Friday, February 22, 2008

90-mile Straight.

Feb 12

The road solidified in front of us as we pushed the liquid horizon in a landscape that, as Anthony aptly put it, "was a few melting clocks away from a Salvador Dali painting". This asphalt line on the dirt gave a Sisyphean flavor to our ride. No turns, just what seemed a slow, steady climb and a consistently strong east wind that appeared after noon.

The roadside was a charnel house of kangaroo bits in various states of decomposition. Arms, legs, fresh kills, smelly corpses, sun-bleached bones and the occasional viscera so baked by the sun that the flies would have nothing to do with it. Ironically, this carnage on the road means that beyond it there is a very healthy population of roos in that harsh land. They come to the road in the rain. we saw this today when a squall added wet to our spent bodies.

Little black and brown furry bodies appeared on the side of the road to lick the scarce water that collected on the road. As we approached, they would sit up on their tails and judge our threat level. Unfamiliar as we were, they would hop away. The cars and huge trucks that rumbled by would have to honk their horns, thus explaining the excessive amounts of road kill. In another sick twist of irony, excessive road kill then feeds the crows and the wedgetail eagles that live here.

The eagles eat so much that when approached by a car, they will often linger over the meat a bit too long. When they take off, their swollen stomachs keep them down for a few crucial seconds. This, no doubt, is what caused the demise of the eagle I saw on the road. I was dismayed to see such a creature in a broken state, yet at the same time, boyishly delighted at a chance to see it up close. It was brown, but trimmed in black and white, with a large head the size of a grapefruit and a huge curved beak. Its talons were nearly the size of my hand and were still covered with chunks of relatively fresh meat. Its eyes, once sharp, were now cloudy with death. I picked him up by both wings. He was heavy, nearly 15 lbs., and had a wingspan of at least six feet.

This road gives and takes life. Water bring roos, and dead roos bring birds. Death by car or truck instead of lack of water seems unnatural, but it fits this strange and brutal landscape.

Road trains bring the world to western Australia – boats, huge mining dump trucks, fiberglass pools and hot tubs, to mention just a few of the endless contents that sweep past us down the road.

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