Long Time, No Blog

There is a reason, or several why I haven’t made a blog in over a month.  The first excuse reason I haven’t blogged is that I haven’t done much that is noteworthy.  Mainly due to the wet season hanging on with drizzly days making progress on the sauna rebuild and other projects impossible.  I have other feeble excuses for my sloth, such as being fully booked for accommodation and looking after my grandkids aged 3 and 5 for 2 days a week.  I can get some things done while the kids are here, such as servicing a cottage, or a bit of building, but they require regular feeding, beg for book reading, demand that I watch them drill holes in wood, cut grass with scissors, or splatter paint on paper and proudly proclaim it a landscape.

Sauna progress

So I regretfully report I have missed the winter deadline for the sauna rebuild.  Both my guests and I could really use a sauna at the moment with a drizzly day that reached a max of 13C.  God what!  You’d expect better in Glasgow.  I’ve just looked up Glasgow.  Gales and rain but 17C.  I’m wearing socks would you believe!  After a brief glimpse of the ‘dry season’ with brilliant sunny days, I am disappointed by the return of cloud and drizzle.

My other grandkids aged 6 and 4 came over from Darwin last week to stay for a few days.  Yes, they did bring parents to take care of logistics.  It was great to see the cousins reestablish relationships.  I have just put the floor in and waiting to nail off and coat it on a dry sunny day so the coating will dry rather than go to a tacky emulsion.  It was drizzling and 15C when I took this (30 mins ago).  Give me a break Huey!!  I had my grandkids when laying the floor, and they played happily while I laboured on, but they were playing with my tools, and elder Henry 5 has understood how important tools are from me and his dad, so wanted my tape measure when I wasn’t using it.  Partly my own fault for stressing how important measuring and numbers are to ‘do stuff’ so that when he gets to that stage in school, he knows what it is for.  Which left me negotiating with a 5 year old to get my tools back.

Recently, the hydro generator had a burnout of a brush and slip ring.  Nothing unusual as it happens every 6 months or so, but while trying to turn down and refurbish the slip ring it came loose.  It was a paper thin strip of brass worn down by constant friction.  Re-engineering required.  I managed to bodge it up to last for a very limited period, so I could press-gang Blue, my daughter’s partner, to help me carry down an old generator to replace it.  I know it is old because the manufacturers ceased production pre 1982. We arranged a date for the ‘big grunt’.  The track down to the hydro site follows the waterfall and is very steep, slippy and littered with loose rocks.  The generators weigh about 65 kg.  Rather like mountaineering in the high Alps but carrying a body on a stretcher.  One wrong step launches everyone off down the hill.  The most difficult sections negotiated by lowering the carrying cradle by rope.  I wanted to install and fire up the ‘old’ generator before trying to lift the failing one up the hill in case the replacement didn’t work.  A few adjustments were required as the support feet had different dimensions, but when I started it off I could tell from the sound it was taking up the load.  You beaut!!!!.  Rather like me, you thought you were past retirement, but still good to go.

The next task was to hump the failing generator up the hill to my workshop for re-engineering to be a back-up.  There was some negotiation as to who would take front and uphill position on the carrying stretcher and who would carry the rear.  On steep hills the weight falls on the rear.  My negotiations skills must be failing as I got the arse end.  I called 4 halts in the ascent as I couldn’t gulp enough oxygen.  The legs were willing, but the lungs were weak.  I have installed new (homemade) slip-rings and brush calipers from an old generator to increase the brush contact area and decrease the contact pressure which I hope will give much increased life to the components.  If you didn’t understand a word of that, don’t worry.  Your incomprehension is very unlikely to impact your life.  You only have to be good at one very small thing to earn a living.

Hang in there and try and survive the trifecta of buffoons now running the English speaking world.  With the honourable exception of Jacinta of course.

