Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Australian Good Ideas: #3 Longer holidays shorter summer break

Michele: All public schools in the state of Queensland follow the same school year schedule. Just as in the US the exact schedule varies by state but the general formula is the same. There are four terms that each last 10 or 11 weeks separated by two week holidays. Term 1 starts in mid- to end January and Term 4 ends in mid Dec. Term 2 has the most public holidays with the Queen's birthday and the like. Additionally, each term has 1 or 2 student-free days equivalent to curriculum days. The schedule is much like the schedule in the US with several major differences.

Two weeks between terms: This is a civilized length to a holiday! Two weeks give you enough to get somewhere and relax as well as have some time after you return to decompress from the holiday. I am a strong proponent of two week holidays between terms.

The school year is longer: Rather than 180 days of school, the Aussie kids attend about 200 days of school. I really see nothing wrong with this. More days can mean more learning or more time to explore topics of interest.

Shorter summer break: Aussie kids get 6 weeks summer break over Christmas and New Years. I may be in the minority but I think that 6 weeks is plenty of time for a kid to get sufficiently bored that they are ready to head back to school. We no longer live in a predominantly agrarian society where kids are needed on the farm for 10 weeks of harvesting etc. Don't get me wrong, I like summer and lazy days. But it seems to me that 6 is plenty. With 6 weeks I won't be scrambling so much to get my kids into camps to keep them occupied.

We are currently in the second week of holiday between terms 3 and 4. We've been doing everything we can to get the kids as bored as possible and it looks to have worked.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Doubtful Spring

Michele: We are in Spring here in northern Queensland. Even though I rationally know that it is spring, my system truly believes that it is Fall. The Frangipani tree is going gang-busters but this and bird nests are the only tangible evidence of Spring.

One reason that I expect temperatures to start cooling off is that we did not have an abrupt season change when we arrived. Back in early July the temperature of Mission Beach was pretty close to the temperature back in Amherst. Everything was green and warm in Amherst and everything here was green and warm. So it really never did seem like winter. Consequently, my system is confused that temperatures are getting warming rather than cooler now that October is on our door step.

Another reason for my confusion is that it has been very dry here. I spent many years in California and I know that in winter it rains and in summer it is dry. You can immediately tell in California if it is winter or summer by whether the grass is green or yellow. Well everything, even the seasons, are different in Australia. In these tropics, the winters are dry(er) and the summers are wet. In fact the summer season here is called 'The Wet'. The Wet is when meters of rain fall within a couple weeks. The winter is dryer than summer here in the far north but still usually gets rain regularly. This year, we've had very very little rain. The grass here is all dried up and yellow so my California-honed sensibilities tell me that it must indeed be summer.

I'm told that the long dry spell that we are having is very unusual. We are even on water restrictions. Water restrictions in the rain forest! Several times now we've heard Cassowary calls at night around our house. I wonder if the birds are coming into neighborhood because of the dryness of the forests. The birds, like the rest of us, could really use a rain shower. In addition to helping the forest, the rain would wash some of the lingering dust out of the air (from the recent dust storms) and help convince me that it really is spring.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Australian Good Ideas #2: Aussie Rules

Gavin: The Saint Kilda Saints take on the Geelong Cats in the Australian Football League Grand Final today at 2:00pm.

Translation for the Americans in the audience: it's Superbowl Saturday down under.

Aussie rules is the #1 spectator sport in Australia (although rugby is more popular here in Queensland), and I can see why. Everything in the game is designed to make it fast-paced and exciting, from the funky backwards throw-in the side judges perform when the ball goes out of bounds to the rules on holding the ball (players must try to pass the ball when they're being tackled or the other side gets a free kick).

The pre-game shows started an hour ago, at 8am. I'm not a big enough fan to sit through 6 hours of pre-game hype, but I will have a XXXX-gold in my hand (another Australian Good Idea; pronounced "four-ex", and rumored to be named so because Queenslanders don't know how to spell "BEER") and my eyes glued to the telly from two till five this afternoon.

Michele: Aussie rules is definitely an Australian good idea and I can provide some additional insight into why it is the #1 spectator sport in Australia. The outfits! Form-fitting sleeveless v-neck shirts and short shorts are a very good idea. Some players opt for long socks, but I don't recommend this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We saw a sea snake

Gavin: Barbara (Michele's mom) doesn't like snakes. Just a picture of a snake gives her the willies.

