Sunday, 18 March 2012

My Little "Vacation" (March 11th through the 19th) - BIG POST

March 11th
We're done with the coring, and had a day to kind of just sit around and do whatever we need to. I decided to use today to do some laundry and get some writing done. I also did my first Tam-Slam today, and may I say, it was fabulous! First, you bite off opposite corners of the Tim-Tam, then you place the crunchy little bar into a hot liquid, usually coffee. As you suck through the little pockets of air inside the cookie/biscuit, the chocolate instantly liquifies in your mouth as you get a small spurt of coffee (or whatever suits you), then you immediately munch down the Tim Tam like you would take a shot of warm whiskey. I'd been hearing all about this great tradition, and had to try it for myself. So, here is a picture of the sucking portion of my epic slam.

The Tassie-half of our crew left today, and this made me feel pretty bummed out. I almost felt like I was going to cry a little, but this was easily overcome with a little music and some singing on my part. Matt and I just hung around the cabin and listened to music, talked about our experiences, and went over what we'd done, philosophizing about our time here at Cradle Mountain. It was nice.
Jay came by this morning and wished us farewell. I hadn't realized how much I'd grown to like this woman, and will truly miss our conversations together. I'm sure we'll see each other again some day, but when, I don't know. Simon also had to leave today, and I'm definitely going to miss this guy. He's so calm and polite, it's hard not to like him. I don't think there's one person on this crew that I won't miss when they leave. I'm probably gonna have a nervous breakdown when Cathy and Bob leave... no, probably not, but I'm sure it will be equally as hard. I'm such a wuss when it comes to departing company, especially such great people as the ones I've been honored to meet on this portion of our trip.
Aside from my brief stint of depression, I was able to get some good reading done while I waited for my laundry to launder. I've been reading this book by Tim Flannery called “Future Eaters”. I find it extremely fascinating that he is able to piece together the disparate pieces of evidence and create a picture of this landscape from over twenty thousand years ago. The time scales presented in this book are staggering, to say the least. I've always known indigenous peoples to be an integral part of any ecosystem in which they live, but I'd never seen the aboriginal people of Australia in such a light before. It's been a truly eye opening piece of writing, and I plan to read more of this man's books. Whether the others are as good will only be determined in time, as I read them. But, of course, I'm quite biased in these matters. I've heard people's opinions about them, many people use the word "controversial", but I always have to find out for myself.
There wasn't much going on today aside from that. So, I guess I'll end it here.

March 12th
I look like I've been partying or something unsavory of that sort
Although our coring mission is done for the moment, our adventures have just begun. We finished up the first phase of coring at Cradle Mountain, but we've been site seeing around Tasmania for the past few days, and might I say, we have seen some beautifully spectacular and profound things on our journeys. I decided to include it all in one gigantic blog entry, because I didn't really want to think of this as separate incidents, but as a whole that should be looked at as a series of interconnected moments.

We started our adventure by leaving Cradle Mountain and heading in a northwesterly direction. We made our way through some patchworks of forest and button grass (turned out to be a place Matt and I will be studying for the Tasmanian Land Conservancy), and after a couple of hours or less we made it to this great place called “Hellyer Gorge”. This place was amazing. This was where I learned the name of the local tree ferns, which grow to enormous size if the conditions are optimal. The fern is called Dicksonia antarctica, and is a fine specimen of a plant. I took several pictures of these and a few others of the river bed itself, which was composed almost entirely of bedrock in certain places. Matt found this especially interesting, fittingly, because he has been studying river mechanics for some years now.

While down in this gorge, I came across this sky scraping canopy of Eucalyptus (can't remember the species) and a delicious invasive we call "Blackberry" back in the States. Sad it's introduced eh, but still delicious. Later I saw some more Tassie/Ausie lingo I just had to take a picture of. I always thought a trolley was a small train you rode on to make your way across the steeply inclined streets and avenues (probably just streets... shows my lack of experience in US cities) of San Francisco. I might be wrong in this, will have to look up the definition later I guess.

Matt Weingart and Sister Beach
Pretty Asteraceae
Our next stop was “Sister Beach”. Here, we stopped for lunch and a little site seeing along the sandy walkway. I ran into some very cool creatures here. One of which was this nice flower to the right, which I'm thinking is a variation of Dandelion based off of the stamens and configuration of petals to peduncles. I'm a bit behind in my botanical terminology right now. I haven't been practicing this vital group of words for about a year now... but hey, I'm practicing now right? After a quick walk, we ate our lunch and observed a local carnivorous insect at work, chewing away at a chunk of cheese I accidentally dropped while preparing my cheese block for devouring.