 

Disaster Strikes Possum Valley

The television doesn’t work.  I went to switch it on tonight and not a flicker or a lonesome LED, dead as a maggot.  Which is an oxymoron of a phrase, as when anything is dead, the maggots certainly aren’t.  however the television dead with no sign of maggots.  Which has driven me to my computer, and having absorbed enough of a dose of dismal news, gives me leisure to compose a post.  Not that I have a lot to report as I have been in hibernation due to persistent rain, mist, mud, leeches and sheets of drizzle driven by gale force winds.  The sauna reconstruction is at a standstill though I did take advantage of 3 whole days without rain to get half a ton of materials down the precarious slippy track.  Even the ducks have had enough and loiter in my patio area undercover in a semi-catatonic state.

I must say that my guests have been taking the dismal conditions with a cheerfulness that defies reality and an optimism that is a credit to the Aussie ‘can do’ spirit.  I am reminded of a Giles cartoon that I grew up on that caricatured the grim British determination to have a good time.

Happy holidays by Giles

Just departed today is an extended family who have been coming for decades.  They said they a great time and saw plenty of wildlife, which of course doesn’t have the option to go on strike.  I think a large part of the ‘great time’ was the opportunity for 3 generations to get together without piling into one house and creating ‘hosts’ and ‘guests’.  They could come to neutral territory and just muck in together.  Muck the operative word.

Other recent guests have been forgiving for other reasons.  Despite the atrocious weather for the last …… well … forever, guests have seen the golden bower bird in the last couple of days. I had a couple of wildlife enthusiasts from WA and they were thrilled to see platypus out the window and the tree roos, possums and for them the highlight was the golden bower bird. They forgive and forget the mud if they get to see the special creatures they certainly wont see elsewhere.

The few fleeting days when I managed to get some materials down to the sauna was due to a blast of cold air from Antarctica I think.  On a day where the max temp was 12C, my grandson Henry, 5, gets all his gear off and goes round naked.  I had resorted to long trousers while he resorted to just skin.  I didn’t make a point of it as I was sure he would soon realise the error of his ways, but an hour later where he showed no signs of discomfort, I persuaded him to to put on a few clothes.  Philip, 3, didn’t show as much resilience to the cold, but then he had fallen over in the creek and was drenched from head to toe.  I tried to get him to walk up from Blackbean Cottage to my house as I was carrying piles of linen and bags of garbage, but he shuddered to a stop crying miserably and I dimly remembered similar incidents from my own childhood and abandoned my load in the paddock to whisk him to warmth, safety and dry clothes.

To say I was disappointed by the result of the federal election would be an understatement.  I couldn’t believe that a coal brandishing reactionary twit could possibly be elected.  I don’t think there has been a more idiotic result since the praetorian guard in Rome after several assassinations and much wine elected a horse as emperor.  Actually, I think I’d rather have a horse.  Winx for PM!!  Yeah!  At least Winx has a track record, so to speak.  Now our esteemed premier in Queensland has seen the political writing on the wall and is grovelling at full speed to provide Adani with the permits it requires.  We have to leave coal in the ground where it has been for the last 250 million years,isn’t doing and harm and isn’t going to poison the planet.  Digging it up, setting fire to it and choking on the fumes isn’t a rational future policy.  So now my federal representative is Bob Katter and has been since the dynasty was founded sometime around when the pyramids were built I think.  So, what now?  Nothing I think.  It is the business of government to look into the future and make sure it doesn’t happen.  Because they represent the interests of old money and old generations.  The Morrison government didn’t even try to put up policies because they thought it could be a target and anyway a waste of time as they didn’t expect to get back in.  Now haven’t a clue what to do.

I think I am like many old people who realise we have lived through a charmed period of peace and prosperity but now realise our profligate ways threaten the future of our children and grandchildren.  The worst effects wont impact us as our use-by date is fast approaching, the calamitous results are yet to come.  I am thinking of my grandkids and want to make some real changes to our economy of consumption and resource exploitation.  Little adjustments wont be enough.  More radical changes, even uncomfortable changes are required.

