Monday, 9 April 2012

Longpoint Reserve - April 7th, 8th, and 9th 2012

Long Point Lagoon
April 7th
After our first week of working with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, we were given the opportunity to volunteer our time toward the construction of a "sheep fence" out at the their Long Point Reserve. This reserve is a beautiful wetland of high significance to anyone seeking to protect biological diversity, harboring important species of shore birds like the eastern curlew, which makes its way all the way from Siberia every year on its migratory journey.

We were off for a weekend filled with pounding fencing staples, rolling and unrolling wire, digging post holes, and twisting wires into cute little bow-tie-like pieces of wire to hold the long strands of metal against the posts strewn across the bottleneck at the entrance to this salty marsh environment. Whew, now that was almost a run-on.
Beautiful waves of grass
A man by the name of Tim picked us up at 7:45ish and we drove strait out to Long Point. It's basically a small peninsula that houses some very important wetlands, grasslands, and some very beautiful sand dune structures that support a wide variety of trees on their slopes. We only stopped once to refuel and pick up a few groceries that we all needed.

After about two hours of driving we arrived at the house in which we'd be staying over Easter weekend. It was a quaint little cottage, with a nice little dining room, surrounded by two bedrooms and a kitchen, complete with flower drapery and a 70s style refrigerator. We didn't stay here long though, as we had to get on the front lines to get the fence line lined up. So all we did was drop our gear off and find each of us a pair of gum (I usually called them 'muck) boots to wear, in case we had to traipse through any bogs while we constructed this barrier for sheep. From what I've been told, there are a lot of sheep in the area that need to be kept out of the reserve, which boarders a rancher's land. When looking at aerial photos of the area, and there is a clear boundary between the two landscapes. On the reserve side of the fence you can see lush vegetation, and the other side shows clearly the effects of sheep upon the landscape. On the rancher's land there was obvious erosion and the vegetation was much browner than that of the reserve, a place that hadn't been grazed for many years by this point.
Much rougher than it looks
 We drove across a fairly rough road to get down to the reserve from our cottage. It only took about twenty minutes to reach the fence-building location, and we immediately got to work once we got there. Our first task was to go along the old fence and pull out all the fencing staples, and unwrap all the bow-tie wires I spoke of earlier. This would release the old fencing wire from the posts so we could then roll it up to be recycled. This took about an hour and half of strait-up working to get done. It wasn't hard, just tedious and somewhat mind-numbing. I had a good time rolling the wire though. It gave my arms quite the workout after it got heavy enough. During this rolling process though, Matt got stabbed quite fiercely by a jagged end of a wire that resembled a rusty prison shank of some sort. He immediately cried out and asked about tetanus. I let him know that he should be fine as long as he'd gotten a shot within about the last seven to ten years or so, then informed him of the possible side effects if he should contract the painful bacterium induced condition. He wasn't enthused about this information, and consoled in me that he hoped his shot from six or so years ago would suffice in keeping him healthy. I told him he should be alright, but to keep an eye on his wound should it get infected.

Meditating after pulling the wire out 500 meters
Once we'd rolled the wire up we were ready to 'walk out' the new line. I got the honor of pulling out the first strand of wire, which turned into a somewhat hard task after I'd pulled out about three hundred meters of it, still having two hundred or more to go. I didn't think it would be so hard to pull, but my critical thinking rationalized that it was a lot of weight after a certain point. It wasn't difficult, just a little challenging for my thumbs... I think I was doing it the hardest way I could though. When I finally reached the post at the other end (only a third of the way down the entirety of the fence line), I had an even greater honor of actually tying the line off, which the professional fencer John showed me how to do just before I walked off with the end of the thick steel string.
Now that we had the first line pulled out, tied and tightened, we were ready to bow-tie them to the fence posts. This task was given to several of us, so as to complete it faster. As we went along and tied these posts to the wire line I'd drawn out, Matt continued to pull out more line, finishing three strands by himself before someone else took over. With the rest of us using the little bent segments of wire to tie the line to the fence posts, we were done tying three lines before we were finished for the day, just after sunset. We got to see a truly profound moonrise, one that I will forever remember in awe. I don't like fences quite as much. In fact, I despise fences and everything they represent in modern society... but this one was ok, I guess. We have to work with what we're given, right?
I think we were all ready for a hot meal at this point, so we agreed to call it a day and packed up our gear for the evening, drove back to the cottage I'd described earlier, and then got ready to prepare our dinner. Denna was our chef for the night and cooked us up some delicious grub consisting of pumpkin, pasta, cream, chick peas, and some other stuff I can't remember... it was yummers, as my brother would say.