I'm very proud of her for not fainting when she found this sea snake washed up on the beach a few weeks ago. Instead she came back to the house and told the rest of us about it. Lorna (my mum) and the kids and I immediately high-tailed it down the beach so we could check it out.

It made an odd loopy trail as it tried to get itself back into the water; it would stay very still for several minutes and then kind of flop around on the sand. We don't know why it let itself get washed up on the beach in the first place-- maybe it ate something bad that confused it.

Sea snakes can be highly venomous, and my mum always told me not to mess with snakes, so we all kept our distance. Well, we kept our distance until my mum decided we should rescue it: "in case a child comes along, decides it's dead, pokes it, and gets bitten."

I reminded her that my mum always told me not to mess with snakes, but she found a couple of sturdy sticks and proceeded to try to pick it up and carry it down to the water.

You can't tell from the picture, but this was a pretty big snake-- about 4 feet long-- so picking it up turned out to be a two-person job. I took a stick from my mum and the two of us picked it up and carried it down to the water while it did it's best to kill mum's stick, repeatedly biting it. Very exciting!

And the story has a happy ending-- after a minute or so in the water, it gracefully swam of into the deep.

The Queensland Museum has a great web site that helped us later identify this as a Beaked Sea Snake which is, actually, potentially quite deadly (three times as toxic as a cobra, ~30 times as venomous as a rattlesnake), although not normally aggressive.

Unless you go and start poking it with sticks...

Dust storm reaches far north

Michele: We woke up this morning to the smell of smoke. The dust and smoke from New South Wales dust storm has reached us way up here in northern Queensland. Fortunately for us, we are getting much more mild version than they did in Sydney. We have a haze (see photo) and not the horrible thick orange dust that they were hit with in the south. Humidity levels are low and the haze in the photo is just smoke and dust. We can't see Dunk Island just 6km away.

The dust is from dry conditions in the outback down south. The top soil was blown away by storm winds that carry the dust to the coast where most of Australia's population lives. While the accumulated dust in Sydney is a real nuisance, the long lasting harm is the stripping of top soil from farms. Large dust storms occur periodically (every ~6 years) and folks are debating whether climate change has made them more severe. Certainly drought conditions increase the liklihood that soil can be eroded by wind.

In Mission Beach this morning we have canceled our planned hike for today. The acrid smoke (also brought with the westerly winds) and haze in the region are acerbating asthma in many folks. Robin's asthma only kicks up when she is sick, but we are not going to risk it. The smoke is a bit nauseating and takes me back to when Megan Maxwell and I were trapped by a forest fire in Yosemite. Actually the smoke in the valley wasn't bad that time, but I remember lots of nauseating smoke when we were evacuated and had to drive around the fire to get the borrowed tent that was pitched at the pass near Mono Lake. Ask Megan sometime about her love of camping. The smoke here may be from some wildfires but also many of the regional farmers burn the stubble in the sugar cane fields after the harvest.

The forecast is that a southeast wind will pick up this afternoon and clear the air. Meanwhile we are going to hang out in the pool and take it easy - maybe turn on the air conditioning. Yeah, no need to feel sorry for us.

BTW: The 1-story yellow house on the right in the photo is the actual 38 Mitchell Street. You can see that it isn't even next door to us.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Australia, even the birds ain't shy

Michele: It is spring here in Australia and that means nesting time. Over the past few weeks, birds' nests have been showing up the darnedest places. The Sunbird nest pictured here is in the carport at Uncle Larry's house. He has some netting to keep birds from roosting over the car and the Subirds have used the netting to hang their incredible nest. The nest is like a pouch with a hole in the side. This photo doesn't show it but there is even a little 'awning' over the hole. The nest at Uncle Larry's house is at eye level just feet from his front door, a pretty active place, but the Sun Bird doesn't mind. Yesterday, I saw a Sunbird nest hanging from a store awning in downtown Mission Beach. People probably walk right by the nest all day long yet the birds don't mind.

The Sunbird family includes the species Spiderhunters, which might be my favorite bird name. Not that I don't like spiders, I really do. Just when I hear Spiderhunter, I imagine a bird in a camouflage outfit stealth-fully stalking a spider. Rumor is that Spiderhunters can eat tarantulas -- gutsy birds

I like this photo because I caught the Sunbird in the nest. If you go right up the nest, the bird takes off but they come back to the nest after a bit. This nest is just about done and ready for eggs. We've been able to watch the building of the nest over the past few week when we've visited uncle Larry. It is really cool to see how they start with anchoring the nest to the webbing and then build the pouch. Impressive engineering when you consider that the whole structure is also swaying in the breeze the whole time.

