The rustle in the bushes

I have been spending most of my time away from Melbourne doing fieldwork in Serendip Sanctuary. In short- I study the effect temperature plays on an Australian ant species, commonly called the meat ant. One of my experiments involved waking at the ungodly hour of around 4 am so I could stumble around in the dark in the savannah-type vegetation in order to record ant behaviour. On clear full moon nights, you can see the stars and everything is hunky-dory. Especially because most meat ant colonies are in forest clearings. Not too much thick vegetation is a good thing when you can’t see what is watching you or might crawl up without your knowledge.

But this is not an account of when everything was ‘smooth sailing’, because that’s not what one remembers many years down the line if one survives to remember.

It was a  moonless night, the Australian Summer was dying and the winds were rustling through the trees. This meant I had only my flash-light throwing startling moving shadows on my way to the colony which obviously was inconveniently far from base. Funny how these things work heh! And on top of that, this colony was away from a well worn walk track, nestled instead inside a relatively wooded patch- close to short trees and bushes. I found the colony thanks to the GPS, set up my equipment and sat down in a spot relatively bereft of leaf litter hunkering down with my travel mug of hot chocolate for what I supposed would be an uneventful half an hour. The wind has almost died down and I was comforted by the warm chocolate waking me up while lulling me at the same time,a blissful experience when suddenly I heard a low rumble, something in between an angry growl and a loud snore coming from somewhere disconcertingly close. “Possums” I exclaimed and freezing for a few moments before I realised I was recording and must deter any drama. The house I was staying at was full of possums but they are usually nocturnal and we are separated by a roof and walls which is a relief because the sounds of possums erratic fighting and clawing the roof  is enough to drive one crazy.

And here I was, completely exposed, listening to this weird Darth Vader-y laboured breathing growl I had come to know so well. I turned on my flash light because possums usually get startled by the light and freeze- its hilarious, provided you are at a safe distance….which I wasn’t but I wanted to make sure it/they would not go near my set-up.

The winds were back and every movement of the branches and bushes became more unnerving. The growl had stopped but started again soon enough- this time I was sure it was closer. I was kneeling now, ready to run and stand at a distance because I couldn’t discern the different sources of rustle as the growl stopped yet again. When….my great paranoia and overthinking brought to my memory an account I had read which said that when possums felt threatened or cornered they climbed the closest tall structure. SHIT! I thought and quickly sat back down as I would be the closest tall thing (for those who know how short I am- i give you permission to snigger). Rabies isn’t a thing here so at least I would not need to worry about that. The growls continued and now I was frozen in my sitting position, completely switching places with the possums I had annoyed, by startling them into freezing. I kept moving the flashlight around hoping to at least figure out where and how many possums there were when I felt something soft brush past me and head to the bushes less than 10 metres away. I hoped it was just a startled rabbit. After my heart restarted and I could hear it loud enough in my head, I slowly moved the flashlight in the direction towards which my mystery furry friend had headed all the while relieved that if it was a possum, at least it hadn’t climbed on my head.

My voice caught in my throat and my heart stopped yet again as I saw standing frozen- a red fox. We stared at each other for what seemed like a long time- for both of us I suppose. I thought I should stand, intimidate the fox so it knows I’m not some helpless thing but here lay my dilemma, the possum/s was still growling so do I sit or stand. Ignorance truly is bliss. But while I contemplated, there was another growl, the fox unfroze before I did and sprinted. The growls stopped suddenly and the wind died down. The clouds parted revealing some stars and I realised the possums were probably growling due to the proximity of the foxes and I was probably just a poor bystander who happened to be in the line of fire.

It’s funny how a bit of calm weather and chocolate can resurrect you faltering courage. Plus, I realised when I told my parents the story that this was one of those things that everyone would find funny. Believe me, I need a few anecdotes like this. I just wish it wasn’t this bruising to my ego. But hey, that’s why we have chocolate.

PS- I found a video of the noise and read the comments- turns out I am not the only one freaked out by it.

Advertisements

AWKWARD

On rare occasions, I don’t absolutely hate the world and everyone in it. Those rare occasions earlier used to be consistently infrequent. But it is a great time for socially inept people like me to be alive.