 

 

Spammed to Death

To the few people interested in my Possum Valley blogs, I have to inform you that you will no longer get a notification email that I have posted a new blog.  In fact you probably wont see this advice because unless you casually check my blog from time to time, as I have already deactivated the ‘subscribe’ plug-in.  I have had about 1800 subscribers for some time, quite aware that most were machines as I really don’t know that many people in Russia or Poland.  I really don’t understand what advantage ‘the bots’ give to their originators, but recently I have been overwhelmed by about 20-30 new user subscriptions every day and all those notifications from my website land in my email.  They are all from the same source as the form is the same with “meet Carmen and Alice (or any combination of girls names)” as a link I have never clicked on.  I first thought I may be able to block them as the were mostly from .ru, Russia, but they are coming from all over the globe now on an industrial scale with different domains and countries.  So apart form my own website spamming me to add to the piles of spam I already get about such things as “SEO optimisation” for my website, when I add a new post, my own website adds to the Worldwide Waste of bandWidth (WWW), with thousands of unwanted emails.  I have inadvertently become a spammer myself.

OK, so I have deactivated the subscribe plug-in but still got spammed, so I deleted the app and all data and still got spammed.  I looked at the front end of my site and the invitations to subscribe are gone but I still get a few from “chat with Carla and Simone”.  But the numbers do seem to be dwindling.  

Amongst my IT woes are my tax returns.  The only work I don’t do myself is tax returns.  Australia boasts the most voluminous and complicated tax laws in the world and when you have a business, however small, it is almost impossible to understand.  So I have employed an accountant for the last couple of decades.  In the first few years I used to take in masses of bits of paper for the accountant to muse over.  Then in 2002 I joined the digital era with ‘Quickbooks’ and took in a CD and then a DVD with the data on it.  After a decade, my program was no longer supported by up-dates and the accountant could no longer open the files.  But I found if I emailed the files to them they could open them.  This has worked for the last 8 years or so, but no longer.  I only found out about this last week when Centerlink was hassling me about business detail updates and I realised I had seen nothing from the accountants since I submitted the data in Sept 2018.  Only when I called in did I learn they couldn’t open the files I sent then.  8 months of inaction left me jammed up against a Centerlink deadline to submit my tax returns.  So I was faced with the prospect of purchasing new accounting software and the nightmare of setting up a company and defining accounts and categories of expenses and incomes, suppliers and customers and all that shit.  

Then my accountant emailed to suggest if I printed out a few reports from my program and brought them in they could process my tax return.  So I printed out the data onto 20 sheets of crushed trees, and took them by hand to the office of my accountant who I have never met, and left them with the receptionist.  It struck me as ironic that after 20 years of digital accounting, I had gone full circle and was again submitting my accounts on paper.

In other news, I must apologize to guests that my rebuild of the sauna burnt down Xmas last year has been much hindered by a protracted wet season, other obligations, and now more bad weather with a cyclone in mid May.  Mid May??!! Yeah, OK, excuses excuses, but I am working on it.  I now have the frame and half the roof.

For the forthcoming election I have already voted like 3 million other people who couldn’t endure the puerile debate.  I wasn’t offered my first choice which was the popular option of kidnapping Jacinda Ahern and chaining her to a desk in Canberra.  Then again, perhaps not a good choice as the prospect of the all blacks rampaging in retaliation in the streets of our capital is too frightful to bear.  

Recent Wildlife Sightings

Wildlife gets out there and has to hustle for a living come rain or shine.  Birds, having a high metabolic rate have to do it every day.  Snakes, being cold-blooded can endure weeks of bad weather before hunger drives them to action.  Humans for the most part have divorced themselves from any effect of the weather and now more than 50% of humanity lives in cities and can go from garage to underground car-park in sealed pods we call cars without having to put up with inconveniences of inclement weather.  Those people greatly affected by the weather have dwindled to less than 2% of the population in Australia and are increasingly elderly, but manage to totter about to provide everything we eat and add significant export revenues as well.  We call them farmers.  Somehow, we have entirely taken them for granted and lavish riches on sports stars and IT entrepreneurs catering to our whims.  Actually, I think eating is far more important.

