We Aren't in Kansas Anymore

n a formula: PHL→ DFW → LAX → NAN → SYD. The trouble with formulas, though, is they make everything much neater and simpler than it really is. In truth, it'd been a mechanical malfunction, a canceled flight, a missed one, a night in Glendale, CA, and an unscheduled stop in Nadi Airport, Fiji. The path to Sydney had been by no means direct, but eventually, somehow I arrived.

I had hoped that I'd deplane and something would quite literally jump out at me and say, "You're in Australia now. Here are some kangaroos, koalas, and—what the hell—some wombats. Now take care not to fall off the surface of the earth." Instead, though, I saw a McDonald's, an organic bakery, an Italian restaurant, a post office, traffic. Sure, the cars were driving on the left, it was "winter" in July, and the money was weird, but the signs were all in English, the architecture was a little American, a little European; and there were people walking dogs.

But I had traveled 10,000 miles into the future and I wanted to feel like it! Wayworn and exhausted I looked around for as long as possible, I looked for the unfamiliar, but nothing yet said "Australia." I looked until about 8:00 p.m., at which point the past caught up with me and I collapsed into sleep.

That's the Laughing Kookaburra, aka Dacelo novaeguineae.

Laughing Kookaburra by Ryan Feigenbaum

This bird, which I haven't actually seen yet but only heard, turns out to be one regal-looking creature. Its name, kookaburra (amazing, right?), stems from the Wiradjuri guuguubarra, which is onomatopoetic for the ridiculous bird call that had woken me up at dawn. And that being so, I went for a walk.

Before long I saw rainbow lorikeets, cockatiels, mynas, magpies, and so many other birds I'd never seen before in my life.

Rainbow Lorikeet in Crimson Bottlebrush by Ryan Feigenbaum

I also noticed the gum trees, Banksias, and bottlebrush. The yellow grevillea, Christmas bush, and kangaroo grass. And so many things that I still don't know the names of. Then, there was what I didn't see: there are no squirrels here. Not one. It's strange to be in a park with plenty of trees and not see any fat squirrels scurrying about. It also didn't take me long to espy the bats, the giant bats that, I swear, blot out the entire moon with their enormous wingspan. My friend had to remind me that they were fruit bats and would most likely not eat me.

Still, every night since, I'm kept awake for a little while, wondering whether this thing will somehow fly in through my window and land on my face; and, still, every morning I awaken to the kookaburra, wondering how it's managed to find something else absolutely hilarious.

In those late and early hours, I realize I'm being terrorized and awoken by no ordinary flying creatures—no mere cardinal or sparrow or pigeon—but by the grey-headed flying fox, a taxonomic megabat, and by the maniacal laughing of the kookaburra, two species endemic to Australia. It wasn't the human that would turn out to be unfamiliar but the more-than-human. That's not to say there's nothing different about Australian culture, because there most certainly is, but it was the flora and fauna that first told me I was 10,000 miles 16,093.44 km from home, beneath the equator in Sydney, Australia.