For those of us who do not possess the gift of the gab, life can be tough. We have to stick to ice-breakers about the weather and the awesomeness of shoes or coolness of hairstyles and then learn to breathe inaudibly in the silence that follows. For some like me- responding to a simple ice-breaker too can be a feat. I once “no thanks”-ed someone for asking me my name and immediately wished I had just stayed curled up in bed and dealt with the FOMO (fear of missing out) instead of coming to grips with my FOGO(fear of going out) in the middle of a group of strangers. I write down the exact questions and answers I have to ask when I have to call up my internet providers or make an appointment at the hospital (I wish fervently for the good health of my devices, my internet and myself). The worst part is when left to our own devices-we can go completely crazy and not know when a polite conversation may turn into an impassioned speech about the advantages of calling pancakes, flapjacks or a story containing too much information about oozing pus from various body parts. Having a very nuanced sense of dark humour and being sarcasm queen doesn’t help when meeting new people. Neither does being wary of hugs and kisses (which side to lean towards, arms held diagonally? if not, above other persons arms or below…I’m panicking thinking about it).

But this is part of the bargain you make when you move to a new place. And I would not have it any other way. The best way to learn to live, is to fling yourself from the lap of luxurious comfort into the bony arms of numerous awkward moments. I have now over the course of many years managed to survive the ordeal of the introverts, come out with a few ruffled feathers and sometimes a whole new perspective.

I will not say I take big risks. I dance. Dance classes are a good way to socialize as an awkward socializer. You are dancing with different people and can ask recycle your well-practiced conversation points. By the time you are done with the basics, you can move to the next partner or group of people and repeat. Genius!! Semi-acadamic or academic settings also work for me because there is already a set protocol and conversation topics, and usually a deadline so we can get away without sharing too much of our history, wasting too many funny anecdotes (I don’t have any) and revealing our hopes, dreams and secret desires.

All that said, this is a great time for people like us to be alive. Most people are exactly like us if not worse. I have being staying in a building filled with university students who hardly acknowledge each other even when a rare sighting does occur. Everyone immediately looks into their phones, lest we actually make eye-contact and have to actually TALK. The management tries hard to organize social events so the residents interact. The most effective way, to woo these perpetually starved kids with questionable culinary skills would be by offering free food and drinks. Right? No not really. What does happen, is a flurry of activity when the residents rush to get the free food and head back to their apartments by the time you can say “Canaloni”. We always prefer the virtual company of someone we know on social media over a stranger in the same boat. Plus the stranger is looking at their own phone. What a quiet boat. The age of internet trolling and facebook stalking has arisen from a basic fear of confrontation and I am looking at this glass half full before the cycnic in me takes over.

Well, where does that leave me? On cloud nine. I can now take things at my own pace. Not be as intimidated by people. For once in my life- be the initiator of small talk at bus stops (I am the creepy girl talking about pancakes when all else fails). I no longer feel inhibited about moving around alone. I don’t feel depressed about cancelled plans because I am the one who makes or breaks them and it affects no one else but me.

I do not claim to have become a superb conversationalist but I know I’ll be alright.

The Friendship dilemma

Isn’t it great when you’ve hit it off with a person you can tolerate? It seems like you could hang out with them without too many uncomfortable silences while you desperately try to remember ice-breakers? That’s something really worth cherishing-particularly for people with Rajesh Koothrappalli levels of social awkwardness.

tumblr_my62o4fTya1ryfn4co1_500

But just when you think you’ve finally got it good, reality hits you-as it usually does-hard. Remember the other person you once painstakingly used up your energy in establishing and nurturing a similar relationship with? Yeah, well it turns out they don’t like your new friend, the reason for which is usually given in the vaguest terms without any concrete justification or even evidence. And it’s worse when the second friend returns the hatred for your first friend with seething disgust. And who’s in a pickle but you? You have to sneak around either of them to hang out with one and/or the other. Fit both into your schedule, probably watch a movie twice because they won’t see eye to eye without giving you a migraine.

But then again, I guess knowing at the beginning of either friendships that one friend doesn’t like the other, gives you time to make a tough decision and decide not to invest as much in one of the 2 friendships. It’s worse when two friends did like each other and you (jackpot) but develop a dislike for each other.

My friend (yes I have friends-surprises me too) and I were discussing, how we could do even worse and have friends who were romantically involved and then decided to break up. Being forced into taking sides when things get ugly is the worst kind of dilemma. You once again tiptoe, focus on being politically correct while dropping those big white pearls of wisdom that you tend to drop so liberally. And then, after you’ve been coerced into complaining about each of these friends to the other person-they get back together and then hate you because of all the bitching they made you do. Ah! and you thought living vicariously through others would minimize the chances of drama you would have to directly deal with. Great plan.

I’ve recently moved to a new city (yet again) and while the excitement of moving is a thrilling and liberating experience, making friends is as scary an ordeal as it was whenever I moved schools or saw people on whom I would have to use up my entire arsenal of conversation consisting of the topics weather and education. Again, it is challenging to objectively understand human interaction while swimming in the choppy sea that is human existence, acknowledging the importance of knowing at least a few human beings with whom you can socialize before you finally resort to naming all your future cats and hiding out in your room forever.