It’s sunset, and we’re camping alongside a deep, muddy river lined with mature gum trees. The steep banks prevent us from entering the water, but we watch a warm, lazy snake moving out of its place in the sun as we descend the steps it had been lying on only moments before.

Terramungamine Reserve outside Dubbo, NSW, October 2013
It's peaceful here.

Seeds drift slowly in the breeze, glowing in the gaze of the setting sun and blazing like shooting stars until they disappear into the gloom of the tree branches. Overhead, sulphur-crested cockatoos squabble raucously over who should be the first to enter their tree-branch-hollow homes.

I look to my side and watch my girls, my shape-shifters. Now they’re owls — practicing their flying — and I’m left in the hollow of our home with a baby owl wrapped in my own red feathers, watching their movements as they swoop out of our tree and onto the branches below.

Girls playing at being birds, October 2013
Three little owls are perched on their branch — ready to fly — and one doesn't want to leave the nest yet.

As I watch their play, I discipline my mind to remain here with them. I stop thinking about people who are far away; I stop probing at painful memories; I shove my worries into the back closet of my mind; I lay aside the technological devices that offer both hope and fear.

For right here, right now, I’m a shape-shifter too. I am whatever they want me to be, and now I am a mummy owl. Calling to my babes. Encouraging them as they use new skills. Releasing them to explore the world. Waiting to welcome them home.

Girls playing at being birds, October 2013
They swoop and flap, and when they're done, they return home for rest and refreshment.

This is real. This is life.