooo cute?What we had stumbled across was a camp (Aussie slang for a colony) of flying foxes.

To be exact these guys are grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus).
Despite the name flying foxes are strictly vegetarian, they are known as ‘fruit bats’, they do eat fruit but their main diet is pollen and nectar.

They are a species of 'megabat', unlike the small insectivorous bats found in most of the world (we have a lot of tiny bats in Oz too) they don’t use sonar to find their way in the dark. Rather they rely entirely on very good eyesight.

We came upon this camp late in the afternoon, so most of them were like this guy with their little faces tucked neatly under their wing. But because it was getting lateish some early risers were beginning to stir,To stretch And scratch
Unfortunately we couldn’t wait around until they set off in the evening because we had to pick Lu up from her work.

But I will definitely be back another night to watch them set off. Watching thousands of these large animals stream overhead in the early evening is a real treat.

Now as I am a creature of habit, this weeks episode of Valentina’s story from my WIP.
This episode is very much a first draft. It needs a lot more work, a lot happens in this episode. I think it deserves more fleshing out.
So this week poor Valentina has more or less run from her meeting with Ronnie.
Still concussed from her tangle with Fred she gets one of the biggest surprises in her life.

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948

'Major wake up, Major.'
I forced open my eyes, my head spun despite the fact I was lying down, and I was tired so tired.

I had refused all offers of help from Ronnie and Penelope. Contact with Ronnie, with her was impossible. I struggled back toward the orphanage unaided.
Being concussed and crossing the city alone was the hardest thing I ever tried.
So hard that I hadn't made it back.

The following morning I woke in a Soviet army hospital. Lying in a bed in the stark hospital ward, I wasn't entirely sure the events of the evening before were not a dream. But I couldn't stay where I was. Fear nearing panic gripped me, I couldn't lie around waiting until somebody noticed my behaviour was odd.
Despite the protests of the nursing staff I discharged myself.

I telephoned my driver who picked me up in the jeep and drove me home.
Natasha grabbed me when she saw me, holding me tight like she would never let go. She didn't let me out of her sight for the whole day, not until I packed her off to bed that evening. I had never let her down before, I swore to myself it would never happen again.

Now, two days later unable to keep my eyes open I was dozing on a daybed in my office, 'Major you have a visitor.' My aide shaking me.
'A visitor? Natasha?'
'No, an officer’, her eyes were wide with alarm, ‘an NKVD officer.'

I rolled over to sit up. Not entirely sure I was not going to throw up or pass out I struggled over to stand by my desk. Better to greet the NKVD on my feet, to at least look like I was trying to pay respect.

Focus on something, stay in the room. A noise, that would do, heels clicking on the polished floor as my aide left. It must only have been a minute or two but I was already in danger of dozing off when the click of another pair of feet woke me. 'Tina?'

I looked apprehensively at the figure in the blue and green NKVD uniform. For a moment I stared at the haggard face under the beak of the blue and red officer's cap.
I jumped at him pulling him tight, holding him like Natasha had held me the day before. My tears soaking the shoulder of his uniform coat.
I sobbed with relief and real joy. ‘Stepan, oh Stepan, I can’t believe it. I thought you were dead. Gone like all the others.’

It was a long while before I could pull back a bit and look at his face.
He looked so strange in his crisply pressed uniform, yet still the same wry smile. Still my friend.
‘Tina, it is you. I hardly recognised you.'

For a moment I was back in the student's club before the war in Moscow. A place and time of laughter and joy. I couldn't let him get away with being so clumsy. 'Why not? I never was a beauty like Svetlana, or Raisa, but surely I am not so ugly now?'
His haggard face broke into a broad grin, the warm smile of the old Stepan. 'I deserved that, you are still the old Tina.'
But I wasn't I felt an almost unbearable tide of grief, 'I'm not the old Tina. I've been through too much to be that sweet girl any longer.'
'Oh shit.'
It was him this time. He leant his head onto my neck and pulled me against him. He held me for the longest time.

Perhaps he was trying to comfort me, but I thought it was just as much about himself, maybe we both needed to be held.
When he finally let go it was not just me with tears on my face, 'It's so amazing, I can't say how good it is to see you.'
He stared into my face drinking me in. He looked closer, a frown. 'Your eyes, you're concussed.'
‘It’s nothing.’
‘I might not be a medico any longer, but I know a concussion when I see it.’
'I'm dizzy.'
'Let me help you.'
We sunk onto the daybed together.
'Why am I here?'
'Aren't you happy to see me?'
I squeezed his shoulder. 'Of course I am.'
'Ah, this uniform.' His mouth worked but he didn't say anything more.

