In which there is value in unexpected moments (and lengthy side notes)

wolf spider finger

One of the nice things about unexpected situations is that they force you to stop and alter how you’re looking at things – life, the universe, everything, hunger, surroundings, people who drive utility vehicles around dark fields shooting at kangaroos…

Anyway. One of the things I discovered while camping… or should I say, confirmed while camping, is that no matter how delicious I thought I was to bugs in the US, I must be a rare treat indeed in Oz for I’ve managed to get bug bites while biking home from work, a feet which I did not think modern mosquitoes were capable of. While camping the story was no different, except that in addition to mosquitoes there were *flies*.

Now, we’ve been warned about the flies here. The folks we stayed with upon arriving in Sydney said the summer’s great but just you wait until the flies (dun dun dun). I have to say that in the suburbs of Sydney where we spend most of our time, the flies really aren’t an issue, so those warnings have been easily discounted. But in the bush? In the hot dry plains? Whoo. I’ve always looked at pictures from african countries designed to pull at your heartstrings, the ones with small children with swollen stomachs stand sadly, frequently with flies in the corners of their eyes, or on their lips, as something beyond reality. Not just because it’s hard to imagine, and IS heartbreaking, that there are plenty of people in this world who don’t get enough to eat, clean water, education, all of the above… but because how could flies possibly be so bad that you’d be complacent about six or seven of them sitting on your face at all times? Now I know. They’re relentless. They’re ever-present. They’re really freaking annoying.

And here I’m going to go into another segue: A Terry Pratchett book I read long ago before I ever dreamed I might live in Oz (and have read several times since) happens to be a spoof on Australia. It’s about a wizard who is unfortunately spat out of the dark dimensions back to reality only to end up in the Discworld’s equivalent of Oz. It’s called The Last Continent (living here makes the book even funnier). Anyway, one of the images from the book that has stuck with me the most is a modification this wizard made to his hat with lengths of string and bits of cork. He decorated the brim of his hat all around with corks suspended on strings, and the idea was to help keep the flies away a-la a constantly swinging horse-tail effect.

When warned about the flies here, I joked that I should get some corks and string them up around the brim of a hat for defense. I don’t think they knew what I was talking about, but they laughed anyway. However, one day when wandering around central Sydney with whip boy, I found THIS! AHA! They may be hats designed specifically for gullible tourists, but they do exist!!

Cork hats

Back to the main story. ANYWAY. While camping we each had sleeping containers, as well as a small tent that we set up most nights simply to hang out in, safe from the bitey things. The point of this is, that although we were awake and conscious for at least part of the night (most nights. There were exhausting exceptions), most of our time was spent behind some sort of screen, other than quick jaunts to the toilet. We were perfectly able to see the grazing kangaroos and sunsets and sunrises, but time in the open air at night was limited. (there was one exception to chase around a bunch of possums, but that was the exception)

Back when I first started this blog, my aunt asked for a picture of the southern cross. Sydney has far too much light pollution to get a picture of the stars, so I thought this camping trip would be my chance. Little did I know that the threat of massive itchiness would be more powerful than my desire to set up a good shot.

But when stuck on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere with a steaming engine next to kangaroo-hunting nuts in trucks, it’s time to take another look at your surroundings.

As I described before there was time to explore the ground,

wolf spider in grass

peeking in holes

spidey in a hole

and playing with toads.

roadside toad

There was time to find strange mounds of tiny seeds (a truck that dumped its cargo? wha?),

ben with seed pile

dead bird carcasses and lots of trash, and there was also time to set up a shot of the sky, to capture the brightly shining stars.

Southern cross horizon

Here you go, Sally:

Southern cross

In which the new comments system is explained

Hey guys, short note here on comments.

I’ve switched commenting systems based on a friend’s strong recommendation (who also happens to work for the company, so maybe he’s biased…) and we’ll see how it goes.

You don’t have to register with anyone under the “connect with” option underneath the comment area. You can instead “pick a name” and avoid creating any sort of account. Everyone who has been approved here for comments in the past has been whitelisted by yours truly, so everything should be good.

I love hearing from you, so happy commenting!