Tree roo

Oh dear, I have already gone off-track.  Try again.  In the last week, guests at Blackbean Cottage had a window seat of a tree kangaroo contentedly feeding for 3 hours.  For most of the party it was their first view of a tree roo in the wild.  They could not believe how clumsy it was getting about in the trees.  I’ve seen goats that were more nimble at climbing trees in Africa.  They have got a way to go before fitting the “adapted to environment” paradigm espoused by Darwin.  

 

 

 

 

2m red-bellied black snake

In a few recent days of sunshine (two to be precise), after a long wet spell, the snakes were about.  Black snakes, probably red-bellied but I didn’t trouble them for identification, were everywhere.  Only the world’s 14th most venomous snake, they are close to harmless.  They are so passive as to be no threat.  The Zen Buddhists of the snake world.  I have stood on them half a dozen times without reprisal.  They do flatten their fore-body though to warn off assailants.  Thank you Mick for this recent pic

I look after my grandchildren for a couple of days a week and Henry the elder at nearly 5 likes me to go along the track hacking back fallen vegetation with my machete that I boast about in my last blog.  So though I didn’t think there was urgent need, I gave in to his demands to clear the track.  He also advises me when the road drains need attention.  Can’t say I have ever come across another kid with an eye for drains. I am hacking away at obstructive plants when he hangs out of the car and says “cassowary”.  He has never seen one but relates to story books I read from the local library.  I turn around and just three paces behind me is a cassowary.  We regard each other for a while before it turns and slowly paces around the car. 

I only intended a quick hack so I had left the engine running.  I turn it off and talk to the kids about cassowaries and how they can be dangerous and have strong legs and big claws.  It continues to circle the car just a few meters away, so I put the kids in the back tray of the duel cab for a better look but out of the way in case the bird is having a bad hair day.  It crosses the road again and we can see its robust legs and long claws even bigger than I remember.  I point out the brilliant colours of its head and neck and the glistening iridescent of the feathers to try and key their memories.  It was at least 5 minutes circling the car when I heard traffic.  Guests arriving and we were just around a blind corner so I walked past the bird to slow down the new arrivals.  The cassowary decided that was too much company and disappeared so they didn’t get to see it, but they didn’t think I was having them on as the driver pointed out some droppings on the road.  A fresh turd bigger than a cow pat with seeds the size of walnuts was sitting in the road.  Many trees with large seeds rely entirely on the cassowary for seed dispersal. 

tree roo and joey

About a week ago I was on the veranda hard at work with the Times cryptic crossword when a tree kangaroo hopped around the wood stack on the patio in its usual halting leisurely way before climbing the fig tree right next to the veranda.  I knew the guests at Blackbean Cottage were interested in wildlife so I went down to invite them to see it.  We got back there a few minutes later and I was embarrassed to find it had gone as I examined the small 4m high tree.  But the guests looked harder and saw its tail hanging down and then the whole animal.  I knew where it was and just a few meters away but I was unable to see it until I got in just the right spot.  A couple of hours later when it was satisfied it wasn’t being watched, it clambered down onto the veranda and looked around for a while bewildered by it’s new and barren surroundings before hopping down the stairs and off into the forest.  I have an affinity for these strange, clumsy, intellectually challenged animals.  

Recent possum pic. thanks Jim

I think there is the possibility that my grand kids might be the last generation to see any remnants of an intact ecosystem.  It seems that the complete dominance and subjugation of the environment for human needs is imminent and inevitable.  I won’t be around for the end game there, but it seems to be the way it is going.  It won’t end well.

