Yesterday’s photo shoot went great. The juvenile wombats put on quite a show in the afternoon, when they’re at their most animated and interactive. The session ended with a surprise visit from Dawn, the oldest resident of Sleepy Burrows. Donna coaxed her out of her burrow as the photographer, Jacky, waited in that calm, patient, nature photographer way.
Dawn spends days in her burrow (it was dug by another wombat; no grunt work for Dawnie) and nights in the shelter of the studio, being unable to defend herself from other wombats. Donna suspects she also has some brain damage.
Dawn was found emaciated on a roadside a few years ago. Now she’s huge. She’s a senior (between 15 and 20) and is sort of like a professor emeritus here.
And here’s Dawn’s friend, Blind Boy. Every night, they spend a short time standing quietly next to each other separated by a fence. It’s like the Land of the Misfit Toys.
Right then. I’m in the Blue Mountains, a few hours’ (and often HARROWING) drive from Sleepy Burrows, at Rocklily, where two lovely people, Dianna and Warwick, care for wallaroos and wombats.
Wallaroos are macropods (“big feet”), like kangaroos and wallabies. They’re smaller than kangaroos, and more delicate-seeming. The babies are super-soft and sweet. Here’s Winnie:
I fed them their breakfast bottles:
They’re so cool. Like kangaroos, they store fat in the base of their tails, so you can judge their condition by the thickness of the tail. They’re also very sensitive and easily spooked. They’re vegetarians and eat grass, plants, dirt, and bark (though here they also eat “nuts” which are like kibble). Their back legs have these weird toes that look like one big long toe:
There are three wallaroos at Rocklily on the “day release” program, which is like a gradual system for getting them to live in the wild (the goal of all rescues here). They spend nights in a safe enclosure, and are released into the wild during the day, where they munch grass, bounce (macropods’ movement looks much more like bouncing along the surface of the moon than hopping or jumping) and slowly learn to be part of the mob (the group of wallaroos). Then they come back at night for their bottles. They spend more and more time in the wild, then eventually they’re fully “turned.” The three here now will “graduate” in September.
When they came to the sanctuary, they were brought in big burlap pouches that are now too small for them, but their smell still comforts them so they remain hanging in their shed:
This morning I helped Warwick with a tough but unavoidable job. It turns out that among all this cute and cuddly is also real life and its constant companion, death. And there was a dead kangaroo near the house who needed to be moved farther away (where other wildlife like humongous wedgetail eagles could feed on it). We did that by dragging her onto a tarp and loading her onto the ute (truck) to drive through the bush to a clearing. Luckily I was at the tail end because the head end was a little, um, intense. While up in the clearing, we found a wombat skull. (I’ll spare you both visuals.)
Other creatures on the property are possums, echidnas, owls, goanas, and bats (including microbats which are, obviously, teeny-tiny bats). Even though it’s just a few hours from Gundaroo, it feels like a different part of Australia here, dense with eucalyptus and fog, and much cooler. It’s as if in one day I went from a desert to a rainforest (and did not bring any of the right clothing). The nearest town, Taralga, is 30 minutes’ drive and feels like stepping back in time 100 years:
The house and entire property is storybook-level enchanting. Last night we ate on the veranda overlooking a wombat enclosure, eating pizza that Dianna made. You would not even believe this pizza. It had sliced figs (from the huge fig tree), onion, green pepper, feta, and honey. It was like dessert pizza (so of course I loved it). Then we fed the wombats their bottles and I fell dead asleep by 10 (I’m getting better at staying up later). I was warned there may be bats in my room, but luckily did not have any experiences with them.
Tonight we are off to a celebration at the nearby Wombeyan Caves, where Dianna is presenting a slideshow on local wildlife rescue. Back to Sleepy Burrows tomorrow for a photo shoot, then I only have two nights left in Australia…
Three experiences over the last 24 hours have made me feel like I’m on drugs.
1. Last night I lay on a trampoline and looked up at stars. There’s zero light pollution in the bush, of course. The Australian sky includes something called the Southern Cross, which I only sort of knew about from the Crosby Stills and Nash song. I think in the song it had something to do with sailing. Anyway, last night the stars were so bright and numerous that there seemed to be tiers and layers and levels of them, suspended at different lengths from beyond the tippity-top of the universe.
2. This morning I sat with two wombats in their enclosure and communed with them in such a way that everything felt like it was going in slow motion. Maybe that’s what being in the moment is all about. I don’t have a lot of practice being present but I think the wombats are changing that.
3. Then, today Donna’s fundraising partner took me on a tour of Canberra (the country’s capitol, and a way underrated city) and to the National Gallery. We spent most of our time in the Aboriginal wing and once again…mind blown: