Windows on the World
The Lost World
A series in which writers from around the world describe the view from their windows.
Unable to start writing, I look out past the veranda shadow. From my house on Australia’s Bruny Island — named in Year 1 of the French Revolution by a French royalist after himself — I can see Tasmania, home to a human civilization for 10,000 years before modern man arrived in France.
Just out of view on the left is a cove. There, in a remote outstation, less than 60 years after the visit by Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, that civilization’s 47 spirit-shocked survivors were dumped by the colonial authorities and left to die. After hearing of their story — he called it a “war of extermination waged by European immigrants” — H. G. Wells wrote “The War of the Worlds,” in which Martian immigrants exterminate Europeans.
In front, forty-spotted pardalotes sport in the white gum trees. They live off the sugary secretions on the trees’ underleaves, but because of global warming the white gums are dying. Of these tiny birds, no bigger than the giant moths that come out at evening, fewer than a thousand remain. In a decade they may be gone.
The fences that once kept the fairy penguins from nesting beneath the house are gone, because the last of the penguins failed to return six years ago. No one knows why. All that remains is a closed gate.
Below are sandstone bluffs and kelp-wracked beaches reeking of forbidden things. Gone too from the sea here are fish like the trevally and cod and trumpeter. No one can explain that either. Sometimes I dive on the shallow reefs here, looking for words.
Hidden from sight too is Kel the carpenter, descended from one of the 47 survivors, ostensibly fishing and probably just drinking up a beer and the sun and the light and the sound of water, the irreducible elements that remain. If he catches a good fish, he has promised to bring it round and we will grill it on the fire pit next to the aloe vera plants.
Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, perhaps in fear, or wonder, or both, called Bruny Island a place “separated from the rest of the universe.”
No more though.
And at this end of a view of what cities wreak but which no city ever sees, my eyes fall, the cursor winks, and I begin.
Richard Flanagan is the author, most recently, of the novel “Wanting.” Matteo Pericoli, an artist, is the author of “The City Out My Window: 63 Views on New York.”