Keep Trying

Decades ago I saw this old crosscut saw in a second hand shop for about $20 I suppose.  Not your hardware store version version to use on a sawhorse with a piece of 4 by 2, this was nearly 2m long with big teeth and perpendicular handles at each end formerly used to fell big trees in the rainforest.  So bought it.  I can’t recall why, as it takes 2 people to operate and I had a huge chainsaw that has completely superseded this old saw. It is from the days where they used to cut notches in the tree about 3m from the ground to put ‘spring boards’ in to stand on to fell the tree above the buttress roots so common in rainforest trees.  First they would cut a ‘bird’s mouth’ open cut with felling axes about one third to one quarter through the trunk, and then cut back to the bird’s mouth from the other side with the crosscut.  A nice ‘hinge’ would be formed to control the direction of fall and to prevent any shattering of the timber.  

Some time ago I went on a chainsaw course to get a ticket to be able to get a firewood licence.  Creeping bureaucracy had caught up with me and deemed my 20 years of using a chainsaw and felling trees was was without value.  Even more preposterously, two old fellers on the course had started their tree harvesting careers using springboard, axe and crosscut saw like mine, in the days when ox-trains hauled out the logs.  They had imported and used the first ever chainsaw to reach the Tablelands when engines became light enough to lift off the ground ….just.  What they didn’t know about felling a tree probably doesn’t exist but they needed a ticket too to continue what they had been doing all their lives.  I overheard some learned talk between them and the instructor on such minutia as exactly where to hit the strap on a ‘leaney-tree back-strap cut’. 

Meanwhile back at my saw, it sat around for a long time as an ornament until I had a bright idea how to use it.  My little track in through the rainforest gradually becomes a little tunnel, and even that closes in to nothing unless the vegetation is cut back at intervals.  I had been doing that with machete, axe and brush hook, but there is 2 km of track which means 4 km of hacking.  Takes a couple of days of hard yakka.  So I thought of vertically mounting the blade cantilevered off the side of my bull-bar and parallel to the direction of motion and then drive along at 20 km/h like a giant machete.  I used a couple of old bit of railway line to cantilever but hit a snag.  I couldn’t drill a hole in the 1.76 mm thick blade (I’ve just measured it).  Not even on a pillar drill press with 12 speeds and HSS sharp drills.  The bits just turned red-hot and hardly made a dent.  The hardest steel I have ever come across.  I had to cut small slots with and angle grinder for the bolt holes.  Blade mounted!  If this works, it will be biggest jump in productivity since the invention of the wheelbarrow I thought.  It worked!  You beaut! as I did a steady 20 km/h down one side of the track.  For about 1 km until I hit a log hidden by the foliage and the blade shattered.  Didn’t bend, didn’t tear, just shattered with every piece still flat.  I sorrowfully picked up the pieces and limped home.  

There my defeat rested until I lost my machete in the rainforest.  Easily done with both handle and blade a dull brown.  Now I tape my tools in glaring red.  I went to the hardware store where they have heaps of them because this area has Australia’s highest vegetation densities and growth rates.  I picked one up and didn’t like the dull look of the blade, and when I flicked it with a fingernail it gave a short dull ‘thock’ sound.  Putty metal, I would never get a decent edge on that thing.  All the hardware stores had the same thing.  I don’t think the manufacturers in Shenzhou had ever tried using one.  I went home in despair and sulked.  Ping!!  an idea came to me that ping was the sound I wanted.  Although it was years since I had failed to drill holes in the old saw blade, I hadn’t throw the bits away and was pretty sure where I could get the ping sound.  I got a long scrap and sure enough got a nice clear musical ping.  I cut out a machete shape with an angle grinder and formed a crude edge then went to a fine belt on the belt sander and finished off the edge with a hand stone.  The handle was a short bit of branch split down the middle and glued and wrapped with a thin strip of aluminium.  On one side adjacent to the blade I cut a bevel for my thumb so it wouldn’t slip out of my hand when wet.  On test it was even better than I had expected. 

