Tag Archives: Photography

Photos from Royal National Park

An hour’s train ride south of Sydney
Hiked 10 km on the famous Coast Track
Probably one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever visited

I believe those flowers are Heath Banksia (Banksia ericifolia), though I could definitely be wrong.

Anyways, it was just a fantastic walk. Coming to visit this park again may have actually become the #1 reason I would want to come back to Australia, overshadowing anything in Sydney or tropical north Queensland. Actually, the Great Barrier Reef comes close as well, but who knows how long that’ll be around. But yeah, my walk covered only the tiniest sliver of the park’s territory, and there’s some really different habitats in the other corners that I’d love to see someday. Just a great park in general, it gets my highest recommendation.

As for Sydney, I browsed through a Sydney Food Guide in the bookstore, and have now singled out some completely clutch hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the labyrinth commonly known as Sydney Chinatown. For dinner today, I walked into what looked like one of those apartment/business building complexes that nobody actually uses, went up one floor, and suddenly found the best Japanese ramen noodles I’ve ever had, for five dollars total. Swish.

But I’m also leaving for home on Sunday. Honestly, my fond memories of the program are much less intense these days, so it feels like the right time to head home. I had a great time on this mini-vacation, but it’s definitely time for me to dive back into the real world. See you there!

Calling In All Kinds

I’m done with Finals! But before you get jealous, and envision Roger lying beside some totally clutch lagoon with sea turtles lazily swimming by, my situation is actually slightly more complicated. Though I’m done with Finals, that means that I’ve started on my Directed Research project, a massive effort that will consume my life for the next month.

I’ve chosen to have my project advised by my Forest Management professor, a jolly young guy who’s totally obsessed with trees, cricket, and his fiance. There’s four other students doing their research with him, and us five students have already started forging close bonds.

Warning: A lot of Biology nerdiness ahead

Dr. Curran’s overarching research goal is basically to investigate drought resistance traits that are present in dry rainforest trees, and use those traits to predict what wet rainforest species would survive the increasing aridity associate with global warming.

I was reading his PhD thesis, which basically concerns the same topic except applied to the less seasonal environments of New South Wales, when I stumbled across a really intriguing result that was almost lost in the depths of the thesis. He found an extremely significant relationship between leaf size and the angle that leaves hang under the branch (leaf angle). Extremely significant, in that the P-value was less than 0.001. That’s intense.

The relationship between the traits was positively correlated, in that leaf size will increase with leaf angle and vice versa. However, there were two species with very high leaf sizes and leaf angles, and if you took those out of the analysis…suddenly you got a negative correlation, and it was still statistically significant! I was completely blown away by this. Dr. Curran explained it by tying it in with drought resistance strategies, which I’ll buy. A positive correlation implies a tradeoff between leaf size and leaf angle, which would likely work for the larger-leaved deciduous species who are drought avoidant. For the smaller-leaved sclerophyllous species though, it seems that they adopt a different strategy, where both traits are favorable and ensure that the plants are totally drought tolerant.

So my research will be specifically focused on this relationship between leaf size and leaf angle, and also any other significant combinations of coordinated traits. Dr. Curran found those results in the dry rainforest of New South Wales, and I want to see if they apply to the dry rainforest of Queensland, which is far more seasonal. Even more interesting, I want to see what kind of relationships appear in the wet rainforest around the Centre here, since Dr. Curran didn’t investigate that in his thesis. I am really, really excited at seeing what comes out of this.

End Biology nerdiness

Since we want to compare trees in wet rainforest with trees in the dry near-deserts, it was necessary to take a field trip out into the Outback! So last week, we spent three days at Undara National Park and Forty Mile Scrub National Park. We pretty much worked from dawn to dusk to collect samples to bring back to the lab for analysis. It was completely exhausting, but possibly the most rewarding field work that I’ve ever done.