Right after this, we had the privilege, nay, the honor, of seeing another echidna. It immediately tucked its head under a root, as if we couldn't see it if it couldn't see us... yeah, I used to play the same game. Then, all of a sudden, it turned and charged me like a wild beast! No, not really, it just waddled in my direction until it realized I was blocking its path, then veered off another direction, heading for the safety of a bush a few meters away.

This is about when I saw my first Kookaburra, those iconic birds used as monkey sounds in those old-school jungle movies. You know the sound, and I quote, "ooh, ooh, ah ah ah ah, eee eee eee, ah ah ah!!!" 
Fortuitously, we were also in the only area of the world in which the endemic Banksia serrata grows. This species of Banksia (only two in Tassie) only exists naturally along the northeastern coast, and on an island just off the north coast. Here's a cool picture of the cone, opened like clams. Man, are those thick! Too bad they didn't behold any seeds, that would've been cool.
Throughout our journey on this day we drove by many Eucalyptus plantations, and this made me think of some lyrics about how we can determine the absence of natural forests when you see trees growing in rows. I'll probably work on those later, revisiting this grim thought on another day.

Our next stop was another exquisite beach I cannot remember the name of. This was a special place, at which I was reminded that it happened to be my birthday here in Tassie, but it wouldn't be so in Montana until the next day... weird. I made the subconscious decision to enjoy myself, and take many pictures of this beautiful place. We found sea shells and dead squid skeletons; crab arms and petrified wombat poo (probably just a squared off rock)... and we found ourselves. We saw the beauty of this landscape, and I think each one of us, in our own way, found the wondrously great beauty in ourselves... I know I did.