best machete in Oz

Just a lazy swing would cut through thin or soft stuff and a more vigourous blow would cut through a sapling the size of a banana with one blow.  I learnt to sharpen it with an increasingly finer edge as it went from handle to tip.  That is especially for vines.  In the rainforest sometimes half the foliage mass in a tree would be vines and many are brought down struggling to support the mass of freeloading vines.  Vines have little rigidity or mass and dance out of the way of a dull machete and just cannot be cut.  So I use the finer edge near the tip for vines and a ‘wristy’ action for speed as in badminton.  For the more substantial branches I use the less fine edge towards the handle with a more arm action as in tennis.  That gets the momentum of the blade balanced on each side of where the blade contacts the branch and is known in engineering as the ‘center of percussion’ and leaves little reaction felt through the handle.  In cricket the batters call it the ‘sweet spot’.  

There:- that is more than you ever wanted to know about the construction and use of a machete.  But if you have never had to use one for hours on end you can never know the bliss of using “The Best Machete In Australia’ as it ‘pings’ its way through thick stubborn rainforest.  You can never know the proprietorial pride and satisfaction of the perfect tool.  You may get some feeble idea from Crocodile Dundee with “That’s not a knife ……. (swish) THAT’s a knife” as he gazes admiringly at it’s blade, but that is just a dim reflection of the satisfaction a craftsman gets from his most treasured tools.    

So that saw blade, probably made in the first couple of decades of the 20th century, has finally been reborn to its optimal use.  It has been destroyed yet lives on.  Silky oak and other timbers from the Tablelands now grace the Houses of Parliament in the (Dis)United Kingdom.  Perhaps my saw was used in that construction.  Perhaps it is only the knowledge of history that historians struggle to retain that is lost, but the elements inevitably live on.

I got a divorce today

Well, not exactly. I signed the legal papers with my wife in front of a JP and they will be filed in a court hearing in Cairns. Neither of us will attend as there are no disputes or child custody issues as our kids are grown with kids of their own. We got together at her place to fill out the forms and both of us admitted sadness at the passing of a chapter of our lives. Just to put that in perspective, we met in the late 1950’s as our fathers were associated in business, met every Sunday at a sailing club and spent the summer holidays together at Llanbedrog in north Wales. More than 55 years of history together. I still have some sailing trophies we won together. But we have been separated for about 17 years now and when she suggested we formalize the current reality, I had to agree. Outside the JP’s office, we had a final hug before departing.

We have 2 girls in our marriage who have produced 4 grandchildren, so we will still have connection and communication. I am pleased to say our marriage breakdown was without rancour or blame. We both realised we were part of the problem. For anyone out there with a relationship breakup, seriously look at your own part in the breakdown and do your best to forgive theirs. I offer you a historical example of the Trojan wars as the wrong way to go. Helen was abducted, male pride was offended and 7 years of war and slaughter ensued. Though the legal fee of $900 is nearly enough to go to war about.

I am always keen to achieve efficiency, so took the opportunity to combine getting a divorce with collecting timber for the reconstruction of the sauna as both happened in Ravenshoe. Many guests have lamented the destruction of the sauna and I have finally got round to begin the reconstruction. The scantlings for the framework are now on site. I have reconnected power to the site for power tools. My first priority is to my guests , my second to the care of my grandkids and the third to projects. So combined with limited weather opportunities, the sauna could take a while, but I hope to have it available for you this coming winter.

