He is eighty-seven years old.
Just beneath his skin, by his collar-bone, sits a pace maker – good for another twenty-five years.
He would, if he could.
Pale blue chambray shirt, camel trousers. His uniform. His left leg is especially bowed, like that of an old cowboy. I suspect arthritis chews away at his hips. Exiting off the raised central stage at intermission he wobbles and almost falls. From the audience a collective intaking of breath. Ray takes his elbow, he steadies. Please don’t fall you precious man.
He tells us stories from the start of television. He was there in the very beginning. He was in the small studio when television was live and a nature program meant standing an armadillo, brought in a box from the London zoo, on a doormat placed upon a table and filming it, or else having the local rat-catcher tell a story to camera. From these very basics to seeing flight as if we were birds ourselves, as if we were insects caught on a spider’s web or killer whales hoisting a seal pup through the air. He has been witness to so much that is beautiful and frightening and awe-inspiring in nature. He loves it all. Almost too much for one man. How incredibly fortunate. And he knows it too. He does not take it for granted.
We listen to his stories like children camped at the feet of their exploring grandfather. We, the armchair travellers, who have watched him through the small screen since our own childhoods when we first watched Life on Earth. Then, it inspired my sister to follow a career in nature. His voice so familiar that to think of blue whales and elephant seals is to play the soundtrack of his commentary in our mind.
When asked about the planet he is not optimistic for its future. He worries about global warming. But he is not a political heavy weight. He does not stir up protest and dissent. He asks that people do what they can to reduce carbon pollution. He eats meat – his dentition, his stomach structure, his evolution – they all suggest to him that it is okay to do so.
The drive home is quick. Passing Kings Park bushland on our left – an infinity of blackness. I tell Jasper the thought of the parkland at night scares me – so black. Of course, he answers, like it is the only sensible emotion to feel. It is late and the roads are empty. It has been raining and the bitumen is slick ink. Street lights making shiny pools of silver.
We are the only car on the road in either direction. We have a string of green lights. Green pools on black road.
We are on the highway above the railway and the ocean is to our right. The tracks are empty. Standing on the road ahead is a fox. I can tell from the shape of its bushy tail, held horizontally to the road, as long and wide as the fox itself. It turns its head towards us and we see its orange eyes and its sharply pointed ears. I know there are foxes in the cities, even the very biggest and busiest, but still. In my head I thank David Attenborough. As if he has brought this creature out of the dark and shown it to us tonight as we race home.
I slow the car and the fox darts across the road ahead of us and is gone. Into the gardens of the big houses. Looking for chickens.