What a wondrous sunrise eh?
April 8th
Today was to be one of the longest work days I've had since working on the Bear Project. I think we put in about ten hours of solid work today, which far exceeds that of what I do at school... as far as manual labor goes anyway. I actually do many more hours of homework when I'm in school, but this isn't quite as taxing physically, but none-the-less, it does wear you out.

We hit the fence hard this morning, finishing the section we'd started last night, and then another third of the entire fence line before it was even lunch time. This involved a new phase of fence building, one which I had already been intimately acquainted with on the Bear Project... we had to pound fencing staples into the posts, securing the wire to the wooden pillars left behind by a previous fence-builder. About three of us worked on this and finished the first section fairly quickly. Then we moved onto the other section that extended to the small bay that separated the rancher's land from the reserve. The first half of this section was all star pickets, which are metal pieces of fence post with holes, through which we use the bow-ties to fasten the thick wire strings to. The other half of the fence was made entirely of wooden posts, so more pounding was in order. Matt and I worked on this together, each starting on apposite ends, working toward one another with every swing of our hammers. My forearm was pretty worn out by the time we'd finished pounding five staples per post, with about twenty posts for each of us. By the time our midday meal rolled by, we'd completed about two thirds of the entire fence line. Even the fence pros were impressed at this.

Just a random sheep skull I found
Once our lunch was consumed and our chatter boxes were empty, we hit the fence again. The only section we had left to complete was the middle. While we worked on this, Denna and Matt took the old wire into town to be recycled, and I also think Matt was jonesing for a cigarette. A few of us drew out the line and tied the wires to the posts, while the rest went to the other end to finish putting in some posts to replace rotten once, and also to finish off the end of the fence line, which needed some extra reinforcing to be complete. After the bow-tying was complete on this section I began pounding nails into the wooden posts again. Matt did the first few posts, and a woman named “Dy” helped pound some more, but I think I ended up doing most of this section. Before I knew it, I looked up and I was the only one in sight. Everyone else was at the other end of the fence line. So, being the sheep I am, (no pun intended) I continued pounding staples into the sheep fence. By the time I sunk the last staple into the salty, water-hardened wood (sometimes hard enough to bend the staples), Dy had come back from the other side and informed me there was too many people over there, and not enough jobs to go around. This was good news, as it indicated we were almost done with our task, which was scheduled to go another day. All we had to do was reinforce the ends of the fence line, and then seal up a gate in the middle area.

This plant with the shiv-like leaves is called Gorse (Ulex europaeus), an invasive species from Europe that is devastating to the indigenous plant communities. This plant is a major concern for biodiversity conservation anywhere it is found.

