Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fire-Lab Crew (March 20th through March 29th)

March 20th
Cathy and Bob left today, and this wasn't nearly as sad a moment as I was thinking it would be. Maybe because I was really expecting it this time, or maybe because I'd already gone through similar heart-wrenching experiences twice already. I don't really know, but it seems like I was able to let go a little bit easier than before. I was still bummed out though. I know I'll miss Cathy's light attitude and high knowledge of ecological concepts, and I will definitely miss Bob's happy-go-lucky sense of humor... and I his gourmet cooking, for sure.
But, on to new adventures, and new friends. Matt and I will be spending the next week and a half with a man by the name of Bob Keane, who works for the Forest Service (USDA) doing field sampling and modeling of fire, and who also is one of the funniest guys I have ever met. We're also working with/for another man by the name of Gabriel Yospin, who is working on his post-doc here in Tasmania, and who is also one of the most clever jokers I've met, ever. I think both of these guys could do stand-up comedy, but that would take all the fun out of it. Having a good sense of humor and still being able to efficiently accomplish field sampling is vital to maintaining sanity, in my opinion. One doesn't need to be in front of a large crowd to be funny.
Damn do these Eucalypts get huge!
Today was a great day for our newly reconstituted crew. We had one of the most intense botanical learning experiences I've ever conceived of having. I would have to argue (with my self) that it is, in fact, THE most learned day I've ever had with concern to knowing plant characteristics and differentiating between similar looking species. Although I woke up feeling sick today, I was overjoyed to know we were going somewhere to learn about plants with Scott again... never would I have expected to learn so much, and to meet such a knowledgeable person.
Scott came to meet us at the hotel room, and he brought with him one of the greatest botanists I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. His name is David, he is from Singapore, and knows more about Tasmanian plant-life than anyone I've met until this point. I don't think we stumped him once today.
We went to Mt. Field National Park, and were going to be 'tagging along' for a research excursion they had planned on doing. For this, I am extremely grateful, because I know that it isn't always possible to do this kind of thing. On the way to this location we stopped in this little town called New North Fork for some coffee and a bit of food for lunch. As we were trying to find the local coffee shop, we walked by this place where a structure fire had occurred just the day before. It didn't look too devastating, but had consumed half of the Banjo's we'd planed on going to for coffee. The lack of coffee was the least of my concerns though, I was wondering if anyone had been injured in this incident. I didn't find out one way or the other, but it appeared like it wasn't all that bad... or at least I hoped it wasn't.
On the way to Mt. Fields we drove through this valley Matt and I have dubbed “Hops Valley”, since it was chuck full of hops plantations. I wondered if some of the beer hops I'd been drinking had originated in this place, and then realized, yes, some probably have. When we finally did get to the park, we had to get permission from the local rangers to do the sampling that David was wanting to do. Come to find out, we were unable to do this because of the high density of visitors to the park that day... politics.
holding up the Dicksonia antarctica
So, instead, we took a walk down a path called Tall Tree Trail, which was full of huge Eucalyptus trees that stood over 100 meters tall (the pictures at the beginning). I was amazed at how big these trees had grown, and felt lucky to experience them. On this walk we came across so many beautiful species. Plants like Achacia dealbata, Achacia melanoxylon, Monotaca glauca, Tasmania lanceolata and Eucalyptus obliqua were among the many wonderful plants that we encounter on this walk. I feel much more confident in identifying these plants now. Before, I was beginning to feel confident, but I realized today that I really had no clue. I only had but an inkling of knowledge about these plants. Now, I can honestly say that I'm beginning to learn. We also saw one of the most beautiful, and symmetrically formed waterfalls I'd ever seen. It reminded Matt of “The Jungle Book”, and it reminded me of something I'd never before seen... oxymoron alert.
Bob and Scott in the act of marveling
Me being upset that I couldn't pick the tree up
Look! Gabe's standing on the mushroom!
More shroomage
When we were done with this walk, we drove up to the sub-alpine zone to learn even more plants. Among these were; Celerytop Pine (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius) , Climbing Heath (Prionotes cerinthoides), Wax Berry (Gaultheria tasmanica), Richeas (pandanifolium and scoparium), and also a really cool little fern called Gleichinea alpina, which is supper abundant up at Cradle Mountain, almost as much as Button Grass is. Along with learning a bunch of new plants, I reinforced my previous knowledge of the highly important species that I'm sure will be included in the vegetation plot-surveys we will be doing for the next week. I also learned a few new terms today, two of which are heteroblastic (differing morphology on immature parts than that of mature parts of the same plant), and decorticating (shedding of bark). We only hung out here for a little bit, and then meandered back down the mountain to begin the drive back into Hobart.
This place reminded me of something out of a Doctor Seuss book
Sooooooo much texture
It was a long drive back to the hotel after this adventure of ours, and, for the most part, pretty uneventful. But, when we got back to the hotel, Matt and I made sure to show Gabe and Bob where the local seafood spot was; down on the pier, next to Salamanca. We ate at a nice little floating restaurant called Flippers, which was good, but not quite as good as Fish Frenzy. After our meal and a short walk-around, we took a drive to North Hobart and kind of just checked out the city. It was a good thing too, because by doing this we were able to find out that the 'real' food spot is actually in the northern sections of Hobart. There are restaurants galore up there, and I am definitely going to spend some time in that part of town once we get back from our vegetation plotting.

While we were walking around the pier, checking things out, I noticed this ship and thought the name was funny, so I took a picture. Little did I know that the Whale Wars crew was in town for some R & R. I also had no idea, at the time of this photo, that this was the very ship that battles those villainous whalers out on the South Pacific and, more specifically, the Sub-Antarctic oceans.
Look-a-that butt! Oh yeah, and Bob Barker in the background.
Oh... SHIT!
March 21st
Today was the day we would say “seeyalater” to Hobart once more. We're going back to Cradle Mountain again for some more mind-bending research... Oh boy do I love bending my mind. I don't think it's ever a bad thing to do such exercises of our psyche.
This time we'll be surveying vegetation and measuring fuel loads for input into a fire-model constructed by the world renowned Research Ecologist, Bob Keane. This is a change from the coring we'd been doing, and I can't wait to learn these new methods and figure out exactly how to do this kind of data collection. I'm always willing to learn new ways of doing things, especially from those who know thoroughly how to do them, as do Bob and Gabe.
When we left, the people at the Grosvenure Apartments were kind enough to hold onto our luggage again, even though we weren't going to be coming back to their establishment this time. I've found that people are, generally, very nice in this country (Tasmania, not necessarily Australia), and that it is rare to come across someone who is either rude, or unwilling to help in any way. So, needless to say, this was a very convenient development, because we had planned on driving to UTAS to do this, which neither of us had the forethought to ask permission for... damn absent minded scientists anyway.
Because we'd forgotten to stop at Woolworths before leaving the last sizable town, we had to 'chance it' and continue toward Cradle Mountain, hoping there would be a grocery store in Shefield. It was either this or we'd have to turn around and drive back about an hour to get groceries. After three hours of driving, another two didn't sound like a fun idea to any one of us.
Our gamble paid off, because Shefield did have a grocery store after all, and a bottle shop as well, so we were able to get everything we needed without having to turn around. I also came across a really cool trend I've picked up on since my arrival here in Tassie. There are these really cool murals painted on the buildings, public and private. They either depict the history of the town/area, or tell some kind of story. A few don't seem to have any relevance at all. But who said murals have to be relevant anyway?
Once we'd arrived at Cradle Mountain, we immediately unpacked and headed for the visitor center to try and get everything lined up for the next day. We then took a drive up to Dove Lake, and then to Waldheim, inspecting and contemplating the plant communities as we went. Bob and Gabe seemed very enthusiastic about the prospects of getting out and doing some surveys, which is always uplifting for a lowly intern, like me, looking up to their supervisors.
After we'd finished our initial tour, we drove back to the cabin and went over our responsibilities and the methods involved. I found out I was to be the botanist, and my job was to set up and survey 'microplots', estimating fuel loads using a 'photofuel sheet', and then measure duff depths. I was also to be responsible to identifying plant species and doing a species list, recording the height and cover of each one. I felt a little overwhelmed at having to identify species, but was then informed not to “get lost in the minutia”, so I think I should be OK.
A couple of cool sounding and descriptive terms I learned today were ligno-tuber and edaphic, both of which I'd heard before, but only remembered today to write them down. I will elaborate more on their definitions in days to come. Right now I'm tired and ready for some well needed sleep... good night y'all, or whoever happens to read this, I guess.

