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Probably the saddest thing ever is the story of Susie, the facially disfigured (from the fire that killed her entire family when she was 3), one-legged, blind, orphan girl trying to sell a rusty shopping cart full of Susie's only friends, inbred, earless, albino kittens (most of which are dead from heartworms, unbeknownst to little blind Susie).

The sign on the cart reads, "kitties for sail 5 sents" (with a backwards "k"). Susie informs potential customers, in a slurred voice (having only 2/3 of a tongue), that she is selling the "kitties" to help raise money to save her orphanage from being torn down and replaced by a Wal-Mart. Most of the people she encounters are driven away from the foul odor she emits. The few that do approach her scoff at her selection of "kitties." One young man grabs a handful of the "kitties" and begins throwing them at her. As she runs away from the young man she trips and falls, breaking one of her crutches.

Having only raised 13 cents little Susie decides it is time to limp on back to the orphanage on her one remaining crutch. Suddenly a she hears a vaguely familiar voice call her name.

"Susie?? Is that you? "

"Uncle Fred!!!" she cries, spittle flying everywhere due to her missing lower lip.

"Yes! Its me Susie! I'm going to take you to live in my big nice house with all your cousins! You and your kitties can live with us in happiness. You'll have warm food and a cozy place to sleep every night!"

"Oh, Uncle Fred, I love you so much!"

They continue on as they walk down the sidewalk, lost in conversation. All is well and good until they fail to heed the crossing signal, being caught up in their happiness.

The Wal-Mart semi smashes full force into Uncle Fred and yanks Susie's rusty shopping cart full of "kitties" from her hands. Uncle Fred is propelled skyward and falls, becoming impaled on the iron fence outside Susies' orphanage. The shopping cart and "kitties" are crushed beneath the wheels of the semi, along with Susies' remaining crutch.

Susie crawls on the ground groping for her "kitties" (finding only bloody masses of fur and entrails) while calling out Uncle Fred's name. He never answers. Susie would have cried had her tear ducts worked.

Late last year, just before Christmas, I went to visit my grandparents in Melbourne. It's about a 12-hour drive, if I remember correctly. For a painfully long time after passing through Dubbo, the road is perfectly straight and flat, with nothing but fields of various crops on either side.

We arrived in Melbourne after sunset, perhaps 9pm. The first noticeable indications of life ahead were the distant lights of the city. The city itself was obscured by a hillside, but the lights were visible in the sky, scattered by a thin cloud. It was truly amazing, that even without fog or heavy clouds the outer suburbs were no dimmer in the sky than a rampant bushfire. That was enough to have me feeling a bit down.

The highway passes some strange modern architectural art, a light industrial zone, some expensive apartment buildings, and then crosses a large bridge, the name of which I don't know. This bridge is a pretty standard bridge, with three or four sets of supporting pillars that extend upwards from the bridge's surface; appearing as monolithic white towers on each side of the road. These pillars are lit by floodlights at night, and that was what was so very saddening.

Around the pillars, shining and illuminated when they needn't be, were hundreds of Seagulls, flying in languid circles.

Around and around
And around
And around
And around
And around.

For whatever reason they remained in the light, circling the pillars all through the night. I wondered where Seagulls usually go at night, where they sleep, but I still don't know. They seemed drawn to the glowing cement as Moths are to a flame, but we don't feel much compassion for Moths, do we? I suppose that the closer something comes to being human, the more we feel for it, and seeing those birds was too close for me. Would they leave before the sunrise? I don't know.

I suppose that it takes a single event to sum up all of the feelings you've kept inside, kept even from yourself, and to make them something more substantial in your mind. Then they can stand out from the white noise made of thousands of scattered images and words in your head. For me those restless birds were the perfect symbol for all of the deforestation, oil spills, carbon emissions and vanishing glaciers that should have worried me for years before.

I kept thinking about it for the next week in Melbourne, but only told one person about it: my grandfather. I described it to him in great detail, and he simply said, "Oh yes, they're there every night. Damn nuisance, they are." Since then I've tried to keep my personal moral dilemmas to myself.

I came to realise that there was another side of the whole affair that I hadn't considered. I could clearly see the effect, but what of the cause? Why bother illuminating a huge cement pylon with floodlights all night anyway? Are we so vain that we need to admire our own accomplishments at every turn? Or are we so insecure that we need to be constantly reminded of those accomplishments, whatever they may be? I know it's human nature to seek and admire grandeur, but surely we should care more about what is rational than what is impressive.

Perhaps if I were a beach-goer I would harbour more contempt for the "rats of the sky", but it just amazes me that we take these things in stride.

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