*Ngā Kaitiaki – The Guardians
A ruru came near the other morning when it was not quite dawn.
All was still after stormy days. I busied myself with the day’s routine and gradually became conscious of my cat meowing loudly outside at something as the night dissolved away. He must be having a face-off with one of the new neighbours’ cats, I thought. The sounds continued, but they weren’t cat fighting sounds. Just repeated challenges. Loud, one after the other, like questions. As he would do if a stranger approached and he wasn’t quite sure of their intent. Before they came too close, from a safe distance.
I went to the large door onto the deck where I could see out and searched the semi-dark where the sounds were. Ah, there – the pale cat shape visible at the top of the garden steps to the large gravel parking area ringed by kauri and smaller native trees, the sweep of huge fem fronds and the like. He was very still, intently focused on something directly above him. He seemed to be staring into a half-grown puriri where kereru are fond of feeding. They’ve tantalised him in that spot all summer, their weight making the slimmer branches sway down to snapping point, seemingly within cat bounding distance, or so he seems to think. But on this morning there was no movement of a heavy bird feeding. No movement at all.
The cat paced a little, this way and that way, looking up, sitting down. Then agitated, meowing again, circling round the other way and sitting once more. It was only then I noticed the shape of an upright bird, perched motionless on the telephone line just where it disappears away from the house into the trees a little below the leaf canopy. At the steps where the cat addressed the air above him, the line is maybe three metres above the gravel parking bay, placing the silent upright bird closer even than the kereru usually are. So this was the attraction – a creature almost within reach, at an unusual time of day, and apparently going nowhere any time soon.
Enough light of dawn was breaking for me to see it was the dark shape of a ruru, I think with its back to me, only a few steps from where I stood at the door. My heart pounded. Oh my God I whispered to myself. What magic is this. It wasn’t until a few days later that I heard, on my car radio, a veterinarian author of “How to Speak Cat” say that cats only vocalise to humans, not to each other or other species. A few half-formed thoughts came together, and I realised the cat would never loudly address a bird, or move around in agitation as it had in those odd unearthly moments. He would be still, silent, ready to strike. What I heard when the ruru came to visit was my cat speaking.
I went inside to turn on the outside light so I could see the bird I only ever hear, that lovely sound “Ru…ru…” in the night, the first note higher and falling away, and the second note taking up where the first left off, falling a bit further, always like that. The sound of peace, of rest. But as I came back quietly onto the deck to look again, a sleek flurry of wings swept past me, low but lifting, making a strong swoop out over the valley that dips away below. Not the other way to avoid me, but past me, almost near enough to feel the rush of air. So very near.
Just a visit, and the creature was gone.
It’s odd but it lingers still. I know various mythologies would interpret it in different ways. I’m choosing this: the owl spirit animal “is emblematic of a deep connection with wisdom and intuitive knowledge. When the owl shows up in your life, listen and look out for the subtle signs. When the owl shows up in your life, pay attention to the winds of change. Perhaps you are about to leave some old habits, a situation that no longer serves you, or bring something new in your life.”
A friend said a few days later, I wonder if he will return to visit you or if his work is done? I thought his work was likely done, but her words were in my head as I walked a bush track near home an hour or so later. I was thinking as I set off that when the usually unseen makes itself seen, there is some significance. There has to be.
And as I walked in the stillness there came a rustling, and leaf turning activity, very close, in the undergrowth to my left. I stopped to see what it was. It was a bird but I couldn’t see what kind before it flew up through the trees. A few metres further on, a blackbird hopped about on one side of the path. It seemed untroubled by my approach. As I came near it hopped, rather than flew, without alarm into the low undergrowth. Runners and walkers with dogs broke the spell from there on.
Then one last thing. Just as I came out from the shadows of the bush and crossed the road onto a footpath for the last brisk stride to coffee and food and friends, a tiny yellow bird darted out from a small gap in the wire netting of a fence along the path, in front of my feet, and flashed off to the right. It seemed very like my cat’s habit of expertly running across where I am about to walk, cutting me off to get my attention. Then it was gone. The forest world let me go, on a temporary pass.
The ruru’s presence that day was a gentle visitation, a reassurance. A reminder of an other world around me, just beyond the flutter of a wing.
# Art by Andreas Lie