March 22nd
Our first day of surveying fuel loads for Gabe and Bob, yeehaw! I had a feeling this would be fun, but never did I anticipate the joy I would experience when looking down at my legs to see twenty leeches crawling and sprawling across my gators. I've never had so many wriggling creatures vying for my attention before... it made me feel special. Matt didn't feel quite the same about the amount of leeches we were dealing with. He didn't have gators though, and also had some malfunctioned rain pants that gave them direct access to the skin of his calves. Apparently, he felt something on his legs, put his hand down under his rain pants, and pulled it out covered in leeches. I feel like he definitely had the most leeches out of all of us. So, after this experience, we decided that Matt should have better gear before our next excursion. We headed down to the visitor center and he bought himself a pair of Sea-to-Summit gators, which aren't as nice as OR gators, but did the job just fine, because he only had a few leeches to pick off after the additional gear.
Feeling better about not having creepy crawlies in super-high abundance, we cruised back up the road to do some more plots. Our first two plots—the ones with the leech armies—were in a Nothofagus cunninghamii (Myrtle Beech) stand, the second being in a more open site with a lot more undergrowth, conducive to 'leech army mustering'. This is where I got most of my leeches anyway, which is probably due to the fact that I was standing and crawling through dense bushes full of them. It is actually kind of cool when you stop and look at the ground. Paying close attention, you can see them all squirming around and occasionally waving their smaller end in the air like a flag, but flying for blood, not a nation state or societal group of some kind. It's quite amazing how many there really are when you stop and look.
To do these veg-plots, we must make peace with the leeches, and we also have to find a suitable location that is representative of what ever vegetation type we are looking for, then 'randomly' toss a pin to locate our center. We then find due North and reel out four tapes to 11.3 meters in the cardinal directions for each. Once these have been laid, Matt would start measuring tree height, DBH (for both sapling and mature trees), and tree cover. I would go measure sub-plots, which were a meter squared, and located between five and six meters on the tapes. Here, I measured duff depth, fuel loads, and shrub/forbes loads. After I finished four sub-plots, I would then help Gabe do vegetation cover for the entire plots, which included making a species list and then estimating the cover and height for each species. This required me to be able to properly identify the plant species, which became a challenge when we finally got out there. I hadn't realized that I knew little to nothing about small shrubbery. I learned quickly though, and am becoming more confident every day. One other thing I had to measure, if they were present, were the logs on the ground. This was easy though, and probably doesn't need much explaining here aside from the fact that I measured their length and width. All of this information will eventually go into a fire-model that, over the years, has been developed by Mr. Bob Keane. This will allow the PIRE project to simulate past fire regimes, and then compare them to the data collected from our core samples, which will determine whether or not Bob's model is accurate. If it is, we can then project the fire ecology of this landscape into the future. I think this is way cool, and adds a very practical application to what we are doing. Not only can we look at the past, but, if the model is successful, we can also look into the future... WOW!
Our third plot ended up being in another N. cunninghamii stand, but was much more open than the first. Here, we were beginning to get the hang of things, so we moved much quicker and finished in less than a half hour. Then, we moved a little to the South and measured a Buttongrass site, which ended up being nothing but Buttongrass, and one other species of grass (maybe, we didn't feel the need to delineate the poa species). There were very deep duff depths here, approximately eight to fifteen centimeters for most of the measurements we took. No trees or shrubs though, so it goes without saying, we only spent a few minutes here.
The last, but not the least, of our plots was in a Gleichinia alpina vegetation area. It was pretty much nothing but Gleichinia, but there were a few grasses in between these small ferns. They are so cool looking too; kind of cute in a ferny kind of way. They grow right next to the ground, and only get about ten centimeters high at the most, maybe twenty for the biggest of the big. Again, this plot went fairly smoothly and we were done in less than a half hour. I noticed the longest times for plots occurred when we were in forested areas with a lot of undergrowth, and a lot of fallen (not rotten) logs, with a lot of trees to measure... these seemed to take the longest.
When we got back to the cabin we all disrobed outside, and then de-leeched ourselves. We all had plenty of leeches to pull off, and a few had even dropped off on their own, full of the juicy red-stuff. I don't think Cathy would have liked this very much, as she highly disliked the few that we'd gotten while coring. We literally had over a hundred on each of us throughout the day; I know I did at least. I didn't mind too much though, I kind of like the little buggers, just not when they get latched on... that kind of sucks (no pun intended... or maybe it is intended).
After I'd taken a shower, I came out to find that we had some company. Andreas and a man I've been waiting to meet since I'd heard about him had arrived. It was an absolute pleasure to be introduced to Tom Veblin, one of the world's premier fire-ecologist/historians and a very nice man to boot. He is quite tall as well, which is always a bit of a shocker for me. I'm not used to looking up at someones eyes very often. We talked about science, had a beer, laughed at jokes, and then they had to go because they were going to have an early morning and had to get to the place they were staying at. This is about when dinner got done cooking. We ate some spaghetti and salad... it's hard to go wrong with that. Then some hearts, and bedtime soon followed.

March 23rd
Snow!!! It was cold and snowing when we woke up today. The prediction had said this, but confirmation is always a necessary thing when doing field work. We'd hoped that it would only snow up high, but our hopes were dashed as we looked out upon the wintery wonderland surrounding our cabin. I really don't mind the snow very much, and was looking forward to seeing Cradle Mountain covered in the white stuff. We all kind of joked about the idea that the cold and snow might freeze the leeches out, but I don't think any of us was expecting anything more than a butt load of them.
Richea pandanifolia with sprinkles on top