I'd never built a fence before, and found this volunteer job extremely rewarding. Not only was it a good workout, but it showed me how diverse the experience one can get by working with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, and revealed my inexperience with creating lines to divide the landscape. This is one of the skill areas I am actually proud to admit I am inept at. Again, I must reiterate, building fences is an activity I despise and think is what creates so many rifts between our people. We create the artificial lines across the landscape to show 'ownership', or 'nationhood', when in reality we are all connected. These connections can never be divided, they can never be erased, and will never be beaten by anything short of cataclysmic annihilation.
But anyways, I had a great time building this line in the sand. I only say this because a lot of the soil was comprised of sandy-loam, not loamy sand or anything else... it was definitely sandy, and supported the most beautiful array of succulent species I've ever laid my eyes upon. This, I did take extensive pictures of, and feel was one of the greatest parts of this whole experience. Often, I found myself gazing off across the vast 'prairie' of succulent beauty. With their reds, yellows, oranges, and greens all mixing together in a meshy carpet rising a few centimeters above the soil, reaching for our star with their water filled molecules. I tasted a few of them, and found them extremely salty, but it was a nice reminder of where we were. Although I couldn't see the ocean herself, I could smell the salty breeze as the atmosphere undulated beneath my nostrils, and I could feel the dampness permeating the air while we worked. Reminders are very important. I feel like I'm very imperceptive most of the time, and often need senses to remind me of where I am... gotta love those senses!
Succulents galore!!!
The rest of this job went quickly and involved the pros more than it did us lowly volunteers. They constructed some geometrically sound structures at the ends of the fence line, using the power of triangles to reinforce and strengthen the ends. I didn't witness the gate construction, so I have no idea what happened here. We went back to organize and pack up the rest of the gear at this time, and this didn't take long. It was cool though, I got to meet a spider called Huntsman (Sparassidae), which is said to be harmless, but looks anything but. It's about five times bigger than anything I've ever seen in Montana. I love spiders though, and willingly took up close pictures of this guy as Laura held him gently in her gloved palm, cradling and walking him across them as he tried to escape. I'm sure he could have tried harder though.
After this, we went back to the cottage and ate our supper, again prepared by Denna with all her culinary genius. We had curry, which is beginning to be one of my all time favorite dishes. I love the spice, I love the mix of vegetables, and I love the fact that you don't even need any meat for this dish to taste absolutely delicious. We were all tired again, so went to bed early, but not before Matt and I had a chance to jam once again. We played some QED and a few people thought it was good. I've acknowledged that not everyone will like our style of playing, and am not disappointed in this fact. I'm not sure if Matt feels the same though, as he asked later if I thought they liked it. I assume a great many things when I talk to this man, as his tone of voice implies more than even he would like to admit. I think he is very self conscious of our music, and I am as well, but I am also confident that we have something very original and fulfills my cathartic needs.
Our heads were ready for soft pillows after a while, and welcomed the moon on this night. I think we all dreamed of stars... I know I did at least.
 April 9th
With our primary task complete, today was a day for extra work that needed done. Tim really wanted to get some tree guards (used to protect vegetation from wildlife) that he'd left piled around the reserve due to time constraints on his last trip out there. He was worried they wouldn't last the winter and would get blown all over the place, littering an otherwise beautiful landscape. We were all more than willing to help with this.
Can you see the 'guards'?
Knowing we could do this easily with four or five people, Denna and half of the crew left this morning, leaving the group that had traveled up with Matt and I to do this easy job of collecting tree guards. The remaining people were Matt, Tim, Laura, Dy, and myself. We'd all ridden up in the same vehicle, and would all ride back equally so. We spent about three hours driving around collecting these tree guards, which turned out to be a little more labor intensive than I original anticipated, mainly because the stakes that were holding them in place added up to be quite substantial weight once piled high in open arms. Needless to say, my biseps and forearms got another good workout today. We also got to get a good amount of walking in as well, because the piles of tree guards and stakes were all on the sand dunes, which weren't accessible by road. We drove as close as we could to park the ute (Aussie for pickup truck), which was about 100 meters away from the bottom of the hill at the farthest locations. But, not only this, we had to go around and pull some of the guards that had filled their purpose, with their respective plants having outgrown their plastic confines. I had a good time doing this, as it got my legs moving again, something we've not done for over a week now, aside from the easy walking around town.
During this process we were picking up really old stakes that had been invaded by the insect life. When I came down the hill toward a pile Tim and Matt were working at, Matt pointed out alarmingly that I had a Huntsman spider crawling up my chest. I looked down to see a palm sized spider with extremely hairy legs crawling up my sternum. I think Matt was more concerned about this than I was, and quickly began checking himself for any signs of spider crawling. I calmly brought my hand up to keep it from crawling on my face, blocking it while giving it a safe place to crawl to, my hand. It willing migrated from my chest to my palm, and then started trying to jump off. I didn't want her to get hurt, so I used my other hand to gently pass her from one palm to another while slowly descending to the ground for a soft release. It was weird though, when my hand got low enough to set down, the gnarly looking spider hesitated, as if to say, “Wait a minute! We were just starting to get acquainted... why do I have to go now?”
This must have been one of those fleeting spider-thoughts though, because she climbed off after about five seconds of waiting, and then scurried away below the long, pointy grass. That brings me to my next point, the vegetation here in Tassie all seems like it wants to stab you in any way it can. Even the grasses are sharp on the ends, and were a constant irritation whenever moving through it. Not even jean fabric is thick enough to stop their shanks from poking your legs with every step. This wasn't anything more than an irritation though, but I'm sure some people might have adverse reactions to it if they were allergic to grass
After this chance meeting with a large species of arachnida, we kept working. Throughout the day I had plenty of opportunity to get some very good photographs of the vegetation and surrounding landscape. Something very good happened as well. As I walked from location to location, I kept having butterflies cross my path. Usually I wouldn't think very much of this, but this is the first time this had happened since I've been down here. I think I had at least ten or more butterflies fly directly in front of me while I was walking through the grass. For my people, butterflies are always bringers of good things. This proved true, as I will explain later.
Once we'd collected all the tree guards we could find, and that Tim could remember, we went up to the old duck hunter's shack to drop off the ones he didn't want to haul back to the TLC headquarters. This gave us some extra room to pick up the last of the guards at another location on the reserve, on a different sand dune. I kind of hesitate to call these sand dunes, because their covered in vegetation. If it weren't for their make up of sand, I wouldn't. But, technically they are still sandy, so, whatever.
Wild Edibles (can eat root)
The roots of these suckers are delicious
We emptied out as much as Tim deemed necessary and then cruised around the North side of the sand dune to a place that Tim had never seen before. He was keen to check out the reserve while it was dry enough to do so, and none of us were going to say otherwise. We all wanted to see it just as much as he did, if not more. When we got to the other side it was a nice surprise to find out we were going to tear down a 'hide' that the duck hunters used to use to conceal themselves from their unsuspecting prey. I got some cool shots of this process, not helping them at all in the destruction of this 'hide', but doing just as necessary of a job in documenting this important event. I missed out totally on a great shot of Matt falling on his ass while attempting to rip a piece of wood from the ground. We all laughed, as did Matt, but I regretted not being more studious in snapping pictures at this moment. Here's a chronological record of the deconstruction process.