Birds nests in Amherst are also impressive but the birds are much much more shy about their nest building. Nests are usually up high and hard to see. These crazy Australian Sunbirds are quite the exhibitionists!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Great Barrier Reef

Yesterday we had the opportunity to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef at Eddy Reef. The experience of a lifetime and one that we will never forget! So for this blog each of us will contribute.

Michele: Although we took an underwater camera, the film hasn't been developed yet. But seriously, it looked just like Pixar depicted in Finding Nemo. Except that the starfish we found were bright blue instead of pink. The boat went to Dunk Island first to pick up the bulk of the passengers for the trip. From Dunk Island, it took about 1 hour to get out to Eddie reef, which is 30 km away. From above water, the reef was an amazing green color, just like in Finding Nemo. We had about 3 hours to snorkel with a break for lunch. The weather was perfect and the tide was falling so the water became more calm during the day. One of my favorite parts of the day was holding hands with Robin/Will and pointing things out to one another. It was awesome!

Will: I like how there were thousands of giant clams and that they had really pretty lips. I liked how the coral was pretty colored and how the fish wouldn't run away when you floated towards them. Eddy Reef didn't have an island. At an island you walk over the coral to get into the water. At Eddy Reef, I liked that we jumped from the boat so the coral stays perfect.

Robin: I saw a sting ray and lots of sea cucumbers and a white-tipped reef shark and really big fish. And I also saw giant clams. Daddy saw an octopus and mommy saw a Barracuda. The first time I tried snorkeling, I inhaled water. I couldn't breathe! The second time I did great and I snorkeled for about an hour. Everything was my favorite!!!

Gavin: This was the second time I'd been snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef-- the first was at Green Island (off Cairns) in the late '80's. I remember thinking "it's like swimming in an aquarium!" Words, pictures or movies don't really capture the experience; it's amazing to be in amongst so many beautiful creatures, able to go wherever you like and take a closer look at whatever captures your interest. Will says he's interested in scuba diving; I think that will be a great father-son project (I'd like to learn, too) in a few years when he's old enough...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Australian Good Ideas: #1 Pavlova

Michele: For a while I've been thinking about a series of posts called Australian Good Ideas -- things that we encountered in Australia that we think are good ideas. They are not going to be ranked in any way, just posted as we get to it. -
#1: Pavlova
(aka Pav for Aussies who must shorten everything)

While Lorna was here she rhapsodized about this dessert with Larry and Correen. We Americans were in the dark until Larry and Coreen revealed plans to make a Pavlova one night while they, Kristen and Cindy were visiting. This is the cake photoed here and you can see by Robin's reaction that we were instantly delighted. The cake itself is a light meringue. It is very hard to make yourself so grocery stores sell the meringue base in various sizes. Then you whip up some heavy cream to spread over the cake and decorate with fruit. My favorite so far is strawberries and passion fruit. Ahh, passionfruit! I may have to devote an entire blog to passionfruit at some point.

The cake is light and moderately sweet, which suits me just fine. You could make it sweeter by adding more sugar to the whipped cream. The bottom of the meringue base undergoes some sort of magic process where it gets really sweet and crunchy. This probably has to do with sugar settling to the bottom, but I'm going to keep thinking it is magic. This crunchy base is the best part of the Pavlova. When part of the base accidentally drops off a piece, our family fights over the rights to this bit. I think that the server should get the left over crunchy bits, don't you?

Pavlova is so named because the light cake is reminiscent of the tutu of legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. She had toured down under in the 1920s and the dessert was developed shortly after. Now there are two stories to the origin of Pavlova (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pavlova_%28food%29). The Aussies claim that an Aussie in Perth developed it, while the Kiwis claim that a Kiwi developed the idea. Wikipedia supports the Kiwi claim but I will not risk being ostracized by my Aussie family, friends and neighbors by supporting this. It was the bloke in Perth!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shells Galore

Will: The shells here came from Uncle Larry's house. Some of them have dirt in them. Some he collected from western Australia. He has Pearl shells (lower left corner of photo) and some Tiger Cowries (in front of my hands) and some Cone shells (on the right corner of the rug) and some clams and some Scallops and others. At the top of the rug you can see some Cowries that I lined up by size.