We ate some breaky and drank our coffee, then headed into the storm. Our plan was to sample a dense Athrotaxis selagenoides (King Billy Pine) stand, so our prediction was that the snow wasn't going to be very bad. It actually made for some very beautiful scenery once we got there. Matt lead us to where Kathy Allen's 2000 year old tree was located, and this became our first plot of the day. We did the usual, laid out tapes to 11.3 meters, measured trees, sub-plots, and logs... then something extraordinary happened, the sun came out. It shined through the trees like an angel singing down from the sky, illuminating a patch of forest about thirty meters away from where we were sampling. I didn't have my camera though, so there's no pictures, just the ones in my head, and are they marvelous. This area of forest was open, so had accumulated snow, and with the sun shining through the trees, we could only revel in the awe inspiring beauty. I'm glad we got to get out and do some field work in the snow.
After this first plot we ventured a little farther up the Waldheim trail and found a suitable location with some younger A. selaginoides, which happened to be so dense that we had to do some bushwackin (or bush-bashin in Tassie lingo) in order to get to where we wanted to set our plots. After the usual preliminary setup, we were off. This took a while, because the vegetation was so thick.
By this time we'd realized our initial hopes of freezing leeches was beginning to come true. My theory is that they weren't dead, just too slow to latch onto our legs effectively, because we still had leeches, but not nearly as many as the day before, and they did seem to inch along at a much slower pace than before. Matt was ecstatic about this development and felt a lot better about scrubbing around under the trees. We left here, and when we got out of the trees we found out the temperature had dropped by at least two degrees Celsius, which is substantial when the wind is blowing.
We got back in the car and headed over to a location just below Dove Lake car park, and walked up the hillside to the West, then just over the ridge we found a good spot that had some of my favorite trees, Banksia marginata (Silver Banksia). So, we stopped here on top of the ridge, wind blowing slightly and only a few flakes of snow falling, and then set up our third plot of the day. As soon as we'd been there for a few minutes, the wind started howling, the snow picked up, and we found ourselves in the middle of a full blown blizzard. There weren't very many different species, so it only took us about a half hour, maybe a bit longer, to finish this plot.
Once this was done, we headed back over the ridge and down the hill to measure the heathland that was growing alongside the hill we'd just come over. When we got down to our location, the wind howled even harder and the snow became blinding, accumulating an inch on my clipboard within only a few minutes. The temperature was about one degree Celsius and we were soaked to the bone. Good thing the vegetation wasn't very diverse, and there were no trees, because we were all getting cold at this point. My fingers were numb, the snow was blowing in sideways, and I couldn't even see the opposite hillside anymore, which was only a couple of hundred meters away. We all agreed that it must be lunch time.
After sitting in the vehicle for about an hour, with bellies a little fuller than before, we decided to hit it again, despite the conditions, which weren't really getting any better. Although the wind had slowed down a bit, the snow was still falling fairly heavily, but it was our duty to keep doing science, in the name of science, and for the sake of good science. Yup, I just said science three times in one sentence, and a fourth just after. Oh yeah, the joys of redundant statements! Anyway, digressing again, I must admit it was a joy to be out in this kind of weather, it reminded me of what I left back home in Montana. The cold is always a good thing, it reminds us why we need to be warm, and makes being back at the cabin with a hot cup of tea that much more enjoyable.
We sampled a stand of Eucalyptus coccifera and then were on our way to do some Pencil Pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides), when a development in the weather made us reevaluate this decision. The snow had turned to a dense hail, and was pounding us with little bee-bees that were kind of painful when they hit those tender spots on my skull. As we walked down to Pencil Pine Falls the hail kept getting more and more intense, so we decided to call it with five plots, which I've been told is a good days work. I think I remember Gabe saying something about it being the level at which "truly burly and manly studs" (I added the adjectives) operate at, and we should be proud of the level of work we were able to accomplish today. And I do, I feel very good about our progress.

This was cool, my panoramic shot got this guy in the orange coat twice

March 24th
We woke up today to a sky still sprinkling snow down upon the Cradle Mountain holiday park, our home away from Hobart. It appeared that around six inches (15 centimeters, give or take) had accumulated on the ground, and this makes it quite hard to do any of the plots we were here to do. It's critical for us to identify plant species, but not only that, we must estimate cover and measure duff depths, which becomes near impossible when the ground is covered in those wonderfully white crystals of water. So, as was discussed the day before in light of the forecasted weather, we decided to take the day off and do a little touring around the north western area of the island. Our hope was that the next day would have more pleasant skies, with less snow on the ground.
The others and I were very interested in seeing the state of the mountainous snow cover, so we all loaded ourselves into the vehicle and drove up to Dove Lake car park. When we got there we saw some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip. Hanson Peak and Cradle Mountain were covered in a blanket of snow that shimmered when the clouds broke long enough to allow a bit of sunlight through to their frozen slopes. As is necessary when seeing such spectacular views, Gabe and I began shooting some pictures, which, as you can see here to the right, turned out quite well. Too bad I didn't get the "shimmering" slopes, these clouds move fast.
With pictures snapped and hearts lifted by the gorgeous mountain sides, we all loaded back into the car and headed down the mountain for our day of adventure. Although we'd been a little bummed about having to take an untimely day off, we were lively with the prospect of seeing some new places. Bob and Gabe hadn't had a chance at all to see any part of the island except Hobart and the central areas, which are the most disturbed areas, and also full of sheep farms (ranches?). So, I think they were looking forward to this trip as well.
On the left here, you have Mr. Gabriel Yospin, grinning with overwhelming delight. Matt and Bob must of seen a paddymelon. Then here on the right, you have Cradle Mountain, epically shrouded in water vapor, and covered in the white stuff.

Our first stop of the day was to be a town named Letrobe, the location of a famous “Platypus Walk”, where we were hoping to see the infamous Ornithorhynchus anatinus (Duck-billed Platypus), one of the last two monotremes left on the planet... the one Matt and I hadn't seen yet. We drove for about two hours, and finally arrived at Letrobe, navigating our way down to the river that was supposedly housing the Platypus, and then parked our car to take 'the walk'. We walked, and walked, and then walked a little more, but to our dismay, we saw no monotremes of any kind... not even an echidna! But oh well, it was nice to stretch the legs after such a long ride.
This was the only duck bill we saw
We wiped our tears after sharing a moment of sobbing (not really) over not seeing the platypus, and then set out on the road again. The next stop on the agenda for today was Devonport, a place Matt and I had already visited, but hadn't actually checked out. This is where the aboriginal museum that wrenched my heart strings before is located, but this wasn't our destination. Our bellies were grumbling, so we bee-lined it to a pub that served cold beer and warm food. I don't recall the name of this pub, but boy did they have good food. We all ordered to our liking and then devoured our meals in a manner resembling a pack of voracious Tasmanian Devils. No, not really, we just ate like regular-old English gentleman, smacking our lips and talking the entire time.
While we were finishing our meal, I noticed this contraption on the wall. I was delighted to see it was a breathalyzer that required coinage like a vending machine or arcade game would. I thought it was kind of amusing to think of a drunken patron stumbling up to this thing, and, after several missed attempts, shoving a round piece of metal into the slot, only to be informed that they could not drive safely. I like this though, we should have these things in America. I wonder if people would just play with them, but never heed their mechanical advice.
 Bob was anxious to see the ocean some more, and Penguin seemed like the logical 'next stop', so we pointed our unlit headlights in the general direction of the town that was named for its famous wildlife. The tourist guide said there should be penguins in Penguin, but not just any penguins, the smallest penguins on the planet. This place was a must see, for we were only just down the road from this place, and I know my penguin-bone had not been tickled as of yet.
When we got to Penguin, the first stop was the beach. Our eyes searched, and our feet carried us through the sand, but again we saw no wildlife. The only penguin we saw here was an over-sized sculpture that resembled an Emperor Penguin, which ironically doesn't even frequent these shores. I was kind of upset at this, so I sought out the answer to this perplexing situation. I figured we were basically just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and this is exactly the case. I was informed by the local informist (if that's even a word) that they were pretty much all gone at this time of the year. He said there were some resident colonies on the East coast, but we were kind of out-of-luck at this junction. Again though, it was nice to stop and walk around a new place. I took some excellent pictures of a cormorant and also of a butterfly that just happened to stop right in front of me, posing with open wings, like any good fashion model would do with her smaller-than-practical angel wings that had been sewn onto a skimpy dress of silk and polyester.
This cormorant posed for me, until it noticed I was taking pictures
Not the appreciating kind of look
A strange thing happened at this point in my walk. As I was taking pictures of the model butterfly, a boy that had been skate boarding just a second before, peeked over the end of a half-pipe and told me in his classic Aussie accent, “Ya knoew, thaut's my flauwa you're takin pictus ouf?” I don't know if I spelled that correctly, but that's about how it sounded. I ignored this obviously instigating remark and kept taking my pictures. I felt a few more eyes fall on the back of my head, so decided to go on my way, foreseeing a possible bad situation if I'd stayed any longer.
The others had laid down on the grass and were taking a bit of a cat-nap, so I kept walking down the beach, snapping photos. Even though we didn't get a chance to see any real penguins, I did manage to get a picture of that giant penguin I spoke of earlier, so the trip wasn't a total loss.
I also got some really cool photos of this tree and a rubbish receptacle, guilt tripping me into "doing the right thing".