We made the short walk up to an aboriginal cave that brought many-a-tourist to the area, searching for history lessons and anecdotal knowledge of the ancient peoples that inhabited this area in times passed. There was a plaque and a staircase, all leading to my own personal realization that we are all aboriginal... just at different times, in different ways, with different hearts. We are all newcomers to ancient lands.
Since it happened to be my birthday on this day, I had a feeling and acted surprised when I was greeted with a chocolate cake, full of candles, when we got back to our dwelling for the night. But, this was after we'd eaten some of the freshest seafood ever. At a place called “The Nut”, which overlooked the nice seaside town of Stanley, we located a nice little restaurant that proved us this bounty of marine creatures. I've never had fresh oysters before, and may I say, they were delightful. It was actually kind of a funny adventure. When we got to Stanley, we struggled to find a place to eat at first. But when we did, we went in the wrong way apparently, and was greeted by one of the locals. I could tell he was quite drunk, as he'd come right up to the van and attempted to open the door before his friend pulled him back and told him to leave us alone. I got out without hesitation and stepped down onto the sidewalk in front of him. He asked where we were from and we all kind of replied, “America” or “the US”, differing from one person to the next. I guess his friend warned him, after we'd walked passed, that he was lucky one of us didn't “put his nose through his skull”, which made me laugh a bit, as I'm generally a pretty gentle person. He must have been talking about Matt, he's the tough looking one of our bunch.
After our dining festivities we retired to the dwelling I spoke of before. It was a little place named “Crayfish Creek”, and reminded Laurie of a southern bayou town. I thought this was funny, as it reminded me of an old grandma's house on the rez. It smelled of mold and was too short for either Matt or I to walk straight up in. These correlations between seemingly disparate experiences blow my mind, and make me think about how truly connected we all are.
March 13th
The next morning we awoke to our normal yogurt and oats, and boy do I like it when full of fruit. With a couple scoops of peanut butter added on the side... delicious. Although the place was a bit old fashioned, I think we all had a good night of sleep, because we all seemed to be in relatively high spirits on this morning. I quite enjoyed the rustic nature of this place, I should have taken some pictures. Oh well, I'm sure by now who ever is reading this is getting about sick and tired of the overly abundantly profuse posts I've been doing. Anyway, just before we left we were able to get a few throws of the Frisbee in, and did a little trampoline jumping, which is always fun.
Once we'd packed and were ready to depart, we all said goodbye to Crayfish Creek. Our destination was the eastern coast today, and from the way it looked on the map, we were in for quite a road trip before we got there. We drove through Somerset, Bernie, and then stopped for a while in a town called Devonport. This is where I was able to get some more in-depth history of the aboriginal peoples of Tasmania. We stopped at a museum and got a walk through of the place by a man who descended from some of the last indigenous people of the island. The tour started with some history on fire-making and some of the plants and animals the people utilized. We then moved into an area that had some cave drawings and talked about the tools they used to either fish or hunt on the land. Once we'd taken the corner to the other side of the room though, my feelings took on a much more somber reality. We approached a painting that depicted the tragedy of the European contact that occurred with these people. My heart could barely take it and I had to leave a little earlier than the rest of our group. But, as any good person should do, I swallowed my tears and went back in to learn the harsh history of a people who'd also been subjugated by another people, as my ancestors have and my people are still today. But, I feel like the Tasmanians were treated much harsher than mine in some ways.
After this tour, we went outside and walked along the edge of the grassy area, looking out into the deep blue of the ocean, and wondering about the people that had occupied this land for such a long time. These people only recently disappeared as a culture, with little fragments of their memory remaining... man, I'm feeling sad all over again. Like I eluded to earlier, this kind of thing is so close to my heart. Not three generations ago, my people went through the similar atrocities, and it hurts to remember that kind of pain. It hurts to write about it.
On a lighter note, Matt and I found a new--to us--species of spider that uses leaves as burrows above the ground. It places them at the center of its web and then hangs out inside of them like a little house. We've been calling them “trichopteran spiders”, which is a gross misrepresentation of their taxonomy, but at least their both Arthropods. We kind of made a big loop-around and then ended up back at the carpark, ready for some lunch. Neither of us really wanted to stay here for lunch though, so we continued our road trip.
We stopped a bit later at a berry farm to have some ice cream, but first we had some lunch by the side of a pond. Across the pond there were many greenhouses, which I suspect were used to grow the berries, as I've been told that raspberries are difficult to grow in this environment. After we finished our lunch of bread, cheese, thins/crisps/chips, and carrots we all got up to go inside for some ice cream. Bob had zonked out, so we let him rest while the rest of us went in to indulge our creamy desires. That sounds weird... we went and got some desert. After we'd thoroughly enjoyed this cold treat, we got back on the road, destination: St. Helens and the Bay of Fires.
Before we got to St. Helens though, we stopped at a nice little town called St Marys for some tea and coffee. While the others went to get some refreshments, I stopped at a payphone and gave my mom a call. I won't go into the details of this conversation, but I will say that it was very nice to hear her voice and know that my family is doing well in my absence. I worry about them sometimes, and I'm glad they are OK... I'm glad I'm OK too for that matter.
I hung up the phone and then found my “research family”, as we so dubbed ourselves, down at the local tea shop. I ordered some rose-hip tea with honey and cinnamon, the rest had some coffee, except for Bob, he had tea as well. We sat around, talked a while and enjoyed our tea, then were off to St Helens.
Once we'd arrived in St. Helens, we found out we were staying in a pretty nice place I called a "luxury unit", and that there was a huge bouncy-pillow to jump on. It was some kind of crazy trampoline, but without the springs and circular bar that facilitated broken bones and sore groins. I liked this contraption much more than the standard tramp. Although none of us used it right away, we all wanted to. I know that somewhere deep inside of us, our inner kangaroo was calling for us to hop around where ever we could. Instead though, we went to the Bay of Fires. I think this may have been the most beautiful scene of the entire trip, so far. The white sandy beach was absolutely gorgeous and the round, smooth rocks were great fun to leap around on. I got some really good pictures here and was able to make my very first 'sand angel'. I'm used to making snow angels, but this was a whole new experience for me, and left me with a crack full of sand. I almost wanted to go swimming after this, but the thought of fully sand-salty skin was enough of a motivation not to jump in the lapping waves of the ocean.
I'll go ahead and shut up for a moment and let the pictures do the talking... here is a fraction of what we experienced at this wonderful place called The Bay of Fires.

Where, on the beach, is, walking Laurie Stahle?

The Bay of Fires, Tasmania
When we were done running through the sand and smelling the foamy ocean breeze, we headed back to our luxurious little dwelling. This is when the pillow bouncing commenced in earnest. Laurie, Matt and I went out and had a gay old time bounding across the huge inflated pillow. I found out that Matt is quite good at flips and such. My knee was still sore, so I refrained from any crazy maneuvers, and only did front flips. I didn't even land one though; mainly, I think, because I was hesitant to put much weight on my left knee, so never quite stuck the landing as I should have. Oh well, it was a blast, even without landing any flips. Although I got a nice rug burn and Matt tweaked his knee, we all loved this and I know Matt would agree when I say, the injuries were well worth the bouncy splendor.
To finish off our wonderful day, Bob made another one of his gourmet meals. I have to say, he is one damn fine cook. I'm gonna miss his chefery when he leaves, and I will miss Cathy's jokes, and Laurie's happy-go-luckiness. All three are a joy to be around.