We did get one break though: the park rangers gave us a free tour of the famous Undara Lava Tubes. Basically, this massive volcano erupted thousands of years ago, forming huge rivers of lava. Awesome. The surface of the river hardened, forming this solid shell of basaltic rock, while liquid lava continued to flow through. You can still witness this occurring in Hawaii. Today, there aren’t any more rivers of lava sadly, but you can still see the hardened lava tubes, which basically look like long, cylindrical caves, filled with bats. It normally costs quite a lot of money to get tours of these lava tubes, but as research scientists, we got the tours for free! Other highlights of the trip: two Emus around the campsite, and a stop at some relaxing hot springs on the way back, which was really surreal. It was just this normal-looking creek flowing through a forest, but you step in the water and it’s boiling freaking hot.

And now for the past few days, we’ve been collecting the wet rainforest data, finishing this afternoon. I’ve been ripped apart by wait-a-while thorns, but I’ve managed to successfully avoid both stinging trees and leeches, with today probably being the last day I will ever encounter the stinging tree. A sad day to be sure, I shed many tears. After this, it’s a week in the lab processing data, and then I’m getting started on that 40 page paper I gotta write. Gulp. It’s looking like you may not be hearing from me much for the rest of April.

So I guess I’ll leave with some more photos then. I haven’t gotten to the internet cafe in several weeks, so these are all old pictures, from the trip to Chillagoe back in February.

The Royal Arch Caves, which are actually aboveground, inside the hills.

At the swimming hole. I think this is one of the best photos I’ve ever taken.

A road sign on the drive out. This is no joke, it’s apparently a very serious problem, and we had a few close calls ourselves.

The Big Twitch

Just finished reading The Big Twitch, by Sean Dooley. Mr. Dooley is a comedy writer for TV shows by day, and a fanatical birder…also by day. I think he just sleeps by night, like most people.

Anyways, The Big Twitch is the story of how Sean Dooley spent one year trying to break the record for most birds seen in Australia in one year, an event creatively known in the birding community as a Big Year. But more than break the record, Mr. Dooley wanted to completely smash the record by reaching the previously untouchable level of 700 species in one year. The previous record was 634 or something. It was an ambitious goal, but Mr. Dooley felt that he had a reasonable chance of accomplishing his goal.

He does a pretty good job of keeping both birders and non-birders interested in his story, mixing in his tales of chasing down rare birds with his absurd adventures on the road. Another major theme of the book is his terrible luck at finding a steady girlfriend, as a fanatical birder, and how this Big Year attempt probably won’t help things any. Not only do the chapter headings give an update on how many species he’s seen thus far, but also how many girlfriends he’s gone through, a number which pretty much stays at zero all the way through the book. Ah, life as a birder, that’s the life I love.

Halfway through, it sorta became apparent that he’d break the record. Why else would he write the book? So then I started to wonder: is this a storybook ending where he gets a girl too? And that’s when I realized: oh no. This is like a romantic comedy! I’ve been tricked! Those scoundrels! I was lured in with the promise of rare birds, and got suckered into reading a romantic comedy! Kinda reminds me of a movie that came out many years back, I think it was called Forget Paris? It starred Billy Crystal as an NBA referee, and all I noticed during the previews was footage of guys like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley draining jumpshots and making fun of Billy Crystal’s hair, and I almost went to see it until my dad rescued me from the abyss by mentioning that it was actually a romantic comedy, probably advertised as a sports movie to sucker boyfriends and husbands into seeing it with their giddy girlfriends and wives.

Fortunately though, Dooley gets one satisfaction but not the other: he gets the record, but on his first date of the next year, the girl, “with eyes like a Rainbow Pitta’s wings…” thinks he’s crazy and doesn’t follow up with a second date. Sorry Dooley old buddy, that does sorta suck for you, but c’mon, you got to see a Red-capped Flowerpecker! Doesn’t that make it totally worthwhile?! Sad thing is, some would argue that yes, yes that’s totally worth it. Hah.