We got back in the car and started cruising once again. It was drawing close to the end of a wonderful day, so we concluded our adventure up the coast and turned to the interior. Our refrigerator was beginning to get a bit empty, so we stopped in Ulverstone to resupply. This didn't take long and before we'd even thought about getting gas, we were about ten kilometers outside of town. We weighed our options at this point, deciding to keep going forward, hoping we'd catch a petrol station a bit further down the road. We were in luck this day, and soon found a proper place to fill up; and, according to this sign, it was also our last chance for EFTPOS. Not sure what this means yet. This town was called Wilmot and had some of the most intriguing murals I'd ever seen. They even had a mural painted around a telephone pole! I had to take some pictures.
I've actually noticed there are murals in most of the small towns here. I like this detail, and hope to notice more as I see more of the island... I'm curious if the mainland is the same way. Anyways, I'm tired, so I think I'll stop this entry here. It was a good day for the Fire-lab Crew.

March 25th

Oh man, did we have a good day today. We finally got out and did a little bit of hiking, and even got a record-breaking seven plots done. Our day started with a walk down “Pencil Pine Falls” trail. The goal was to find a mature Nothofagus cunninghamii stand to sample from, which I'm proud to say that we were successful in locating. Actually, we got three plots done while down this trail, even the Poaceae vegetation type that had been evading our keen senses until today. I felt pretty good about getting three plots in before lunch. Unfortunately though, I didn't have the foresight to bring my camera down into this place. Too bad too, it was a highly philosophical and metaphysically insightful sight to behold.

Matt had forgotten his rain coat, and our next area of sampling was going to be up a mountainside, so we had to turn around and go back to the cabin. We'd locked the key in this morning as well, so we also had to go ask for another, which we had to return when done using it. This took a little more time than anticipated, so put us in the time frame of lunch. We made our way down to the Ronney Creek car park, and sat there for lunch before heading down the trail that meandered up the moorlands to the West.
We made it all the way up to Crater Peak on this jaunt, sampling two plots on the way and snapping photographs at every corner as we/I went. It's nice to have another peak under my belt. I think the last one I need to get is Cradle Peak, which is the highest elevation of them all. I really hope I'm in good condition to make this hike, because my left knee has been feeling a bit tender after I injured it on the last trip with the coring crew. I'm hopeful though, because it did well today, and I feel strongly about its healing progress. My knees have made me proud and I know they will keep doing well, as long as I take care of them and give them the time they need. I can feel my right knee getting a bit tender as well, but only because I think I've been compensating in order to relieve a bit of the pain from my left.
 I took these two pictures while almost becoming a prime candidate for a Darwin Award. I didn't realize I was doing this foolish act until I noticed one of the buggers crawling on my leg. Like a typical American tourist with no field experience what-so-ever, I decided to sit in a Jack Jumper (Myrmecia pilosula) pile, which happens to be the deadliest creature on the island. I got really lucky though, and happened to have my undershirt tucked in, avoiding their painful bite. I also got really luck in that they didn't swarm all over me in the few seconds I was sitting on their hill. I'm relatively convinced that it was my cool attitude and respect for their existence that they picked up on, accepting me into their domain without any offensive maneuvers on their part... not. I still feel pretty dumb about that one. That kind of shit is how stupid people get killed, hence the Darwin Award reference.
Just after I tried to play it cool about sitting on the ant hill... I yelped in a not-to-flattering manner
This little pool was so epic, I had to get some pics with Matt and I paying our respects to its epicness. Matt is marveling in his manner, and I am awing at its awesomeness.

Such a purdy being of the light
These moss beds are sooo cool!

Crater Peak is such a beautiful place, it's hard to compare with anything I've ever experienced before. I'm glad to have come here to this grand island of mystery, now becoming well known to my spirit. I am gaining more confidence with the landscape and the flora every day, and I feel that by the time I leave here I will be well on my way to understanding the deep connections the plants hold with the land and people. I can feel already, this knowledge will forever affect my life in an astronomically profound way. It is my deep desire to return to this place some day, if not for research, but only to visit again this sacred land.

On the way back we sampled two more plots, a thick stand of Eucalyptus subcrenulata, which proved to be a challenge due to the dense undergrowth, and then another that represented a type of heathland we were in need of sampling. Aside from being "shrubbed", as Bob so eloquently put it, our second plot on the way down wen very quickly, only taking us about ten or fifteen minutes. I think we (Matt and I) might be getting the hang of this veg survey stuff.

Ok... here's 6000 words for ya.
The more time I spend out among these plants, the more I can see the effects of fire suppression. Having read through the literature on how these places used to be, and how they should be. I can see the consequences of years without the vital components of fire and how the plant communities are slowly shifting to a state that has yet to be experienced by any Tasmanian for thousands of years. Without this vital ecological driver, I don't see how these vegetation types will maintain themselves as Tasmanians have known them for the past tens of thousands of years. I am hopeful for the day when our governments accept fire as an important management tool, and will smile the day it becomes policy to start fires at certain times to facilitate growth and regeneration.
I think that is a good note with which to end this entry... FIRE!!!

March 26th
We had some beautiful, sunny weather today, which was a welcome change to the blizzard conditions we had experienced a few days ago. Although I love hanging out on ridges while being pelted by horizontal snowflakes, I also like to hang out in the sun and say cheese while taking pictures of other people smiling. It was nice... and it looks like Matt agreed with the niceties of the days solar radiation upon our geographic location (unintended rhyme).
Heading up the side of a mountain, ascending toward Hanson Peak, we were on our way to a lookout I enjoyed many trips through. When we got up to the initial saddle though, I found out we were actually going down into Hanson Lake, and then I got really excited. I was getting worried I wouldn't have another chance to chill out on the rock beach we'd spent so much time lounging on while doing cores on the first trip. Matt and I showed Bob and Gabe the 'special' place we occupied while doing this mind-blowing data collection called “the coring of lakes”.

