I’ve been thinking a lot about animals since I’ve been here.
Dogs set the hills alive with the sound of barking, rabbits set the park alive with more rabbits, and fat kererū set my mind alive as they fly through the nikau palms with their musical wings beating.
I also buried a chicken R.I.P., and I’ve been walking tentatively around the garden lest I step on her fallen comrade, missing presumed munched.
I keep hearing the phantom miaows of my two rescue cats Jager and Bruce, who are actually 1,500 kilometres away. For those who don’t know, Bruce is an internet cat, so I’m also interacting with his fans every day.
Omaui’s plan to ban domestic cats has made the New York Times, and I read the frenzied comments by the generally calm and measured Times readers with increasing alarm. I practically wrote an essay about cat control in my mind as I walked along the beach this afternoon. Some people want their cats to live free-range lives. Other people want to dramatically reduce the number of cats. Personally I think we can do both, and perhaps I’ll write about that sometime. (But perhaps I won’t. Bruce is staunchly apolitical and I don’t want to draw him into the fray.)
I’ve also been thinking about animals because I’m supposed to be thinking about animals.
While I’m here I’m working on pieces of writing for a short story collection. The past two days I’ve spent the mornings writing, then a few hours after lunch doing paid work before going for a walk and coming back to work on illustrations for my next Bruce the Cat children’s book. The thing with the paid work is that all the rats and mice I thought I might be able to leave in Dunedin have followed me up here and are nibbling away at my drawing time. I’m going to have to set some traps.
My short story collection is called Pet, and it explores the relationships we have with animals. I’m pleased with how the first story’s going. It involves an unexpected animal in an unexpected place, and I was actually laughing out loud this morning as I wrote it. Either it's funny, or after 3 1/2 days on my own I've already lost my mind.
And I have some other animal news to share.
When I went under the house to get some firewood this afternoon, someone was casually roosting on the workbench in the area I’d already checked at least ten times.
The missing chicken!
Thank you to The Creative Hub and Earthskin Retreat for the opportunity to undertake this residency.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.