This post seems really short so I thought I’d tag on something entirely different and more important. Young children’s access to natural spaces. This has been provoked by internet articles about UK children being denied access to outdoor play areas in tower block developments. Yes, kids being denied a chance to play on a few square meters of grass in the sunlight. By council planning regulations, the areas are designated as play areas. Because of preferential tenant agreements, some kids can’t play there. I think that horrific and choking to a child’s development who are denied any access to the natural world, albeit a miserable strip of grass. My outrage is prompted by my recent experiences with my grandkids. During this long hot summer, they have often asked to go down to the creek. There they have played naked in the water, shaded from the sun by the dense rainforest canopy, and had exciting times. I was fearful that Philip, the younger at 2 1/2 years, would find the terrain too difficult and hurt himself, but he proved me to be the wuss. After a little coaching about traction on the rocks, where dry rocks give good grip, wet rocks give poor grip and permanently underwater rocks, covered in slime mold are as slippery as ice. I could see him learning by the minute. Within a hour he could predict which rocks he could run over and which rocks he had to use the bum crawl on. In the turbulent creek with the water cascading over his shoulders, he made his way down between the rocks to the pool below without me hovering over him. You may think me reckless to expose my grandsons to risk of injury, but for them to accurately assess the risk, meet the challenge, feel the sensory stimulation and feel the joy of success is priceless.

Today we are facing a generation of kids who have little access to the natural world, who will have little connection with it and hence little concern for it. For each failure of the ecosystem they will have a technological fix to restore human comfort until collapse, where there is no fix. That is the dystopian future I hope we can avoid.

Note to Younger Self: A Retrospective

I feel it is about time for a bit of introspective contemplation about my life now that I have completed the many stages of:- childhood, puberty, teenage angst, young arrogance, adult optimism, marriage and kids, middle-age cynicism, and now spending time with my grandkids.  Now as my grandkids recruit me into their games, it somehow seems to complete a cycle as my ambitions fade and their’s grow.  

So what would I have told my younger self if I had a Tardis instead of a Nissan?  Not so much actually.  Just the general advice that every older person gives, which is to be bolder, as few regret what they did, but many regret what they didn’t do.  My missed opportunities were definitely in relationships.  As a teenager I was such a dork, it is embarrassing to even think about it.  In the 60’s it was popular to believe that aliens had landed on Earth and they were living amongst us perhaps performing sexual atrocities on unfortunate victims.  I thought they were called girls.  Unfortunately, no such atrocities were were performed on me.  I have plenty of excuses, such that I went to boys only schools after primary, and at uni, the mechanical engineering department boasted 200 males and 1 girl.  Talk about being up against the odds.  So upon graduation I worked a couple on months in a warehouse stacking boxes and bought a ticket to New Zealand.  A real and symbolic flinging my fate to the winds, as you can’t walk home from New Zealand.

Decided in a few seconds, it was the most spontaneous, brilliant and courageous thing I had ever done.  That was what I was searching for when I wrote the title.  Leap out of your comfort zone was the only useful advice I could give to my younger self.  And if it doesn’t work, do it again.  And again.  That seems to contradict Einstein’s definition of insanity, but hey, the boundary conditions will be different.  So eventually, after many disappointing or painful failures, you will splash into the right pond.  After wandering through such places as Iran and Afghanistan Indonesia and Thailand, I had found many places to challenge my comfort zone.  So then I sought another challenge that I have found in Possum Valley, which may contradict the advice of my older self suggesting I leap again.  But hey, give me a break, a frog gets tired.  So after 42 years I have established a comfort zone entirely of my own making from a wild plot of rainforest.  Even that long ago I could see the threat of habitat loss and ecological damage by clearing and thought to protect a tiny bit as a wildlife fortress enclave in the wilderness.  