Before we'd gotten to this point of rocky-beach-splendor, we'd already done a plot comprised of Nothofagus gunnii and Athrotaxis cupressoides, with some really cool understory plants called “Mountain Pink Berry” (Cyathodes parvifolia), which will stab the shit out of you if you try and grab them. Very visually appealing, but my finger tips aren't very grateful for the spiny goodness displayed by these highly evolved plants. Come to find out, they're actually edible... so it's give and take with these pink berries of montane Tasmania. We used our usual sampling methods on this plot, Matt went around measuring tree height, DBH (diameter at breast height), and which trees were dominant or co-dominant etc. I think I have one of the funner jobs though, I have to measure photo-fuel-loads on the meter squared sub-plots. I quantify things like duff depth, and then use a sheet that Bob developed to estimate fuel loads. Then, and this is my favorite part, I get to determine vegetation species and then record their cover and height, giving all my data to the post-doc of our crew, Gabe. This process kind of forces me to learn the shrubbery at a much more intimate level than I would have ever gotten by simply hiking gear around. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love hauling copious amounts of gear over rigid mountain tops while battling ravenous leeches and fighting torrential downpours, but I still appreciate the learning experience that I've been privileged to have with this aspect of the PIRE project. I do miss the hiking we were doing with the coring crew... and I miss the crew.
I feel like this bird is saying, "Hey! What the [expletive deleted] are you looking at?"
Moving on to the adventure at hand.
Bob and Gabe are so fun-loving and have such a great attitude about field work, it's hard not to laugh constantly. It amazes me how smart these guys are though, because they take things so lightly, but are serious when it matters. I feel like this is a good way to stay in good spirits. A healthy balance of laughter and serious expression is always good for effective data collection whilst in the field... especially under harsh conditions or when in rugged terrain. I miss my research family though, the hearts of these people are changing my perception of humanity, for the better. I'm not looking forward to dealing with assholes back in the city, especially in American cities.
After we were done sampling down by Hanson Lake, we headed up around 'Twisted Sister' and did another plot, which was representative of an open forest, dominated by Eucalyptus subcranialata and a few coccifera. This was on a fairly steep slope, so careful footing was a must. We did well here though, and I feel like this was a good plot to do, especially because it was a huge area of representative vegetation of this type.
Once we'd ascended around Hanson Peak we stopped for lunch, munching down on peanutbutter-n-jam samiches and apples... delicious and delectable in every sense of the words. Then, after our lunch, and some cool macro-shots, we headed down the trail only a few hundred meters and found an open heathland that represented shrub dominated vegetation with grasses in between. This went quickly (only a few species, and no trees), and then it was on to the Pencil Pine (Athrotaxis cupressoides) stand that was about one hundred meters to the south of our current location. Although it was a bunch of Athros, there were quite a few Nothofagus gunnii in the understory, and boy was it thick. I actually had to crawl in some places, using my head as a ram to get through the thickly intertwined branches. But, once we were in, the Nothofagus thinned out and some Richea pandanifolium appeared, being the most common undergrowth species, I think. I got some good pictures of this spot.
I asked them to be, "SERIOUS"
Then I asked them to be, "NOT SERIOUS"
I love me some fungus... so shapely
We finished this plot and then headed down the mountain, which required us to go up a mountain, ironically. We had to ascend Hanson Peak in order to get back to the car park, or go completely around it, which would take about twice as long, and I don't think any of us were willing to increase the return time just to save a little bit of hiking up a peak. I was glad to go back up to Hanson though, it's just so beautiful when on top of, its damn near impossible to resist going up there when you can. But, I'm sure it would get a bit old after five trips in a row.
We were all ecstatic when we got up there, and met a nice couple that was planning to go across the face of Cradle and then down into Wilks Lake afterward. Matt and I warned them about the steepness of that route, but they seemed like they knew where they were going. It was a bit disconcerting to hear, from another group of hikers after we had gone down Hanson, they had gotten lost on the way over Hanson Peak and were trying to walk down the cliff face! I hope they did fine and didn't try to climb down any more cliffs. Either way though, it was a good day, to say the least.
From what I understand, we only have about three plots to do until we are totally finished. This is a little saddening, but it's nice to know we have been able to do an 'above average' job here, and are completing our work ahead of schedule. I think this extra bit of time might be a good opportunity to head up to Cradle Peak... I smell some good scenery a-comin! But, I just hope my left knee is up to the task. I don't want to hurt myself, but boy would I feel sorry if I didn't make it to the top of such an iconic mountain to feel the energy spewing out of the top. I think that's pretty much the only reason I would ever climb a peak willingly... to revel in the power and energy that reverberates from such a focal point in Mother Earth's geology is something we should never take for granted, and should always seek with humility. That's about all I have to say about that.

