bird skull

Two years ago, I wrote about an incident involving the death of three birds in our vegetable cage.

They have been there for months. Back in April, when the weather was turning for the worse and there were enough scrappy leftovers from the summer harvest to prove tempting, we heard a tremendous commotion coming from inside the cage at dusk. Five birds had jumped through the lattice… but forgot to exit the same way. Flying up, hitting the mesh, they became panicked and it was the sound of those distressed screeches which brought me outside, barefoot, to lift up the cage roof so they could escape.

Two did, anyway. And because it was dark and cold and nothing else was coming out, I went back inside thinking everything was over.

Days later, I came outside to the cage again to see three dead birds on the ground, having died either of stress or injury (or both).

What did I do? Did I get a shovel and give them a ceremonial burial? Or put them in the green waste bin? Anything?

No. I left them there.


Cowardice, I suppose.


Naturally, in the months that have passed, I’ve wondered about my decision; the implications (would they be a feast for rodents?) and how that reflects on me (‘lazy’ comes to mind). Perhaps it was being confronted by death, but I’ve scooped up a rat before from the same place, so I don’t think it was that. Maybe it was everything.

And I knew I’ve have to deal with them eventually.


Pulling out the huge clumps of clover and other weeds, I was readying myself for what I might find. I knew two were right next to the fence, but I couldn’t remember where the third one was, and as I was talking to Keira, who was sitting on the steps, chattering about where she she wants to go to high school and all those no, no, I don’t really want to be talking about this yet, but okay, let’s do it conversations, I brushed back some leaves, and there were bones, from the wings, arranged in impossible delicacy, hidden from view from the sun, and a tiny skull, fragile, with minuscule eye sockets.

I stared at it, and left it be, and kept pulling the weeds. I didn’t mention the bird to Keira while she was there, and again I’m not sure why.

And then she left, my bin was full to the brim, and I left too. I will finish once the bin has been emptied.


The Labor party had a death of its own on the weekend, losing the election. The kids were Rudd fans (“Oh, Kevin” they would say, with casualness, like he is a doddery neighbour), and certainly not for Abbott – not that it mattered, he steamed home. I went to bed on Saturday knowing I would wake up with a new, undesired (at least as far as I’m concerned) prime minister and I woke up thinking about those birds, worrying, wondering.

I hope Abbott treats us with more honour than what I paid them.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

(Edited for clarity.)


So here we are. And Abbott has been – and gone.

We were back in the garden last week, preparing the soil for some tomato plants and sweet peas when I unearthed the skull of the third bird I found back then but – upon re-reading the above post – remembered I never disposed of.

This time there was next to nothing left, only what you see in the picture. It’s about the size of a pecan nut; tiny, so fragile I could probably crush it between my fingers. I was lucky I saw it at all as I was turning over the earth.

What are you trying to teach me? I asked silently, regarding the skull as I held it, as Hamlet did Yorick’s. What does it mean?

Nothing, ultimately. Or everything.

After all, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet again.

It would be easy to turn it into a metaphor of some kind, to embody some kind of personality failing. Like an obvious lack of will to finish a job, for starters. Or, I said cowardice before, but maybe its callousness.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m terrible at death.

So this time, I think, I’ll leave it out to keep a permanent vigil. Hopefully, this will negate the willful forgetting.

Karen Andrews

Karen Andrews is the creator of this website, one of the most established and well-respected parenting blogs in the country. She is also an author, award-winning writer, poet, editor and publisher at Miscellaneous Press. Her latest book is Trust the Process: 101 Tips on Writing and Creativity