I sorted the shells by type. I know a lot about shells and their names.

Michele: Thanks Uncle Larry for letting us learn so much from your shells. Robin and Will have been having a blast sorting the shells and learning the names of the critters.

This second photo shows so
me Cone shells. The patterns on the shells is amazing. Beautiful geometry designs. However, like nearly everything in Queensland they will kill you. The critter attacks out the narrow end so we are careful to pick them up at the wide end. Gavin found two live cone shells while tide pooling a few days ago.

Tide pooling is different here. In California and Maine we always tide pool by goin
g to stranded pools of water at low tide. We might poke around the seaweed but generally we just look around for stuff. Here folks turn over rocks to see the good stuff. Good stuff indeed! The Cowries, Cone shells, sea cucumbers and even eels live under the rocks. Now that Uncle Larry has given us the scoop on proper tide pooling technique we are enjoying building our own shell collection. Lorna and my mom went home with boxes of shells that they found. However, our collections will never be as amazing as Larry's. These shells here are just a small fraction of his enormous and impressive collection.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Megan was right!

Michele: We've seen signs all along that northern Queensland might actually be Middle Earth. The trees, especially the curtain fig, surely speak Entish. I've also suspected for some time that Elvish communities lie within the rainforest above the basalt cliffs behind Tully.

Well, I do believe that I found Hobbinton. It turns out that Hobbiton is on the southern Atherton Tablelands (photo at left) and not in New Zealand as Peter Jackson would have you believe. We visited towards the end of the dry season (no rain for two months) but you can imagine how green this area can be after a rain. So Megan may be right that this is Middle Earth... or was it Heather Clark who supposed this first? Either way, our suspicions were all confirme
d in the town of Ravenshoe where a local realtor has let the cat out of the bag (photo below).

Another side adventure also may relate to the Middle Earth presense. A week ago, I lost my wedding ring at the launderette in town. The ring was in the pocket of my shorts and I forgot to take it out before the clothes were taken to the launderette. We have a washing machine here but it hasn't been working right and... well that is for another blog. Back to the ring. When my mom and Lorna returned with the cleaned, dried and tidily folded clothes, the ring was no longer in the pocket of my shorts.... our preciousss was in our pocketses! Thief! Thief, Laundrette! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!!

I searched every washer, every dryer and all around the launderette but didn't find the ring. However, I could feel it calling to me so I knew somehow that it had not yet entered the depths of Mordor. So I posted a note in the laundromat about my precious and suppressed strong urges to walk on all fours and eat live fish. Five days later, the eye of Sauron, I mean a very nice lady from north of Mission Beach phoned to say that my ring had turned up in her laundry. With the help of folks at the post office we got the ring back to us, its rightful owner. Right Smeagol?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Crocodile Henry: Bush Tour at the Mareeba Wetlands

Michele: On the first day of our road trip we visited the Mareeba Wetlands. While the southern part of the Atherton Tablelands is very green, with lots of waterfalls, the northern tablelands are more dry. The wetlands north of Mareeba were artificially made to store water for irrigation. Being resourceful critters, birds have been utilizing the wetlands every year so that they are now a wildlife preserve. If you ever get to Mareeba I highly recommend the two-hour sunset tour.

Our German guide Henry started with a boat tour around the lake. We saw these cool Jacana birds with red heads and really big feet that walk on the lotus lilly pads. They are also called Jesus birds because they appear to walk on water. Henry also showed us how the snowflake lilly closes up when it is submerged in order to keep its pollen dry. After a spin around the lake on the super-quiet electric motored boat, Henry led us on a bush tour to a more shallow lagoon where birds flock at sunset.

Henry knew an awful lot about Australian flora and fauna but every now and then his English would fail him and he slipped into German. Very surreal. He showed us an amazing black orchid and tiny white orchid that are native to the region. Apparently orchids native to Australia are quite small and all the showy ones are imports. On our tour we saw big ol' elephant-shaped termite mounds, kangaroos, some sort of falcon and a 22 foot long steel lizard. Tanabe Mitsuaki, a Japanese artist, built and installed the sculpture free-of-charge at the Mareeba wetlands because there's wild rice growing there. This fellow supports the fostering of wild rice terrains around the world by donating and maintaining works of art.