March 27th
Today was our last day of sampling for the Fire-Lab Crew. We only had two, possibly three plots remaining before we could say we'd covered all major vegetation types. I was a little sad over this turn of events, but this will give me a chance to hike up to Cradle Peak tomorrow, which I have been looking forward to since I first laid eyes upon the ancient dolerite pyres jutting out from the ancient crust of the Australian Plate.
We had a bit of a late start today, because Gabe and Bob had to do some pressing computer work and needed to use the wireless internet a couple of kilometers down the road at the lodge. This gave me a chance to do a bit of house cleaning around our cabin, and I do say it was in need of it. I swept and did the dishes, recycled some recyclables and then got a wonderful stretch in before they got back, and then we were off immediately.
Our first stop was a snag stand of Eucalypts that contained a poa grassland. I think this was a good spot to represent what has been referred to as the "die-back" of Eucalyptus from frost, which I've been reading is a phenomenon experienced in many places around the island, especially on the Central Plateau. After a few days absent of leeches, it was a bit of a nice surprise to see the wriggling creatures crawling up my leg in their inch-worm fashion. I think I'm the only one that felt like this though, because most people don't quite have the appreciation that I do for these dark little critters. This is understandable though.
The next stop we made was a stand of Eucalyptus subcranialata, with Nothofagus cunninghamii as a co-dominant species. Even though we really want a sedge-type, we were unable to locate a good place to sample a representative field of this, so this dense stand of Eucalyptus would turn out to be our last plot of this trip. To get at this plot it was necessary to cross a small creek, and we all had no problem in doing this... well, I know my feet didn't get wet, don't know about the others though. It was a pleasant reminder of why I wear gators in the first place. They don't keep all the water out, but as long as you move quickly, you can keep your feet dry for the most part. But, as with anything that claims to be 'waterproof', enough exposure to moisture will penetrate any material or find a way around it in order to saturate the skin of even the driest outdoorsy person.
I think we had to measure more trees in this stand than any other we'd done so far. This kept Matt quite busy, and we all ended up helping him out at the end, measuring DBH and estimating heights for both Eucalyptus and Nothofagus, the second generally being the smaller of the two species. At this point though, we all knew each other's jobs, mostly, and were able to do things very smoothly. I do admit though, I am not so sure about how to estimate the heights, and I'm definitely sure that practice would be required before I could do this with any level of certainty.
With the plot finished, and the data sufficiently collected, we all posed for the token photograph required for any properly conducted field work that had been finished on a beautifully sunny day. So, we found a good spot, discovered a previously undisclosed tripod, stretched four cheesy smiles across our tanned faces, and watched the quiet camera do its thang. It's always funny to try and count down from ten every time I do a timed picture, because my camera doesn't click or snap, or make any signals at all to confirm the shot had been taken. This gets everyone smiling and giggling every time... people are accustomed to the 'snap' that usually comes with a 'snap-shot'. The lack of a snap also makes for some pretty goofy expressions when someone isn't sure the picture has been taken or not.
After the non-snapping snap-shot, we packed our things, and headed back toward the road, crossing the cute little creek on the way. I turned my camera back on at this point, and recorded some high definition antics on the way back to the vehicle, getting some hilarious stories from Bob and Gabe about their adventures from times passed. I also recorded a moment of gift exchange, which I will have to reciprocate before they leave the country in a few days. Matt received a cool beanie, and I got a stainless steel water bottle, which I'm always thankful for getting, much more so than a plastic bottle. Having to use plastic in any form hurts the philosophical tendon in my brain and strains my heart strings every time it happens. But, as with many things, I compromise at times and still use this substance on occasion, which means all the damn time.
These are good examples of the data-sheets we had to fill out for each plot we surveyed. I think we did something on the order of twenty plots, probably more. The one on the left is for tree data, and the right picture shows the subplot data that I filled out.
We named this shila Loretta, you can't see it, but she has a cute baby under her belly
Lunch today was consumed back at the cabin, and then Bob, Gabe, and I drove down to the Cafe and had some coffee and I ate some chips (French Fries), spending a few minutes on the internet. I put in two dollars, which turned out to be a few more minutes than I needed, so I jumped off the computer and started eating my chips, which were cooling down way more than they needed to at this point. Then a woman—not sure about her ethnicity—with a scarf on her head casually made her way to the computer. Seeing there was a timer still counting down, she politely began stepping away, so I let her know she was more than welcome to use the computer, giving her the universal 'it's all good' gesture with my hand, cutting the air horizontally with my palm faced downward.
We didn't stay here long, but I did manage to find time to get into a good conversation about the research we were doing here with the local store manager-guy. This slowly, but surely, turned into a conversation about climate change. I'm always glad to speak with people about this important topic. In my opinion, we should never turn away from these kinds of conversations. Actually, I don't think we should shy away from most any conversation in general. This can be hard though, because we all have biases, and we all have fears. This is one of my major goals in life, is to never be afraid to talk with people about things, especially those that are close to my heart, or that are politically hot subjects. This is a truth in my humble opinion.
Our day ended with a barby of snags and lamb-chops, complimented by some delicious potato wedges that Bob chefed up, all accompanied by a colorful salad of greens, peppers, and carrots. Yummy! I love the meals we are eating here, they are so nutritious and full flavored... I don't think I've eaten this well for years. For this, I am truly grateful. 
When I brought all the food back over to our cabin, this bird was waiting for me. I set my plates down on the stairs to take some pictures. While I snapped photos the little punk was sneaking closer and closer to our food. As soon as the feathered ninja got too close for comfort, I stomped my foot. All this did was to send the bird up onto this branch here. After only a couple of seconds, the sly turd was at it again, jumping down from its perch, trying to be sneaking as it hopped over toward our plates. I said, "Oh no you don't." and then grabbed the plates up. I gotta give it to the smart little bastard though. If I would have looked away for a second, I'm sure one of our snags would have been snagged.
We ate our food at this point, since it hadn't been stolen by a clever raven. Then, it was hearts.
We've been playing a game of hearts every night so far, except for one maybe. I took first place on night one, then second place on night two, and third the following evening. This was an odd one, because I'd predicted that I would achieve third place, I just didn't think this prediction would come to fruition. I was feeling a bit confident in my hearts skills at this point, and it was nice to get first place one more time. Sadly, Matt wasn't able to win one game this whole trip, but he's a trooper and takes things with a smile on his face very time... mostly anyway. Tonight I was hoping to take Matt's position of fourth, but don't think I can honestly claim this title, because we pretty much lost at the exact same time, leaving both of us in third. So, I have gotten first, second, third, first, and then third again... no fourth place for me. I was a little bummed that I couldn't get all positions in relatively good order, but these are the sacrifices one must make in order to be in such an ancient and great landscape with such fun people. As a certain turtley character I know of would say... I'm totally havin an awesome time squirt!!!
After dinner and hearts, Matt and I took a walk down to "Wombat Field", which is just down the road from the visitor center, and has all sorts of critters grazing the grass at night. Our first encounter was this seemingly evil wombat named Larry. He really didn't want his picture taken, but I can understand that, I don't really like mine taken either. Then we saw this mamma and her cute little baby wombat. As a collective, we have dubbed all female wombats Loretta, and all males Larry. Loretta didn't have quite as scary of an expression on her face here.

March 28th
It was a special day today, I finally summited Cradle Mountain. And wow was it a difficult peak to climb. Gabe even admitted it was possibly the most difficult peak he'd every climbed. I know for me it definitely was the most intense climb I'd ever done. Although not the most exhausting or physically challenging, it was the most precarious climb of my life for sure. We basically had to free-climb up rock faces and bolders the size of SUVs, gaining a hundred feet, and only going forward a few meters. When we were hiking up to the trail head, it didn't seem so bad, but by the time we'd finally gotten to the point where the trail headed up the dolerite columns, it became an adventure very quickly.
We were all done with the sampling, so we took today to do some extra-curricular hiking, and there was no way I was going to leave the area without having climbed this auspicious looking peak. It is sacred, I have felt the power of it since I got here, and I've been seeing people going to the trail ever since we first started our lake coring. I would be ashamed to come this far across the surface of the planet, representing my people and the bear crew, then not climb the most famous peak on the island... that would be a highly dishonorable thing for me. I had to rep my peeps!
So, our day started out later than usual, we woke up around 8 AM and ate some eggs mixed with taters and onions, a nice change to the usual yogurt and oats. I like the oats, and I like the yogurt, but man, anything gets old when you eat it every day of the week. Once our bellies were no longer grumbling, we were off for the mountain. Bob had some extra work to get finished, so he only planned on hiking with us to Marion's Lookout, and then was going to hang out at the lodge and use their internet. It was up to Matt, Gabe and I to summit this huge piece of earth that jutted out from the landscape like ancient fingers held together by time and pressure.
After arriving at the Dove Lake carpark, we did some last minute stretches, farted a couple of times, and then were off down the trail... well, up the trail is more accurate here. We decided to cut some klicks off of our journey by heading strait up to Marion's Lookout instead of going around the Wombat Pool way, which did save us about an hour of hiking time, but was quite a bit more taxing on the legs, as we pretty much walked strait up the mountainside. I don't mind though, it was a good preparation walk to get us ready for what was to come.
Once we'd ascended Marion's Lookout, we hung out for a few minutes and took a few pictures, and then were off once again. Bob decided to accompany us a bit further, so he walked with us until we got almost to a place called “Kitchen Creek”, then turned back to go down the mountain. We said farewell and turned our faces to the summit of Cradle Mountain, towering only a kilometer or so in front of us with the clouds around its peak slowly lifting higher into the morning sky.
At this point I think Matt was beginning to feel unsure about climbing such an imposing land feature and told us, “I don't think I'm going to go up with you guys.” To which Gabe replied, “It's ok Matt, if you would like to take it slow, we'd be more than happy to hang out with you on top of this place... in fact, I would love to be with you.” This gave him a little more confidence I think. So, we gave him the lead, and let him set the pace, which was quite good in my opinion. Any faster and we'd be hiking at a substantial speed. I know I'd be breathing hard at least.
We made our way up the side of this ancient dolerite peak and finally found a suitable location for lunch, whenever we decided to have it. At this point Matt felt satisfied with his progress and decided to hang back while Gabe and I continued up the trail. I felt like continuing onward, and thought, “Why not?” So Matt stayed there, Gabe and I continued, and almost immediately we were confronted with a bolder about as tall as either of us. This required a bit of free-climbing on our part, and, being approximately 100 meters from the valley floor, we felt rightly nervous about shimmying along a rock. After this first encounter, we thought the peak must be just over the rise; boy were we wrong. It turned out to be just over several more rises, all of which had precarious rocks to climb over, shimmy under, and tip-toe across. I'm used to the scree slopes of Montana mountains, not these gigantic boulders. I figure it must be because it's composed of dolerite, a very hard substance to erode into small chunks of rock.
As we climbed, we came across several groups of people who had turned around because the trail got too hard for them, and also a few people who'd made it to the top. It turns out, this peak is a popular summit to climb, and we passed by multi-demographic groups of people the entire way. There were everyone from old to young climbing this peak, and we were only two among many on this day. This was a bit motivational and allowed me to think, “This ain't so bad”... and then we made it.