'The uniform, it doesn't matter, you're my friend.'
He was quiet for a moment. 'So how did you find me? Were you looking?'
'No I wasn't looking.' He groaned, 'It does no one any good to have an NKVD officer looking for them.'
'So how did you come to be here?'
He stiffened, 'A report came across my desk. An army major being found unconscious on the street is something that will be noted.'
I concentrated very hard on keeping my voice level. 'I see.'
'It’s not generally good to be noticed.'
'Is it going to be bad for me?'
He turned to meet my eyes. 'No, I don't think so. I will put in a report that you tripped and banged your head.' He looked at me expectantly, 'That is all isn't it? There’s nothing I need to help you cover up is there?'
His warm smile again, 'No? Then I am going to play the optimist. It’s good because if a report about Valentina Meshcova had not landed on my desk I would never have known you were in Berlin.'


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Al .. great pictures of the bats .. if I was nearer .. I'd join you for an evening out watching their forays ..

Lovely to see - thanks - Hilary

Old Kitty said...

Oooh new character Stepan!! I don't think I've met him! But it's looking good for poor Valentina at least - she has a friend she can trust! Hoooray!!!

I love these bats - they're beautiful - great to see them in such numbers!

Take care

The Words Crafter said...

The intrigue!!! And so tense, even in a happy moment. I can't imagine that life....

The bats are completely adorable! You got some amazing shots, wow. Their little faces....makes me want one :)

Jaydee Morgan said...

Interesting bats - but if I saw them in person, my first thought wouldn't be how 'cute' they were!

Interesting piece - it pulled me in. Keep it up :)

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Super piece. Good emotion and vivid description. :)

I love the bats! They have fruit bats like those at a zoo near us. We just love to see them. So cute. :)

Theres just life said...

There are so many of them. I hope you make it back and get pictures as they fly off.
Boy I have got some post to catch up on. I didn't know Valentina was concussed...

heidenkind said...


Theresa Milstein said...

Amazing pictures. I've never seen bats like that outside of a zoo. Not in the daylight either, only in dark rooms.

The dynamics between the two characters was believable. I liked what was unsaid too. And I've never seen the word "concussed" before, so I learned something!

Susan Fields said...

I didn't think I'd ever say this, but that bat is adorable! The one looking all wide-eyed at the camera - what a cutie!

Love the excerpt! Sounds like we have an exciting new character here.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, I like those bats! For some reason the bigger ones don't bother me as much as the littler ones--they are all pretty strange, but I like them anyway.

Lisa said...

I've got to say that I can't agree with you about those faces being cute! Bat...flying foxes...whatever you call them, they creep me out!

Really liking the WIP!

Kristen M. said...

I love fruit bats! I'm definitely with you on thinking they're cute little guys. Great piccies!

Al said...

Hi Hilary,
Pleased you liked our bats.
It would be great to have you along!

Hi Jennifer,
I did actually post a single scene featuring Stepan a few months ago.
As you can see he is her friend from way back.

Pleased you like the bats!

Hi Words,
The fear that came from living in a totalitarian state never quite went away, even with friends.
Pleased you like our bats!

Hi Jaydee,’
They are fascinating. They are really sweet creatures, gentle an inoffensive. Bats unfortunately cop a bad press.
I am so glad you like my extract.

Hi Amanda,
Thank you!
They are adorable aren’t they?

Hi Pamela Jo,
I will try hard to get there some day before too long.

I have posted an extract once a week for a while, easy to get behind.

Hi Tasha,
Nooo, they are beautiful, simply lovely.

Hi Theresa,
These guys are found all over the east coast of Oz. Unfortunately while there are still many thousands of them they are considered under threat.
Thank you for the feedback on the extract. I appreciate your thoughts.

Hi Susan,
Pleased you like them. Unlike the little insectivores these guys have real personality.
Thank you! Pleased you enjoyed my extract.

Hi Hart,
Strange, I will give you that. But fascinating absolutely amazing creatures too.!

Hi Lisa,
Awww, but they are so adorable.
We are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Just like your support for Geelong :-)

Hi Kristen,
I thought you might like them. You can’t keep a good zoologist down!