The unromantic fanaticism of these guys really is quite amazing. Dooley is tortured by the constant struggle of how one can possibly nurture a relationship when an Eyrean Grasswren has just showed up six hours away. But there’s no way he can compromise and bring the two together either; you just can’t drag a girlfriend into a ten-mile hike through odious swamps just to see a small brown bird to add to the year’s list.

That’s the tension that makes the book work so well, the push-and-pull between the birding world and the normal world. The other two Big Year accounts I’ve read (Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman, a great book, and Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher, historically important but not as good of a read) probably appeal only to birders; by the end they start reading like a laundry list of birds seen or missed. By contrast, The Big Twitch is a very accessible read that a non-birder could certainly appreciate, and a birder would also approve of. Well done Dooley, best of luck with the birds and the chicks, mate.

Edit: Just noticed something really weird. In the cover photo above, both birds are Red-browed Finches. On the copy I borrowed, the guy is holding what I think is a Rose Robin, and peering off to the right is a Regent Honeyeater or something, I haven’t checked the guide to ID either of them. I wonder if different copies have different birds on the cover? That’d be pretty cool.

………….

So now I’ve moved on to Don DeLillo’s Underworld. The New York Times surveyed a vast array of American literature critics to compile a list of the Best American Novels of the past 25 years, and Underworld clocked in impressively at Number Two, just behind Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I’m a hundred pages in, and I’ve already been taken to the verge of tears. What was the reason, you might ask? Of course: sports. Baseball. The account of Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World. The joyous players, the ecstatic fans, a city rising together, that kind of stuff just kills me every time. Great book so far. But back to sports: as much as I love those sorts of miraculous moments in sports, I absolutely cannot stand sports movies. Actually, I can’t think of a single one that I actually enjoy. As a kid, I really loved Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield, but I’m way past that point now. Well, in hindsight, those movies were sort of ridiculous, and would probably be entertaining for camp value. Can somebody arrange a viewing? But in general, I don’t like sport movies, because you know what’s going to happen. It’s the unpredictable and unscriptable stuff in the real world that gets to me. Remember the Music City Miracle? Holy cow, I’m tearing up just thinking about that thing. Sports are so great. Tar Heels, don’t let me down.

………….

np: The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’. These are among the most awkward lyrics I’ve ever heard, they’re just laughably horrendous. The music though, woah. The hook in the chorus is incredible. I start air-guitaring and screaming along to it, but then the lyrics I’m singing just crack me up and I burst out laughing. How frustrating is that. This song could’ve been Song of All-Time, but silly Billy Corgan had to slap on angsty goth-poetry that doesn’t even make any sense. The opening line: “The world is a vampire…” and you’re already down for the count, pounding the floor in laughter. Endless lols. I wish I could listen to this song with alternate, better lyrics. Oh man, what if Dan Bejar wrote the lyrics for ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’. Best song ever, or, best song of all-time? Tough question.

Also, I saw that the new Rosebuds albums leaked, haha. Listened to the first song, and was really disappointed it. Shucks, what happened to these guys? They were Raleigh’s great shining hope for indie rock salvation, and after the brilliance of The Rosebuds Make Out, they just haven’t gone anywhere. There were a handful of nice songs on the Unwind EP and Birds Make Good Neighbors, but it doesn’t look like this new one’s going anywhere. In general, 2007 has been a bit of a disappointment, though clearly I’m missing out on a lot by being abroad with very little internet. Can people give some 2007 recommendations, including stuff I’ve already heard but may need to revisit? Much appreciation.

………….

More Australia photos:

A little baby Stinging Tree!!! Adorable.

Whiting’s Fragment, which is the world’s smallest fragment of type 5b ‘Mabi’ forest left in the entire world. My partner and I did some surveys of frog populations in this fragment, and believe it or not, both of us actually got lost in there. It’s some of the densest forest I’ve ever encountered, and blindly hacking through it at night didn’t help. Somehow, we managed to get hopelessly lost.

Whale Rock, at Granite Gorge.

Green ants. That’s the queen in the center. They’re actually edible, and delicious: they have a sharp citrus taste. Unreal.