March 14th
Today we went to the Douglas-Apsley National Park, which turned into a great adventure of rock jumping and dry sclerophyll forests. When we got to the park I noticed there were Eucalyptus plantations skirting the road, which I thought was a little strange for a National Park.
Skink Face Off, the smaller guy won
Look-a-those fuel loads!
It was a hot day, so we all put plenty of sun screen on and drank a big glass of concrete, then were on our way. The first thing Matt and I noticed were the vast amounts of understory fuels being accumulated along the trail. You could have dropped a match and lit the whole place ablaze if you felt like it, but our non-pyro side won out over the desire to burn things down, and we decided to not throw the match. We came to a river-crossing and I found my first big spider of the trip. I took some macro-photos of the beast, extremely close up, and then wondered if it was even alive. I thought it was dead, and then Matt threw a little bit of water on it. It moved, but I just thought it was the water moving it. So, I took another extremely close-up shot and then decided to use my advanced brain to find a suitable tool for testing our deceased hypothesis. Once I'd found an adequately short stick I poked at the large spider and found out it was, in fact, still quite alive. It quickly moved two of its eight legs and braced itself on the rock. It must have been sunning itself and was still a little too cold to attack us, because it didn't seem to mind my prodding. I wasn't brave enough to take anymore pictures, so we continued up the trail.

Look at that stinger!
We hiked up a ridge that was littered with fallen trees and fire-scarred snags, and then down into the canyon where the river was flowing. We got there, ate lunch, took a few token pictures, and then discussed whether we should go down the river itself or just go back up the trail. We decided, wisely I might add, that we should go down the river-way. I got a whole collection of good photographs on this trip and had some great fun jumping from rock to rock. There were so many good swimming holes, but I think this place was the water supply for the local town, so we didn't swim, but only in consideration of the peoples drinking water. I also didn't want to pollute their hydro source with my stink usi (Blackfoot for butt). What's the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words? Well, here you are... 10000+ words.

We saw some awesome rock formations and it took us about two hours to finally get back down, the heating making the time stretch out even longer, but we finally made it out after some beautiful river scenes and sultry forehead accumulation. Well, I got sweaty anyway, didn't notice how soaked the others were.
I think we were all a little beat after this, so we went into Bicheno and got some local sausages, which turned out a little disappointing. They were full of fat and kind of exploded a bit when Bob cooked them. The meal was excellent, but the sausage, being locally procured, was not of the high quality we were expecting. At least our house was really nice tonight... I think it was a true luxury unit, as apposed to the one I spoke of last night.

March 15th
Today was our last day before getting back to Hobart, and by God we were gonna make it a good one. We were at the edge of one of the more famous national parks called "Freycinet National Park". This one has the well known Wineglass Bay, which was our first destination. But, it was raining, so our hopes were a little dashed on seeing a good view. It wasn't pouring rain, but the sky was full of low-hanging clouds, so it made the visibility a little poorer than what we'd become accustomed to over the passed few days.
When we got to the carpark for Freycinet, there was a cute little wallaby there to greet us. It was obviously accustomed to being fed by the tourists that passed through, because it had no fear of us and came directly up to our legs and gave us the most unmistakable puppy dog eyes I'd ever seen. I know, puppy dog eyes on a wallaby? I couldn't really think of anything that would fit a marsupial though. I thought of doe eyes, baby eyes, wide eyes, and all sorts of other non-descriptive descriptions, but puppy dog seemed to fit the best... although they are a bit like deer I guess.

I felt bad for this habituated marsupial with the puppy eyes, so I left her to be fed by the other tourists, which is deeply frowned upon by the locals, because it gives them a disease in their mouths that eventually leads to death. NO FEEDING THE WILDLIFE! We made our way up the nicely maintained trail, by a really cool broken rock overhang, and then over a small saddle, down into wine glass bay and out onto the beach. This cool rock we passed on the way up looked as if it had been chipped out by some mysterious processes (people with hammers maybe). When we arrived at Wineglass Bay it was truly magnificent, the beach was so beautiful, and we saw these interestingly small jellyfish. They were actually kind of cute, but they were dead though. Their coloration was vividly purple and see-through, which is always cool to look at when on a living organism.

