Signs and Wonders by Delia Falconer

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

Christmas, time for celebration, in my childhood saw the arrival of the Christmas beetle in droves. With a gleaming, gently striped carapace and vivid blue eyes, it was an added delight to those December days. Sadly, I have not seen one in decades.  Like the windscreen no longer splattered with insect bodies on a summer night, it is one of the many signs of our changing, in fact, fast disappearing world.

The opening chapters of this beautifully written collection of thoughts and observations are a litany of dramatic events which at times are horrifying.

Plastics are the terrible scourge of our oceans now.  In the sea of waste off Japan, the countless yellow ducks and Lego figures floating on the currents; 90% of birds found with pen lids, bottle tops, and buttons choking their stomachs.

She laments the disappearance of creatures that used to be so abundant. Frogs, cicadas, and the Bogong moth are drastically reduced in numbers. Once two million of these moths migrated from Queensland to the southern Alpine region but are so depleted that now a mere handful are found. They are exceptional in that they navigate flight by the earth’s magnetic field.

The melting permafrost has revealed a 50,000-year-old wolf cub, perfectly preserved including its fur. Viking swords, unexploded bombs and animals now extinct are all exposed in the once frozen wastes of the Northern Hemisphere.

This has engendered an ‘ecological grief’ in the world’s scientists who foresee our future in a fast-warming planet.

The author’s message is so poignantly illustrated by the reference to Kafka’s two-page story, “Crossbreed – A Sport”. The little animal, half lamb half kitten, is totally reliant on the unnamed narrator for its happiness, its very life. Although written in 1933, is it a parable for our times? That all life as we know it is dependent on our actions……

The sad, regretful note Delia strikes in this part of her book is balanced by her joy in observing small beauties in her surroundings in suburban Sydney. Most memorable is the seal which decides to live a section of the harbour side. When the animal is onshore, a policeman stands guard! Reactions to Sealvester leads her to consider people’s relationship to wild animals and we’re reminded that they, the animals, remain forever silent.

Not only climate is changing. There is a chapter focusing on the vanishing paragraph. Only a writer of Falconer’s calibre can devote pages to demonstrating the history and recent development in its use, and, in the process, make it interesting.

During the days of Covid 19, she walks through parts of the Silvester City for her daily exercise, often passing the same spots. Her keen observation brings her small joys, noting small changes, or finding something new. She recalls the painter Constable who spent hours watching clouds: he called it ‘skying’. He knew the value of quiet contemplation.

This chapter contains several photos, but the reproduction of many do not convey the magic she wished to capture but, of course, are deeply, personally meaningful.

The final chapter on Luminol, used in the astonishingly popular CSI and CSI LAS VEGAS, is fascinating but it is those initial chapters that are frighteningly memorable.

Delia Falconer is one of our finest writers with multiple awards for her previous three books. She is outstanding in her ability to convey her thoughts and keen observations.

She is acutely aware of so much beauty, complexity and wondrous delight in our fast-vanishing world facing a certain doom.

Rescue will happen only when difficult vital steps are taken by us, united in the fight to greatly limit our harmful emissions. Unless we act, we’re warned, we face the 6th extinction – in this era of ours, named the Anthropocene.

Signs and Wonders

[2021]

by Delia Falconer

Simon and Schuster

ISBN 978 176085 782 0

$32.99; 290pp

 

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