Two wedge-tailed eagles – the pair that has an eyrie in a grey box tree up the road– steal baby magpies from a nest. The din is terrible. About twenty adult magpies and 10 ravens attack the eagles. The kelpie barks her head off. I run outside. The eagles fly over so close I could touch them, if I were taller, to perch in the pear tree with the smaller birds attacking furiously. Defeated for now, the eagles glide away across the paddock, leaving a family of desolate magpies on the red gum branch near their stick nest.
This is not something you see every day from a typical university work desk. It’s appalling, and exhilarating.
I go back to my desk to prepare my interprofessional Zoom tutorial and think, “How come I feel so linked to the world around me when the news is that we’re isolated?”
Working from home, avoiding crowds, mask-wearing, distancing ourselves from interaction - all that should make me lost and alone, but I’ve changed from never being home to always being at home. I’m involved in every nuanced seasonal change around me. I’m linked in, and not in the social media way. Birds steal the cobwebs from my study window right above my web cam. It’s raw and real.
I’ve been working from home since March, including a change of jobs that meant I left one on the Friday and started another on the Monday by sitting in the same worn computer chair. I look a bit like an air-traffic controller with multiple screens surrounding me. The people and students I work with are located from Mildura in the north-west of Victoria to Bairnsdale in the south-east.
Pre-COVID, I suppose I would have done a lot of driving, but these days I meet and teach and learn from my place in the bush. I pick up some threads of chaos that lockdown has brought to clinical placements and try to sew them together by seeking rural services willing to have students through tough restricted times. Everyone is working so hard to get their students finished for the year - I see it on their faces where Zoom shows up the shadows. I’ve got nothing but admiration for the clinical supervisors and placement co-ordinators who have worked on the edge of uncertainty across the many months that I’ve sat at home looking out to the trees, reflecting on this country life.
The eagles are back but they soar past without disturbing anything. Their effect is a bit like COVID – ever present at the moment, making me unsure what happens next. While I wonder about how working life will look in the future, the seasons will morph, the birds will raise their families then move on. Our students will become the next tranche of rural health professionals. There’ll still be cobwebs on my study window for the next lot of nest-builders, whether I’m sitting here or not.