At the shallow lagoon we had afternoon tea and Henry set up a scope for us to see the birds. (Crocodile Henry is standing behind Will in this photo) We saw Herons, Cormorants, Egrets, Brolgas, Jabirus and Ibis. The variety of birds was astounding and the setting impressive enough to turn anyone into a birder. I'm really not built for birding. My distance vision isn't great and my hearing aids neither give me good directionality nor do they capture the full range of sounds. But I loved seeing all these birds and could have stayed for hours. Catching glimpses of them through the scope was especially nice.

After the viewing, we headed back into the bush to the headquarters where we were treated to wine and cheese while watching the sun set over the lagoon. A tree frog slept high up on the wall and a wallaby hopped under the deck and nibbled on their lawn. This splendid day was capped by dinner with Melissa and Jim at their home.

more photos will be posted on facebook. Send us a note if you need the link.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Road Trip Blues

Michele: We took a 3-day road trip to the Atherton Tablelands and the Gulf Savannah. This photo poetically sums up the trip. I entitled the photo: Heaven and Hell. We saw some amazing things but also spent a lot of time driving around -- 7 of us in trapped in a minivan.

Road Train Chicken

Gavin: Michele and Robin and Will and Lorna and Barbara and Phil and I all piled into our rental mini-van on Sunday and headed for the Atherton Tablelands and then the outback. Just the driving was a good adventure.

There's a certain etiquette to outback driving, based on the width of the road and the size of your vehicle. Happily, my relatives filled me in on the proper etiquette, so we were well-prepared for the impromptu games of "road train chicken." Here's how you play:

First, plan a trip that involves a "developmental" road. I believe "developmental" is government-speak for "we'd build a real road here if we had the money, but we don't, so instead we'll pave a single lane down the middle of a wide gravel path."

Then drive for a while. Eventually you'll see a cloud of dust in the distance, which is the road train: a truck towing three or four trailers, up to 50 meters (160 feet) long, coming towards you at up to 100 kmh (60 mph).

The only rule in Road Train Chicken: Road trains have right-of-way. The developmental roads have big gravel shoulders on either side, so when you see a road train coming you slow down, pull all the way over off the paved surface, and let it pass.

What happens when two road trains meet each other? I dunno. The truck drivers all talk to each other on radio channel 40, but our rental van didn't come with a UHF radio, so I don't know how they work it out.

Two cars meeting is no big drama-- you just share the road, with each car putting two wheels on the dirt to pass.

Well, no drama as long as you remember to put your LEFT wheels on the dirt. I'm really glad I had a couple of months practice driving on the left before playing any Road Train Chicken!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Things you find on a Queensland beach after a really windy night

Michele: After some rain showers on Thursday, the night was really, really windy. The windiest night we've had so far. Friday morning we were eager to see what might have washed ashore. Gavin found a HUGE cuttlefish bone. The thing was as long as a 2 liter soda bottle. Huge!

Also only the beach we found many small blue jellyfish. The photograph to the left shows two of the jellyfish that Lorna found and put to float in a 2 liter soda bottle (it is difficult to photograph things that are floating in a soda bottle!). The small one on the left without tentacles is a By-The-Wind sailor. On the top of it is a sail-like extension that catches the wind and blows the poor critters onto our beach. The one with long blue tentacles is a Blue Bottle Jellyfish.

Well the Blue Bottle Jellyfish, with its cute slighty-artsy name is known by another name in most parts of the world -- Portuguese Man-of-War Jellyfish. That is right, we had many small Portuguese Man-of-War washed up on the beach.My step-brother Chris once had a run in with one of these when he was ~18 years old. No, he didn't get stung by the jellyfish. The jellyfish had brushed against a rope of the boat and later while we were snorkeling, he brushed against the same rope. Oh man he was hurting! Readers who know Chris will know that this is a guy who can take a lot of pain but he was truly hurting that day.
By the way, don't tell my mom that these are actually Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish. We are just telling her that these are Blue Bottle jellyfish that happen to have a sting to them.

The Blue-Bottle Jellyfish are prevalent in the waters here in the warmer months but the locals don't fret about theses painful creatures as much as they worry about the Box Jellyfish, which will kill you outright. For this reason, stinger nets are set up at certain locations along the beach to make safe swimming enclosures. Also the beaches have stores of vinegar, which can be administered to stinger bites to reduce damage. The Blue Bottles tend to show up in the waters first. The ones we found were all small ones but I'm not sure I will be swimming in the sea outside of the stinger nets anymore.

