On the last two times I've visited my parents' farm, I've found something that I didn't even believe existed there. First, it was the turtles in the river; which, in my 18 years haunting those riverbanks, I never saw.
More recently, it was a tree-dweller I'd never even looked for.
So, yesterday we were driving up the side of a mountain in my dad's 4WD. We headed through state forest and into National Parks' land, ricocheting along a washed-out fire trail, past grass trees and native orchids and towering eucalypts that made me feel vertiginous and insignificant and tied to the spiritus mundi all at once.
I was staring out the opposite backseat window -- looking through the canopy onto the mountains below -- and thinking about how heights make me nervous and acknowledging that I'm an unequivocal valley/coastline dweller, when I spotted someone staring right back at me.
A koala -- probably 200 metres away -- was sitting up on a branch of a giant, exposed gum, watching our white truck labouring up the mountainside track. And at first, I genuinely thought it was staring at me, personally.
I yelled for dad to stop the truck, jumped out and ran to the edge of the track to watch the koala more closely. In all our time living with a back fence of bushland, we'd never seen a koala in our area or any neighbouring farms, so were considerably stoked and impressed as he clambered into a more leafy part of the tree and disappeared from view again.
And while it might seem like just another weird and unexpected animal sighting, for me it underlined the thing I love most about the natural world: that every secret revealed, and every gift received is all blind luck. To me, seeing wild animals in their environment, or finding feathers or skulls or snakeskins, has always felt like finding something so rare and precious and privileged ... and I'm infinitely grateful that I was taught to feel that way about it.