Getting Through the Former World

Australia

Largely because of its long geographic isolation, Australia has a lot of unique, endemic species, and some of the particularly charismatic ones have become symbols of Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, Cassowaries, the world knows about all of them, and you’ll find them in all the major zoos (except the Cassowary, which is very difficult to keep in captivity). Some of those charismatic species I’ve already seen, but many I haven’t.

Kangaroos – The Red Kangaroo is the really large one that everyone’s seen in zoos. I haven’t seen that one, it largely lives in the desert interior, so maybe I’ll see them at Alice Springs after the program. But I have seen its smaller cousin, the Grey Kangaroo. I’ve also seen a lot of the other large marsupials, including Agile Wallabies and Mareeba Rock Wallabies, which live in the drier regions. The only one I regularly see in the rainforest is the Red-legged Pademelon, which is cinnamon colored, with brighter rufous-red legs. The cool thing is, they look exactly like kangaroos shrunk down in the dryer, they’re the size of our cottontail rabbits back home, proportioned like kangaroos! During the day it’s really hard to get a good look at them though, they’re extremely skittish, and will hop away long before you know they’re there. But during the night they’re very active and they’re everywhere, you just need to bring a spotlight out into the dark. The other cool ‘kangaroo’ I’ve seen is the Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo, probably the most well-known denizen of the Atherton Tablelands where I’m studying.

Cassowary – pwned

Koala – I have no chance of seeing this in the wild, I’m not going to the right parts of the country. So the only experience I’ll have with these is that scarring experience in Kuranda.

Wombats, Echidnas, other assorted marsupials – probably not likely, but honestly I haven’t done the research to find out.

Emu – on our two trips into the appropriate sorts of habitat, no luck. This may be difficult until I get to Alice Springs, and even then it’s not a lock. I’m crossing my fingers.

Platypus – On the evening of the first of March, we went to a local farmer’s property to learn about rainforest restoration. As a bonus afterwards, we stopped by an overlook on the Barron River to look for platypus. They’re really tough to spot. Two individuals popped their heads above the water for a breath, and were gone a second later. So all I saw was the bill. The things are a lot smaller than you probably think too. But at least I can say that I’ve seen platypus in the wild now.

Hungary

Instead of heading to the pub to celebrate my 21st birthday last night, I watched the film Werckmeister Harmoniak (Werckmeister Harmonies). On paper, it’s about a small Hungarian town, torn apart by a mysterious circus that features a giant dead whale. That makes it sound almost like a comedy, but that’s the furthest you could get from the truth. Werckmeister Harmoniak is slow, tragic, moving. It’s also one of those pretentious art films that looks really beautiful, but whose main point sails over your head. I don’t have a clue what Bela Tarr, or the original novel’s writer, was trying to say. My guesses on the theme range from the Soviet occupation, the false optimism of capitalism, revolution in general, or the dark side of human nature. I really don’t know. I doubt I ever will, even if I watch the film ten more times.

Despite that intellectual confusion, Werckmeister Harmoniak is possibly the most beautiful film I have ever watched, in terms of cinematography. In the Mood for Love doesn’t even hold a candle to Werckmeister Harmoniak, something I didn’t believe was even possible. Shot in black-and-white, every image slowly soaks into the consciousness, and stays there. I could turn off the subtitles, mute the sound, and Werckmeister Harmoniak would still be a powerful film. If you want to see a really beautiful movie, watch this.

Deep Underground

I’m finally on the verge of finishing John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, a tome which has taken me nearly a month to get through. It’s a collection of five books about American geology, and American geologists. But this is not a geology textbook; I doubt I’ve learned all that much about rocks that I didn’t already know. This is a collection of thoughts, stories, anecdotes, ideas about geology, and the people who study geology. Over the past few months, John McPhee has grown to possibly become my favorite author, fiction or non, and as his supposed masterwork, I had to get to Annals at some point.