The view was so spectacular from up top. We could see the Tasmanian landscape like never before, peering far into the distance, even with cloudy visibility. I imagined what the place would look like with a kilometer of ice covering all but the peak we were standing on, it's truly awe inspiring stuff. I had taken the tribal flag of the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend Oreille people up to the summit with me, and flew it high as Gabe took some pictures of me, smiling the cheesiest smile I could muster. We spoke with some folks who were also up there eating their lunch, and another man who'd left his wife below for similar reasons Matt had stayed behind. There was this nice plaque at the top that gave directions to many other land features across the island, which was a pretty cool perspective to grasp while elevated above the rest of the landscape. We ate a small snack, and then felt energized enough to make the nervous trek back down the dolerite boulders.
Believe me when I say, the thought of climbing down was much worse than the reality. It wasn't so bad once we'd started, and before I knew it, we were back down to where Matt was supposed to be. It made me a little nervous when we got there and Matt was nowhere to be seen. I immediately wondered if he'd decided to climb the peak behind us and then had gotten lost or something. But, I thought better and knew he'd probably just gotten cold, or decided to just head back to the cabin. I feel this is dangerous decision making though, and inconsiderate. We very well could have thought he was lost and went searching for him. If it weren't for a woman who'd seen him go down, I would have been worried. She informed us that he had climbed down the mountain because he'd gotten chilled, or something along those lines. We found out later that he'd actually climbed down to Wilks Lake and taken an alternate route back to the car park. I still think it's a bad way to hike, you should always make a plan, and follow it. If the plan changes, be sure your hiking buddies know what's going on. Since we knew he was OK, our worries subsided and we were able to enjoy the landscape without going on a wild-goose chase.
We made it down from the heights of Cradle Mountain and then decided, after we felt sufficiently safe, to have our well needed lunch. Gabe and I sat against a rock next to some Richea scoparium and ate our peanut butter sandwiches, conversating about graduate school, and personal philosophies. I spoke of my feelings about having grown up in 'two worlds', being raised traditionally, but with a scientifically inclined mother to teach me how the spirit world intertwines with the tangible, measurable world of scientific observation. Gabe then said to me that I'm lucky to have been raised in such a way, but not only that, being raised in two worlds and retaining my sanity. I have similar feelings. I am very fortunate to have experienced life as I have, and still be relatively sane about it. I once heard that "You should be open minded, but not so much as to let your brain fall out onto the floor." I feel like this isn't necessarily true. You should let it be so open that your brain falls out, but then pick it up and put it back into your head. Then, and only then, will you know what it's like to lose your mind, and then be able to find it again.
Our lunch adequately masticated, minds well tuned in philosophical inquiry, and legs sore, we were ready to walk back out to the car park. We made our way back up to Marion's Lookout, took a quick peek around to see if Matt was waiting... he wasn't. The way back took us a bit longer than the way up, but only because we decided to go around Wombat Pool, which is a wonderful little pond that holds a special place in my heart. We skirted this nice little bit of H2O and then down the “stairmaster”, around Lake Lilla, then we were back at Dove Lake car park, having gone full-circle around one of the most profound geographic locations of my life.
We looked around some more to make sure Matt wasn't waiting for us. Once we'd determined he wasn't, we waited for the bus to bring us down to the visitor centre (had to spell it that way, Tassie). On the way down, we overheard a very interesting conversation between the bus driver and an amateur botanist from New Zealand. She felt her experience had been ruined by hearing a helicopter overhead, and by seeing tissue along the trail, commenting that there shouldn't be habitation, or people at all for that matter, in any reserve or national park/wilderness area. The bus driver disagreed, saying that all ecosystems have had human habitation for thousands of years, and that nothing is really “wild”. I agree with this and feel that the only way people truly appreciate things is to experience them first hand.
It was nice to hear a spirited conversation between the bus driver and a passenger. I'm used to people in any kind of service industry basically being lapdogs and never having opinions until they go home, which is lame and not constructive at all in my opinion. I found it kind of funny though, because the woman complaining about having “too much civilization” in the park, but at the same time she was riding a bus out from the trail head. This, to me, is extremely ironic, and puts a crux in her entire argument. I feel like we should be more intertwined with nature, as apposed to being segregated from it as we are now. Instead of 'wilderness areas', we should have our cities be composed entirely of living matter. From the streets to the lights above our heads, we should be interacting with plants and animals on a daily basis. What we have now, with city parks and concrete enclosed trees, is only a facade of what nature truly is... a web of life. Once we can reintroduce this web into the fabric of our societies, many problems we are facing today will simply solve themselves, because we will change, our hearts will change, and more importantly, our actions will change in light of a new way of being. I don't know, maybe I'm just a dreamer, but I'm definitely not the only one. Hmmm, that sounds familiar for some reason I won't mention here.
After this highly intriguing bus ride, Gabe and I stepped off at the visitor center, smiles curling strong and minds a-racin. We spoke about this subject all the way back to the cabin. He asked me what I thought about it, and I gave him my PC sustainability answer, and then let him have his say. His opinion reflected mine, in that we shouldn't segregate nature from certain groups of people, or people at all. The only way for people to care, or feel in-touch with nature is to experience it themselves.
At this point we had arrived at the cabin and confirmed Matt was indeed still alive, and about to go on the “Enchanted Walk” to take some pictures and see what all the fuss was about. Bob drove him down there and then came back, and this is where things get very interesting. Our conversations had led, inexorably, toward the concept of sustainable indigenous cultures, and the myth of the 'noble savage'. It was a bit of a challenge to explain to these highly educated scientists the concept of 'medicine men' and their connection to the spirit world and the energy that permeates all of existence. These things are not measurable by western scientific methods. One cannot simply make an observation, form a hypothesis, develop experiments/tests, and then conclude whether it was correct or false. The intangible realm of alternate dimensions is only being scratched at the surface right now with such fields as Quantum Physics and String Theory. But, as I am recognizing more and more as I grow older, science is yearning and reaching ever more for this way of seeing reality... it's just taking a while. In the end, I was unable to convince them entirely that my ancestors lived completely sustainable lives, and would have indefinitely, had they not been wiped out by guns, germs, and people with no moral sense. I was, however, able to clear up the huge misconception that all indigenous American cultures are the same, because they are not. Not all tribes lived sustainable lives, and not all tribes were connected to the land as the Blackfoot people were. It was a good conversation and I feel like I definitely cleared up the major issue that was on the table, the issue of whether or not any tribe or people could live fully sustainable. By showing that many people think in many different ways, I think I presented a strong argument that not all is as it seems, and we need to look at history with open eyes, and be extremely careful not to paint with broad strokes when talking about different peoples... or maybe I just made a complete fool out of myself. I don't think so.
