(Note: I live in the cool highlands of Northern New South Wales, Australia, in a region that is called New England. Hence the reference, which might otherwise confuse US readers.)
It’s a crystal-clear, sharply-cold, bright blue New England winter morning, and I’m walking the three kilometres to the general store. All around me as I walk, the landscape reveals itself like an illuminated page in an ancient manuscript: parchment-coloured grass, subtle grey-greens and silver of trees and bushes, flashes of stained-glass colour of parrots and rosellas, smoky-blue hills in the distance. There are no cars around this morning, and nobody else around at all.
All at once, there’s a rustle in the long grass on the verges of the road, and I catch a glimpse of silver-grey coat, a twitch of secret movement. Transfixed, I stand and stare; for slowly, slowly, arising as if from a spell, there is a huge male kangaroo, stretching his body up, as if he is metamorphising, shedding one form and entering another. His bright dark eyes look straight at me. When at last he has reached his full height, he stands there for an extraordinary instant, still staring at me, and then, without hurry, turns, and hops away, clearing a fallen tree in one flying bound. I will go back home with the thrilling splendour and weird terror of that moment deep in me; and it will flow out through my fingers, onto the keyboard, on the screen, into the heart of the novel I’m writing, infusing it with a strangeness and a richness that would otherwise not have been so clear and real.
For all of us, in whatever culture we have come from, animals, who live in an eternal world of timeless tradition, are a reminder of that strange otherness, the mysterious, potent, storied yet non-rational world that lies within and beside the ordinary world of busy human activity. All over the globe, and through all times, people have known that world: a world where time passes differently, where things are not explicable in ‘daylight’ terms, a world that has its own secret laws. Medieval people knew that world well; in medieval Wales, for instance, it was named clearly: Annwfn, the Inside Place, the In-world. Aboriginal people knew it well: it was the Dreaming, where animals and men met and morphed.