Book One, entitled Basin and Range, deals with the series of mountains and valleys found in Utah and Nevada known as the eponymous Basin and Range, and follows Princeton geologist Kenneth Deffeyes through the rock. It started off fairly slow; I honestly wasn’t all that interested in the Basin and Range geology itself. What really got to me was the history of geology, as presented by McPhee, as the book began to wind down. Those portions of the book were among the best writings I’ve ever seen out of him. Unlike the typical McPhee book, which I always feel start off brilliantly but then run out of steam, Basin and Range built to a magnificent conclusion, and is one of the most striking works in McPhee’s catalog. Highly recommended.

Book Two, entitled In Suspect Terrain, follows geologist Anita Harris, and concerns itself with the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and how they came to be. I’ll be honest: this book was boring, slow, and way too long. And that’s all I really have to say. It was by far the worst McPhee book that I’ve ever read, and the only one I really haven’t enjoyed in any sort of capacity. Terribly disappointing.

Book Three, entitled Rising from the Plains, works itself around Wyoming with David S. Love, preeminent Rocky Mountain geologist. I was surprised at how linear the narrative was at times. I generally know McPhee as someone who jumps all over the map, delicately threading a narrative through that you don’t even begin to notice until the end, and that’s the brilliance of his work. In here, a lot of the book follows Love’s biography chronologically, and I’m surprised at how competent of a storyteller McPhee can be. I love his writing for the small details he notes, the absurd humor he discovers in them, and the subtle ways they are tied to the big picture, so it was interesting for me to watch him try his hand at working only with the big picture. I think he largely succeeded. His painting of the landscape around Jackson Hole was especially evocative. This is not representative of McPhee’s usual style, but it’s still a very good read that I’d certainly recommend.

Book Four, entitled Assembling California, follows Eldridge Moores around California, Macedonia, and Cyprus, in a quest to understand how California’s rocks could become so radically different from the rest of the country’s. Like Basin and Range, this one started off quite slow, as a whole lot of rocks and rocky structures were described. That’s the whole point of Annals I guess, to describe rocks, but those were probably my least favorite parts. The conclusion to Assembling California, however, was spectacular, as McPhee described tales from the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. I have never seen McPhee write so dramatically, and he pulled it off really well.

So now I’m starting on the final book, entitled Crossing the Craton. It’s very short, and from what I hear its only purpose is to settle things down after the fireworks of Assembling California. So effectively, I am finally finished with Annals of the Former World. Hurrah. McPhee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his work on this book. In my mind, he undoubtedly deserves a Pulitzer, but maybe not for this book. In general, he spends too much time talking about rocks, when his strength is with people.

Surprisingly, I’ve found one other McPhee reader here, who’s read many of the same books of his that I have. She strongly recommended Encounters with the Archdruid as her favorite, so that will likely be next on my list of McPhee. In the meantime, once I finish Crossing the Craton, I’m moving on to The Big Twitch, the autobiography of a fanatical Australian birder. That shouldn’t take long, so warming up in the bullpen I’ve got Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which should be a good one.

From Tallahassee to the Dark Hillsides

For the first few months of its existence, this site served only as a log of my bird sightings in and around Swarthmore, remnants of which still survive in the address and the archives. This past summer, I made a decision to experiment with opening up the blog, to incorporate more of my thoughts, ideas, and occurrences. My only fear was that this would turn into an emo diary, a scenario which I wanted to avoid at all costs.

I’m not bringing this up because I’m about to go into emo mode; I might indirectly, but that’s not why I brought the history in. I wanted to mention that history because the very first non-bird-related post I ever made on this thing was a first-impression review of the Mountain Goats album Get Lonely.

At the time, I simply wrote that it sounded very different from a typical Goats album, but that I might get used to that new sound, and grow on the album. That never happened. Darnielle mentioned to a Pitchfork staffer that the only people who could fully understand the album were people who had gone through ugly divorces, or rough breakups from other very serious relationships, as those are the lyrical and musical themes which the album addresses. Thankfully I’ve never found myself in any of those kinds of situations, and subsequently the album never did anything for me. I think Pat summed it up well in his WSRN review: Get Lonely is an album that can be appreciated, but it’s difficult to enjoy, and actually, you’re probably not even supposed to enjoy it. I thought that was spot-on.