I think that is about all the truly exciting things that happened today. We went to the lodge for dinner, had some great burgers and pizza, played our customary game of hearts, discovered an engorged leech on the floor, and then went to bed. Although these things are great and interesting, I feel like this journal entry is getting a bit long, so I'll go ahead and end it here.
March 29th
We departed from Cradle Mountain once more, and perhaps for the last time in our lives. I hope this won't be the last time for me though, as I plan to come back some day. Maybe for research, maybe for myself, or maybe to find something I don't know I should be looking for until I decide to go looking for it. I truly don't know right now, all I do know is that I will be back again.
The plan for today was to leave nice and early, that way we could be back in Hobart with plenty of time for Bob to do a bit of shopping for his family. So, we woke up bright and early, munched down some yogurty oats (or oaty yogurt) and then hit the road. We were off by about five minutes till eight in the morning, which was nice for me, because I wanted to check one last time if they had a size of fleece jacket that would fit me. I really wanted something that had the Cradle Mountain logo on it, and not something hokey either, it had to be something that I would use. Welp, I had to compromise and get a scarf and a ball cap, because they did not have the size I needed. Oh well though, I might get another chance before I leave. Maybe when we go to the Vale of Belvior I'll be able to swing by and pick something up, but that's a big maybe.
After Bob had to come in and wrangle me out of the visitor centre, we were finally on our way for real. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining high today. A dense fog had settled over the landscape and made it that much more gorgeous of a scene as we drove through the early morning air. Then, only five or so minutes down the road, Gabe stopped the car and said, “Are you ready Loga?!” backing up as he asked.
I replied, “Ready for what?” as the car passed a unique sign that I'd been wanting a picture of since I first saw it.
The visual of a kangaroo lifting the front end of a car greeted my eager eyes as I unloaded my camera from its case. I fumbled and hurriedly lifted it out and rushed to take a picture because there was a car right behind us, and I didn't want to upset anyone without getting a proper picture out of it. I was able to snap a shot, but it may not be the best I could have gotten. Although it will do, I feel like I could have done better. Perhaps I may get another chance before we leave Tasmania.
After this long sought after photo, we continued down the road, and made the long drive back to Hobart in only four hours. We were, by the way, cruising quite fast though, and didn't stop for anything accept a coffee break and one stop for gas. This seemingly cut about two hours off of our journey, and allowed us to be in Hobart before one pm. Bob was pleased, and we quickly checked into the Central City Backpacker, our home away from home for the next month... or so I thought (more on that later).
This is where we stopped for coffee
Bob left so he could check into his hotel and then do some shopping, while we took a stroll down to Salamanca to get some lunch, which turned out to be some delicious Vietnamese food. I was pleased with the flavor and it seemed Matt and Gabe were as well. Gabe's dish was especially spicy and when he offered me a taste of one of the peppers that graced his soup, I couldn't turn him down. I chewed it up nicely and then swallowed the red plant. Soon following this, my lips began to burn, followed by a painful stinging on the tip of my tongue. I did not expect the pepper to be so hot, and so chewed it up much more than I should have. It was nice though, got my sinuses cleared and opened my eyes for the rest of the afternoon.
We finished our lunch and then headed back to the Central City Backpacker to await Bob and our evening of fine dining in North Hobart. Gabe had a nice little Indian restaurant in mind, and neither of us was going to refuse some more curry. I took a nap for about an hour and half after organizing my belongings in as neat a fashion as I could think of at the time. It was peaceful and allowed me to re-energize myself after the taxing pepper I'd eaten earlier. I'm sure Gabe would have liked a nap as well, as he'd eaten much more of the pepper than I had. By the time I was wanting to wake up, it was time to meet Bob down on the street.
Matt, Gabe and I gathered at the reception desk and then walked down to meet up with Bob, who was waiting quite punctually in front of the hostel. We drove to North Hobart, and after a few U-turns and alley-ways we found a proper parking location. I'd have to say that this curry we had tonight was the best so far. I mean, what we had before was good, but this kind of blew everything we'd eaten before right out of the water.
Our trip back to the Backpacker wasn't quite as nice as the first, because afterward we said our farewells to Bob and then had to watch him drive away. He lives close enough to the Flathead, so I doubt it will be the last time we see each other. I'm always a little sad to see people go though, but it's always nice to meet new people as old friends depart. This is about when things become quite interesting for me, and would determine our activities for the next day.
I went back up to my room, began organizing my things a bit more, opened the desk drawer to put a few things inside, and a gross artifact of addicted life wobbled back and forth along the bottom of the wooden compartment in front of me. At first I didn't know what to think of this, but after picking it up and taking a closer look, I knew what I held in my hand. It was a spoon, bent at the neck and blackened on the underside. It held within its silvery grasp a shriveled cigarette butt and some white residue of a drug I don't even want to guess at. My first thought was, So where's the needle?
My mind raced over the possibilities as I clasped the disgusting spoon between my thumb and index finger, wondering if there was a dirty needle protruding from the floor somewhere, or hidden between the sheets of my bed. I couldn't help but shiver a bit at the thought of contracting some kind of STD from a used hypodermic needle that someone had lazily not thrown away. The Central City Backpacker had seemed only slightly shady when we arrived and saw the state of the building, but now it seemed like a cesspool of drug use and undesirables. This is about when Gabe arrived to see how things were going. He didn't have to ask much more after I showed him the spoon, which I, regrettably, let him pick up with his bare hands. I gave him a bit of hand-sanitizer afterward, but I felt bad in not warning him of what he was grabbing, and even allowing him to take if from me in the first place. My next action was to throw the spoon into the rubbish bin and clean my hands. I then walked down to the reception desk and informed them of what I'd just found. They found it gross as well, and assured me that things like this had never happened before. It may be my cynical nature, but I doubt that this was the first incident of drug paraphernalia being found. Either way, we immediately began looking at prospects for different lodging, especially since Matt and I were going to need a place to stay for a whole month. I don't think either of us wanted to stay at this place any longer than necessary.
Once I'd laughed away the thought of a hypodermic needle penetrating my skin, Gabe and I decided to play a game of chess. I won the first and he the second, but both games were very close, and I'm looking forward to playing again. It's not often I find a challenge when playing this game, so I'm definitely going to have to play him again before he leaves. We chatted a bit and then realized it was our bedtime, so went to our rooms.
I inspected my carpet, sheets, blanket, mattress, and pillow for any sign of a shinny needle that might jab me in the night. With flashlight in hand, I bent across the floor to make sure there were no dangers lurking under the bed. To my relief, I didn't find a thing, which allowed me to sleep through the night, but I knew we were going to have to find different accommodations before we got settled in any more. After a thorough inspection I was ready for bed, and so watched a little bit of a movie on my computer and then crashed out, to dream about love and loss, peace and war... you know, the good stuff.

And with that, I'm now at the end of this blog entry, and a long ass one to boot. I will be sure to post the remainder of my journeys here in Tassie in due time, but probably in a much more condensed form, as it will be about a month's worth of stuff to talk about. So, I will most likely skip days here an there. Take care--whoever reads this--and live life well.