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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In court in Alaska (pt 2)

pt 1 | pt 2 << you are here | pt 3 | Home | Stories from my past

The call to action came earlier than I expected – within a week of agreeing to take part in the Alaskan court proceedings. The weather here was hot and humid. For that reason, when I was waiting for the phone to ring (about 2 AM), I was clad only in the bottom half of short pyjamas, sweat trickling down my back.

    Yes, I admit to being nervous, which wouldn’t have helped. I had never testified in court, my only brushes with the law being a speeding ticket long before and a whew!-just-under-the-limit breath test which forever changed my drinking habits. I had once watched my cousin in court trying to get decent compensation for the family property swallowed up by Awoonga Dam, and he’d been sent into a tailspin by the Brisbane barrister hired to do exactly that to him.

    And this was the US legal system! I really had no idea what I was facing. Why had I agreed to this? Why hadn’t I left Mr Fixit to his fate?

    Too late for that now. The call, when it came, charged me with adrenalin.

    ‘We’re on in a few minutes. Just follow me and answer my questions.’

    Firstly came the swearing in. This was the part that in spite of the seriousness of what I was doing, I couldn’t help being amused by. I don’t remember the exact words, but I surely recall this part.

    ‘Raise your right hand and swear...’ (I guess it must have been along the lines of ‘the truth, the whole truth, etc.) But even as the words were spoken, I was picturing myself sitting there half clad, ready to raise my right hand, phone in the other. Fortunately perhaps, video Skype wasn't in vogue at the time. Who would know what I was doing with that right hand as I was taking the oath? I could have been picking my nose for all anyone else knew.

    Attracted by the light, fat white moths and Christmas beetles were fluttering and buzzing outside the window. At that point, there was a huge thump at the window I was facing, not a metre away, as if someone had thrown a basketball at it. Two brilliant, gigantic eyes steadily stared at me through it.

    Harry Potter had not yet come into existence, but it seemed a Hedwig of some sort had been sent to watch my swearing in. I nearly fainted. Have you any idea how BIG a Tawny Frogmouth’s eyes are at 2 AM, staring at you unblinking an arm's length away as you are on a call to a courtroom on the other side of the world?

    The owl picked a fat moth off the windowpane, took one last severe look at me, and flew into the darkness.

    I did what I was told and raised my hand. If Almighty God had sent Hedwig or his deputy right at that moment with a message, it was enough for me. I’d be raising my arm and telling the truth all right.
(next and final part to come: unexpectedly fiery courtroom action)

pt 1 | pt 2 << you are here | pt 3 | Home | Stories from my past


  1. Wonderful image of the tawny frog mouth. The whole thing is beautifully described. Incidentally, is a tawny frog mouth the same as a mopoke?

  2. Thanks for the comment about the image. I did it myself – a legacy of my years in graphic design for the musicals we put on! These days with little effective use of my right hand, Photoshop is very hard for me to control for delicate tasks, as it involves coordinated hand actions: keyboard and mouse. Tricky!
    I was pretty sure that the tawny frogmouth wasn’t a mopoke, but thought it wise to check before committing myself. Turns out that I got it right, and that a Mopoke is a southern Boobook Owl. I can’t say for certain I remember hearing it up here on the Tablelands, but that rather wistful call was very much part of my childhood in central Queensland. If you were raised around Melbourne then no doubt you heard it there.
    But here’s the funny thing. Having made my graphic, I couldn’t help thinking it looked as much like a kookaburra as an owl. It turns out that the tawny frogmouth is NOT an owl – it is more closely related to the kookaburra!
    So, your question yielded an answer I certainly didn’t expect. Thanks again. We surely learn new things every day!


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