But now that I’m trying to get through my own breakup (though thankfully it was an amazingly clean one) this album is getting to me hard. I know people who listen only to happy and melodic music because they always want to feel joyful, and people who listen only to chill music because they always want to feel relaxed. I’ve never been the type to do that, I try and find music which matches the mood I’m in, to complement it and make it that much more powerful. So it means a lot to me when I say that Get Lonely is hitting me harder than any other album has at one point in time. Every song on the album, up to and including ‘Woke Up New’, is wrenching my heart apart on every listen, that’s all I can say. To me, right now, at this moment in life, Get Lonely is a perfect statement of how I’m feeling and how my days are going.

I did mention, however, that it’s only true up to ‘Woke Up New’. None of the remaining three songs do anything for me. I have a few theories on why that’s the case. First, ‘Woke Up New’ is unquestionably the emotional climax of the album, and the rest is the come-down that inherently comes off less dramatically. Second, ‘If You See Light’ is unquestionably the worst song on the album, and kills off any potential emotional impact that the remaining songs could have. Or last, Darnielle has sequenced the album chronologically/autobiographically, and the last few songs don’t make sense only because I haven’t reached that part of the recovery process.

In reality, it’s probably a combination of all three factors. I will note that the final song, ‘In Corolla’, sounds like it has to be the conclusion to the recovery, when Darnielle has finally gotten over his breakup, and life is back to normal. Connected to that point, it’s also the song most similar to the traditional Mountain Goats oeuvre and style. But right now, I can’t relate to it at all. Maybe in a few months, I’ll listen to it a few times, move on, and close the book on Get Lonely. But for an album intended for those poor souls coming from dark places, ‘In Corolla’ seems like an awfully out-of-place closer that’s sickening when placed next to ‘Moon Over Goldsboro’ or ‘Maybe Sprout Wings’; it’s not even optimistic enough to serve as some sort of goal or light at the end of the tunnel, it just feels wrong. ‘Cobra Tattoo’ may have been a better closer for the record. Small quibbles aside, Get Lonely is hitting me hard right now, and it’s changed my perception of what Darnielle is capable of as a songwriter.

Back to Australia

A lot of my photos are now uploaded, so I’m going to post them here in a series of short sets. Eventually I’ll get caught up with the present day, and try and post photos continuously from there. The Atherton Internet Cafe was significantly faster this past Friday than it was before for some reason, hence the successful photo uploading. Let’s hope that new speed sticks around.

Paterson Creek, which runs through the property.

Waterfall on Paterson Creek. There aren’t any land trails to this spot, so the only way to get here is by wading upstream a fairly good distance. Even further upstream there’s a few more waterfalls, but none of them are quite as photogenic.

Dan standing among the roots of the Cathedral Fig, whose canopy was posted earlier.

The Kangaroo Cafe in Malanda. Obviously that’s not a real Lumholtz’s Tree-Kangaroo up top, it’s just a sculpture.

Leeches attached: ~85
Leeches that have feasted upon my blood: 4

Chillagoe

Sorry about the lack of updates recently, I’m starting to get used to life in the rainforest, so the excitement level is inching back towards normal, and I have less to report on. For most of this past week though, I’ve been camping on the edge of the Outback, and I feel like there’s some things to mention about that.

We spent our time in the area of Chillagoe, a small town to our west which took four hours to reach on poorly maintained country roads. Biologically, Chillagoe was fascinating because its dry, arid environment is so different from the lush, tropical one we’ve been frolicking in for the past few weeks. For me in particular, that also meant a whole slew of new birds to watch out for, and the area did not disappoint me, bird list to be updated as soon as I’m done with this. The other two birders got many more species than me though, mostly because their van got lost and drove on through the Outback for an extra 90 kilometers, through some apparently incredible habitat that netted them stuff like Sarus Crane, for which I will forever be jealous. I mean, c’mon, Sarus Crane! Whatever, I’m relatively happy with the birds I got to see, and that’s good enough for me. I did get to be the only observer of a Black-breasted Buzzard on the way back, which I did not realize is an astonishing sighting, our Centre Director (who’s also an avid birder) has only seen three in her entire life, and two of them were sitting on a nest she was directed to. So yeah, I was pleased with that, wish I got a better look rather than just a quick drive-by glance, but I’ll take whatever I can get with that bird.