There were a lot of people on this part of the beach, so we decided to continue down the trail and have lunch on the other side of the peninsula. We walked along the boardwalk, which was kind of a nice change to the Tassie trails we'd been hiking on most of the time. Once we'd stepped back onto the earth though, we came across this laboring beetle, who was intently pushing a piece of dung across the trail. We all stopped and marveled at this little pooper-scoopin insect, and I took some video footage. I think he noticed that he had an audience, because he quickly halted his pushing and faced us. He looked frustrated, as if to say, “What are YOU looking at? Move along people!” So we did.
A short time after passing by the shit-pushin beetle, we made it to Oyster Bay, and boy was that a serene scene. On the way here we came across the aptly named Oyster Bay Pine (Callitris rhomboidea), which actually isn't a pine at all. We also saw some more of those trichopteran-like spiders I spoke of before. They are quite the creative architects, using a folded over leaf to hang out in while they await their nimble prey. It disguises them very effectively, because I hadn't noticed I was surrounded by them until one was in my face. Anyway, Oyster Bay. This is where we sat down for our last lunch on the trail together. It was calm, and there were pretty sea shells down by the sea shore, of which I collected some to bring home to my nieces. I collected the purple ones, since that seemed to be the most brilliant color among these colors. There were also these really amazingly colored snails as well, they were orange, yellowish and red, striped like rings in a tree, but not circular. They appeared to still be alive, so we tossed them back into the water. Not sure if that was what they wanted, but we did it anyway.
While we ate lunch I noticed this wonderful rock that had been eroded into a gnome guy with a huge nose and floppy ears. Maybe it was just me, but I could definitely see some gnomey features on this rock.

After lunch, we only had the hike back to do, and this is where things get a little creepy. We ascended the beach, and back up into the forest, a Sleepy Hallow kind of place that made me think a man would randomly appear to throw a flaming pumpkin at me at any moment. But to my disappointment, there was no flaming pumpkin, and no hooves to hear. It didn't take long after this to get back to the carpark, and we were off, back to Hobart for the weekend.

March 16th
Our first day back in Hobart, woohoo! We started off by going over to the University of Tasmania (UTAS for short) to wrap up our cores so we could send them off to the US. They needed some extra wrapping so they didn't leak their muddy juiciness all over the plane on the way back. We met up with Scott there and he gave us a brief tour of the facility, which was nestled nicely upon the side of the hills that surround Hobart. Their lab had an excellent view of the brackish bay that split the city in two. I enjoyed this part, it was a nice change to go stand around in a lab for a bit. Matt and I had the task of wrapping the cores in saran-wrap after properly cleaning the half-tubes of PVC, then Laurie would relabel them and twirl some tape around both ends, then we wrapped even more saran around the tubes in threes and twos, which then were packed into a big snowboard bag. It was repetitive and inside a building, but quite nice if you asked me.
After about two hours of this, we finally got to meet David Bowman, who we'd been quoting for the last two weeks (“You can die out here!” and “Their having the time of their lives, and they don't even know it yet.”). We all went up the hill to a nice little cafeteria located on campus, had some conversations about the area and previously published literature. It was interesting to see how Bowman spoke and his attitude about certain things. I could tell he was highly knowledgeable of previous research and knew the Tasmanian landscape very well. He definitely lived up to his reputation, but not quite the one I had formed in my mind's eye... I've been told he can be quite the character when he gets going.
Our bellies were full, so we headed back down to the lab. Laurie and Scott drove to the airport to send off our precious cores, Cathy stayed at UTAS to chat with Bowman, and Matt and I went back to the apartments to do some less interesting stuff. I had to do laundry, as did Matt. We both did some writing and then both took a little nap after our cloths had finished drying. Cathy came back and after a while woke us up so we could go enjoy some cheap beer and live music. It was kind of like funky-jazz type of music. Although not my first selection when jammin, it was nice to hear some live tunes, and the cheap beer was welcome after spending twenty dollars on a six-pack for the last week or so. The math doesn't really add up here, but cheap beer is cheap beer.
Once we'd thoroughly enjoyed the music and the bear ran out, we all walked down the way to eat some fish and chips at a place right on the pier. This was by far the best fish and chips I'd ever eaten. The seafood in this country is absolutely spectacular, and we even got to eat some more fresh oysters, which were even better than the last time. I hear there's a place close to the airport that has even better ones still. This can't be true though, because I don't see how things could realistically get any better than what we've already had. But, I've been wrong before and will most likely be wrong many times more. We were all full and half buzzed, so we walked home and crashed hard, stomachs full of salty potatoes and meat from the ocean. It was a nice evening, and I'm sure there will be many more like it before we leave.
This was the end of my "mini-vacation", but I'm sure it doesn't seem so mini to those of you who've read up to this point. The rest of the weekend consisted of more delicious food, some shopping on the town, jammin QED material, and then meeting the next crew we will be working with. This crew is from the Firelab in Missoula, Montana. I believe they work for the Forest Service. I will do another long ass post--probably not as long as this one--about our experience with them in a few days. Over and Out!

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