Despite their evilness, the Blue Bottles are amazing looking creatures. The second photo is a better image of the jellyfish from Wikipedia. Robin, Will and I walked up and down the beach to see how many Blue Bottles we could collect. No, I didn't touch the critters. I used a stick to roll them onto a leaf and then covered them with another leaf. The kids were also very careful. We collected 7 of them and set them in the soda bottle with Lorna's two. Their blue streamers looked really cool at the center of the table. That night our dinner guests (Larry, Coreen, Kristen and Cindy) remarked that we had the most dangerous centerpiece they've every seen.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Day on the Dunk

Michele: A couple days ago we took a day trip to Dunk Island, just a few km off the mainland. After months of looking at Dunk from our window, it was nice to finally visit. There is a nice resort on the island but we just took one of the morning ferries out and an afternoon ferry back. The 11:00 ferry was full, everyone of the ~30 seats was taken. Because the tide was going out, the ferry was grounded. The captain tried to pull the ferry out using the anchor but no luck, so he asked all the men to get off the boat and push it into the deeper water. Once all the guys were off he said "OK now that the guys are off, I will take off with all the ladies!" After we got into the deeper water the men scampered back on and we had a very fast trip to the island.

The resort is in a paradise-like setting. Lots of orchids and staghorn ferns (such as photoed) everywhere. We got to walk around the Dunk Island resort to get to our first destination, a swing bridge on the way up the mountain. We had seen pictures of a swing bridge on the island and found a old map that showed it to be on the way up the mountain . So we set off. After 45 minutes of climbing we realized that this swing bridge was no longer there -- probably a casualty of Cyclone Larry. What we did see on the track was an amazing bird show in the photo. It is a Australian Brush Turkey. This bird scratches the ground everywhere causing massive erosion. Why? It gathers the loose debris and soil into a huge mound that will house its eggs. The heat of the composting mound incubates the eggs. Very cool! But to me, I think it is less work to just sit on the eggs to incubate them. The brush turkeys were not shy and one accompanied us nearly all the way down the track crossing in front of us now and then to pose for photos. We also saw another golden orb-weaver spider -- very cool!

Robin: After the hike we went snorkeling. The beach was covered with lots and lots and lots of coral so you could kind of tell that it was a good snorkeling spot. First, we had a good picnic lunch there and then we did the snorkeling. First mommy and daddy and me and Will went snorkeling but then Will got scared and he left. He wasn't used to things underwater appearing so close and was afraid to bonk into things. And so me and mommy and daddy were left snorkeling.

We went out in the deep (~5 feet) and saw shelf coral that was stacked and stacked and stacked on each other and there were tons of little blue fish around.
We also saw a big rock that had a big clam (8 inches) with bright blue lips on it. When you put your shadow on it , it would close up tight. When you took your shadow off of it, it would open a little bit. The clam opens a little so that it can catch food -- we could see down into the clam.

On the way back, we passed by the shelf coral again and saw big yellow fish and one even bigger purple fish. And when we got where it was shallow, I found a cowrie. The end!

Michele: We were snorkeling for over 2 hours and when we came back and told our adventures to Will he really, really, really wanted to give it another try. He went in with Gavin and this time didn't get scared and saw some amazing things. I was very proud of both kids for being great snorklers. We will definitely come back to this beach for more snorkeling adventures.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Moo-ving experience

Michele: Today on my bike ride I had a delightful conversation with the cows at a farm in Wongaling. I moo - they moo - I moo etc. You get the picture. This got me thinking about the differences among the cows that I've meet while cycling in different parts of the world. I've been pretty lucky to have had the opportunity over the past 20-odd years to have cycled in some beautiful places around the world and there are distinctive differences among cows of various countries. Warning: stereotypes are present in the following analysis.

America: This is a composite of cow conversations in coastal CA (Santa Barbara to Eureka), Wisconsin, NJ and MA. Cow interactions in other regions (e.g. Texas) may differ. American cows are friendly and nearly always moo back warmly. In fact, once they get going it is hard to get them to stop. It seems that they thrive on attention from passers-by. They having a lilting moo that tends to be higher toned than cow of other countries - a little whiny/needy.

England: British cows are friendly, they will moo back with a hearty warm moo but at the same time they are a bit aloof. No sustained conversations with these cows and often they would move away from you after a the first exchange of moos. During 2 weeks of cycling through southwest England I learned something about the British. They have too many hedges! The beautiful countryside can only be appreciated in small glimpses through the breaks in the hedges at gates. Perhaps their aloofness owes to these hedges. The poor cows have a very small view of the world and are understandably wary of greetings from across the hedges.