After this we circled around to the South end of the reserve to pick up the last of the tree guards that had been piled along the southern most sand dune. When we got up there it was nice to see most of the guards were already in neat piles right next to the plants they had previously been protecting. I saw some scattered along the top of the ridge, and so went in pursuit of these stray guards. It was almost like following a trail of bread crumbs. As soon as I'd pick one up, I'd look ahead and see another just up the hill. Then, when I picked this one up, I'd see two more even further up. By the time I found them all, or all the ones I could see anyway, I'd climbed to the top of the sand dune, which revealed to me it was actually not even a sand dune, but a dolorite rock formation that had been covered in sand. This is where my butterfly experienced came to fruition. 
When I got up here I saw Freycinet off to the South, and the wind blew strong on my face, taking the hat right off my skull. I had a profound realization about my place in the cosmos, and how special I am to be standing where I was, feeling the atmospheric flow as I was, thinking the thoughts only I could think. I knew then, without the butterflies, I would not have come to this place at this time, and felt the way I felt. I walked back down to the others with a light head, and a heart rejuvenated by the spirits of this ancient land. I had to go back up before we left to be sure I would remember this moment.
By the time I'd walked back down they had almost finished up the easy task of loading the already stacked tree guards into the ute. So, I helped where I could, and then helped tie down the pile as securely as we could get it. Then, it was lunch time, and since I'd already eaten my lunch earlier with the butterflies, I had ample time to go listen to the Universe atop this old rocky hill once more. I walked back up and spent some quality time listening to my hear beat, completely in rhythm with the lapping waves below, and the occasional gust of wind on my face. I am truly grateful for having been in this spot when I was there.
Once lunch had been eaten, all we had to do was return to the cottage, pack our gear, and then make the long drive back to Hobart. We did all this in record time I feel, and left the area with high hearts, ready for another week of Tasmanian goodness.