In which I find something to say

Sometimes so much has happened since I last found time to write that writing about *anything* feels like a betrayal of all the other awesome things that have gone on. I think that’s where I am right now. I keep thinking I should start with the “most important” of the things, whatever that is. But that’s part of the problem – I have no idea what that is. So I’m just going to write about minutia as they occur to me.

You might have read on ben’s blog about bits of our camping trip with my old friend whip boy (I’ve finally gotten him to somewhat accept the nickname! hurrah!) along with some of its many ups and one rather significant down. Right before that big down (down, down, downdowndown) we stopped at a gas station near Yass, about three hours from Sydney, on our way back from camping for a week and a half through several national parks and a brief stay in Melbourne.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 11.05.51 PM

Around ten o’clock at night we were switching drivers (Ben to Ben), we needed a gas refill, and Ben (whip boy) wanted coffee. As he wandered inside the truck stop to find some (a story in its own right, where the machine he tried to use spewed coffee and water all over the floor rather than into his cup) I stood outside watching thousands of beetles swooping under the giant canopy over the gas pumps, swarming around the lights. Ungainly, lovely, inch-long golden-brown shiny beetles. They were also attracted to the lights inside the truck stop and flew into the giant plate glass windows and through the open doors. They crawled along the sidewalk aimlessly, and on the floor inside the gas station. I kept trying to rescue them, bringing them back outside where they’d have a chance at mating, or moving them off of the side walk out of being-stepped-on range. But they kept flying back inside, crawling back into the sidewalk. I gave up and just watched.

Bugs are weird. As we walked out of there we thought of a legend that could be created, of the small town with the large truck stop, where once a year under the light of the full moon fairies were transformed into beetles and had twelve hours to collect glitter from the electric lights to power their fairy furnaces for the next year.  Or something like that, anyway.

Ten miles out the engine light blinked on and we got off at a truck pullout. The engine coolant was boiling, the water we replaced it with leaked out, and we didn’t know it then, but we were about to say goodbye to that borrowed car for at least three weeks as some mechanics in Yass removed the engine and replaced it with a new/old one.

As we waited for a tow truck I walked along a nearby fence line in the dark peering with my headlamp down every odd little hole to see what I could find. A small mammal peered back out of one, before disappearing at the tremor of whip boy’s footsteps, and large wolf spiders lurked in others.

A pickup truck with spotlights attached pulled into the field on the other side of the fence and Ben (wb) heard shots. Probably hunting roos grazing at night. The Bens strongly urged me to continue peering in the brush on the far side of the car, away from the truck and guns, nearer the highway.

We were eventually towed to Yass where the driver dropped us in the parking lot of a mechanic across the street from “the only motel in town with a 24-hour check-in.” After checking at the motels 24-hour check-in and discovering there was no room for us, we dragged ourselves and our luggage back across the road to make nests in what room was available in the car, awaiting the opening of the shop in 8 hours.

We made tea on the camp stove in the parking lot, found breakfast, checked the car in with the mechanics, grabbed what stuff from the car that we could carry, and dragged several kilometers up and down hills in powerful heat to the bus stop where in five hours a bus that warned us it might need to stop along the way because it had been overheating in this weather would take us to Canberra where we would catch another bus to Central Station, Sydney, and a train to Strathfield, where we would finally walk the twenty minutes home, drop our things, shower, and sleep off our exhaustion.

It sounds tiring, and it was, but it was also an adventure and certainly a new experience. While in Yass we were forced to stop and look around. When we told our landlord we had stopped in Yass he said, “Yass? Nobody stops in Yass. Why would you stop in Yass?” and I can’t really disagree, there isn’t much there. But we did find a small cafe in a small shopping center run by a friendly old couple who drew a cocoa smiley face in the foam of my mocha and really, that summed up the experience. Seeing the bright side of a small disaster in the new experiences we were having, and laughing as we contemplated how this trip went from oh-so-cheap to oh…well… at least we didn’t break down on one of the twisty dirt mountain roads we had been traveling on in a lonely part of a national park.

At that hot bus stop in Yass where I dumped water on my head every hour to cool myself through evaporation I found the most beautiful beetle, sadly dead, on the ground. I’m glad we stopped there.

Fiddler beetle edit

Eupoecila australasiae