Northeastern France: French cows are a little crazy. Sometimes they converse with you but often they just watch you pass with unblinking eyes. Their moos tend to have an upward lilt - similar to American cows but more demonstrative and less inquisitive. One time near the Loire, I greeted some cows and got the entire herd stampeding along side us across the pasture. Of course, our road was longer than their pasture and they came careening to a stop at the end of the pasture. Hmm. Les vaches sont peu des folles! No? During our 3.5 weeks there it rained every single day. This didn't help our sanity and may have contributed to the behavior of the cows.

The Netherlands: Dutch cows do not care to converse with passing American cyclists and don't even make eye contact. Despite many of my warm and courteous 'moos' I received not a single response. We weren't in the cities either, we spent two weeks cycling through prime cow country of the Overijssel, Friesland and Gronigen. About half way in, my Dutch friend Pauline, pointed out to me that in the Netherlands, the cows say 'Boo' and not 'Moo'. Ah! After that I tried booing but this didn't have any effect either. I think I know the source of the problem. Have you been to the Netherlands? The place is teeming with hordes of cyclists. The bike paths through the National Park of the Veluve has veritable traffic jams of cyclists. Dutch cows have seen it all before and with classic Dutch stubbornness they are not about to humor the cyclists.

New Zealand: Kiwi cows are very friendly and quick to engage conversation with a warm hardy moo. Some will sustain long conversations. Cows in New Zealand are far outnumbered by the sheep. I suspect the cows enjoy the attention of cyclists. By the way, getting sheep to scamper across the hills of New Zealand is great fun. All you have to do is 'bah' at one and it will startle, starting a chain reaction that is glorious to watch.

Australia: Once you get their attention Australian cows are very friendly and responsive though not excessively talkative (like American cows). They have a deep resonating moo that expresses warmth and curiosity. In all my cow conversations anywhere, I always initiate the discourse with an opening greeting. Imagine my surprise this morning when on my return trip past the cows, one of the Aussie cows greeted me as I came up the hill. Talk about out-going! Australian cows are by far the most extroverted and friendly cows I've ever met.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Butterflies and Waterfalls at Tully Gorge

Michele: A few days ago we packed into the rental van for a picnic and afternoon in Tully Gorge. With 7 of us, we needed something larger than uncle Larry's Mazda 323 so we rented a Toyota Torado from Sugarland Rentals. Now we get to drive a stylin' vehicle with Sugarland Rentals emblazoned in large letters across both the rear window and the top of the windshield. Hee haw! The advantage of having one vehicle is that now the grandparents, Gavin and I all get to hear the kids whine about the drive.

Anyways, we set up for Tully Gorge, about 45 minutes drive inland and had a wonderful picnic at a park/campground alongside the Tully river. At the moment, the river has recent crocodile sighting placards posted. Last month a 2 meter long croc and a 1.5 meter long croc were spotted in this popular swimming hole. Ok, no swimming for us here. The park also has a short butterfly track. Australian tracks really seem to deliver their promises. The Magnetic Island track that advertised koalas had an adorable one just next to the track. This Butterfly track had scores of butterflies include the Ulysses that is distinct to this area. Robin and Grandma Lorna enjoyed the track so much that they walked it twice.

After lunch we headed up river to a good swimming spot. The crocs can't go up many of the rapids so if you head up stream you can get away from them. The spot that we
went to is popular with the white water rafters and the people who watch them. The hydroelectric plant releases water at noon each day. Fortunately, the crowds had all left before we we got there and we had the whole river to ourselves.

Across the river was a delightful waterfall and evidence suggests that in the wetter season there are two water falls. The rocks here are columnar basalts. Floating under the basalt ledge looking up at the columns was uber-cool even for the non-geologists. In the above photo Gavin has just floated under the waterfall. The current was pretty strong so we had to take care to get across. This involved a lot of upstream walking before across-down stream swimming.

The Ulysees and Blue Triangle butterflies are attracted to blue colors, which they think
are other butterflies ready for the mating. Well this poor Blue Triangle butterfly in the photo at right mistook my mom for a like-minded butterfly lookin' for lovin'. The blue of her bathing suit exactly matched the blue of the butterfly. This fellow stuck around for a long time; he was persistent.