Our first night camping was pretty rough unfortunately. It was scorching hot, I was sweating buckets, and my sleeping bag could not have been more uncomfortable. The guy (not) sleeping to my left ended up abandoning his sleeping bag completely and rolled it up to use as a pillow, a strategy which I quickly stole and was subsequently also adopted by the (not) sleeper on my right. At one point during the night, the kid to my left got up to use the bathroom, and since he’s also one of my cabinmates, I know his general schedule, so I figured oh, it must be 4:30 in the morning, since that’s when he usually gets up to do this, and that means the night’s almost over! I looked at my alarm clock anyways and, no way, it’s only 12:30?! I clenched my eyes shut, cursed silently at the Chillagoe night, who didn’t respond, and tossed around some more in frustration. At some point during the night, it started raining, highly unusual for the area, and at some point after that, part of our tent collapsed from the rain. Highly amusing stuff to deal with in the rain at 5 in the morning. At least we didn’t get flooded like a few of the others. Fortunately, I was a lot more comfortable the next night, and by comfortable I actually mean that I got flooded with mosquitoes and biting flies instead of rain. But I slept through that at least!

Chillagoe is a small town, population around 250, and I learned something intriguing from my Poli Sci professor. In the big cities of Australia, like Sydney or Brisbane, people wave with their entire hand, much like we’re used to seeing in the US. But the further you move away from the population centers, the fewer fingers people use in their waves. As you head into the country, people start waving with just four of their fingers, then three, two, and finally at Chillagoe the locals were acknowledging our presence with just one finger. It was interesting to watch. People seemed to be really freaked out by this, and for some reason I wasn’t as much, and I couldn’t figure it out for a while. Then I realized something: I don’t know when I started, but for years, I’ve been waving with three fingers. That didn’t occur to me until this trip. I still do the full palm wave occasionally, but only sort of ironically and playfully to certain friends who I find especially amusing. If I’m saying hello to anyone else, from across a room or down a long hallway, it’s my default three-fingered wave, which I really didn’t realize that I used, until now. Isn’t that exciting?! Why didn’t anyone point this out to me? I wonder if it comes from North Carolina, though Raleigh seems more like four-fingered territory. Maybe I need to move further out into the country, amongst my three-fingered comrades. This three-fingered wave feels completely natural to me, and I feel really strange doing the full palm waves unironically at this point. Curious.

I wish I could post some of my photos from Chillagoe and from this entire Australian adventure in general, but like I said earlier, the internet connection here at the Centre is slower than frozen molasses, so not happenin. I finally got to try out the Internet Cafe in a nearby town today, but it was pretty amazingly slow as well, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since Atherton is still just a country town, somewhere between Cairns and Chillagoe. Anyways, none of my photos were done uploading by the time I headed out to play Ultimate Frisbee with all of the guys, so we’ll have to wait a bit longer. I’ll see if I can wrangle a bit more time at that cafe, or if I can find a better connection over Spring Break, or something at some point would be good. We’ll cross our fingers and shoot for then, whenever it is.

And of course, leech update!

Leeches attached: ~65
Leeches that have feasted on my blood: 2

Got my first exams on Monday, but I’m not too worried. Hopefully I’ll get back to you guys sooner rather than later this time. Peace out.

Edit: It look like two of my photos mysteriously made it through the upload process, which is cool. So here’s the two that randomly made it through:

Lindsay, Wynnie, and Josie on the Site Walk

Cathedral Fig in the Danbulla National Park, a 4 km walk from our property