In recent weeks I have seen the folly of my naive thinking.  Reports from around the world have been flooding in about the catastrophic decline in insect numbers and diversity.  This is very serious for the world, as insect are a vital component, deep in the foundations of the pyramid of life and perform many life services for humans such as pollination of our food crops and moderation of pests, also feeding a host of birds and frogs, and …. well just about everything.   My folly was thinking this was happening somewhere else and that Possum Valley was far enough ‘away’ and isolated it wouldn’t effect me.  But it already has.  But as they say about rubbish we throw away, there is no ‘away’ anymore.  The decline in insects is happening in Puerto Rican rainforests as well as in national parks in Germany surrounded by cropping land.  I should have seen this earlier, as I just had to search my memory to remember the profusion of bugs when I first came here.  Mass swarmings of big brown beetles in droning clouds rattling on the tin roof and clattering into a chicken wire fence.  masses of caterpillers known as army worms devouring the grass, dazzling arrays of moths in a profusion of colours and bizarre patterns that came particularly in December.  I have been patiently awaiting the return of the moths as I realised then they had good years and bad, but I have been too patient for too long.  I should have realised a decade ago, they are gone.  It used to be I could get endless entertainment in the weeks before xmas sitting on the loo with the window ajar.  The moths attracted by the light came with astonishing patterns and colours seeming more like a children’s colouring competition than the often demure garb of nature.  

I wonder if I have unconsciously been in denial, that it could happen even here in my precious bit of paradise.  I wish I had methodically recorded the numbers and varieties of insects, particularly moths over the 40+ years I have been here.  It would have been a giant undertaking, but longitudinal studies are often the most revealing.  So now I have only anecdotal evidence.  I have read that not all insects will suffer decline and ones that thrive are likely to be the annoying, sometimes dangerous, biting ones exploiting the rapidly expanding human biomass.  When I came here in 1976, I think PV was mosquito free.  In the last 15-20 years they have been occasional visitors.  Now regular visitors but only one or two at a time following rain.  This year for the first time ever were some midges, or sandflies hovering around in the shade.  I thought they were tiny fruit flies until I felt the itch.  

I am sorry to post such a downer, but the take-home message is that environmental degradation is happening everywhere and there is no avoiding it.  You may already live in an mostly sterile city  environment and little notice decrease in insects apart from your part in the industry of trying to eradicate cockroaches.  Then you may wonder that as you wage unceasing and deliberate war against your chosen insect foe without lasting success, we humans have accidentally trashed a vital part of the ecosystem that sustains us.  This insect demise could be worse, but part of, the climate change catastrophe.  Whatever we do or don’t do to change things, there will be a reckoning.  It won’t be an accounting of money, as that will become trivial or totally irrelevant, it will be a reckoning of lives and hardship, starvation and violence, survival or death.  

The only way to avoid it is by great effort to alter the trajectory we are on.  To avoid insect Armageddon we must redesign agriculture, to avoid climate change we have to stop emitting carbon into the air we breathe, to avoid poisoning the planet we have to stop consuming and recycle everything.  So many important issues.  So I despair of our politicians who are maneuvering for votes with such minutia as a medical treatment for a few people on an island WHEN THE FUTURE OF THE PLANET AND HUMAN EXISTENCE IS AT STAKE!  They promise the electors that they have the solutions to their problems.  Solutions?  They don’t even have the right questions, let alone coming near to a solution. 

I think I might go for a cold shower.  

Droughts and Flooding Rains

The poem by Dorothea Mackellar promised the extremes, but Australia is big enough to have them both at once.  The red center and the south have been sizzling for the past month and yesterday Adelaide achieved the dubious honour of a record highest temperature ever for a coastal city in the southern hemisphere of 49.2C .  Here today at Possum Valley, a couple of thousand kilometers nearer the equator and in the height of summer, the maximum was 18C and bucketing with rain.  Flood warnings are out for the Daintree river and the crocs are paddling furiously to avoid being washed out to sea.  

There are threats, dangers and inconveniences with floods, but they don’t compare with the terrifying threats of bushfires and the ongoing agony of drought.  Floods bring growth and renewal, droughts bring …….. well nothing except dust and despair.  

This is in accordance with climate change models which predict little change in the tropics rainfall except more violent cyclones, but drying and hotter conditions in southern Australia.  Have our political models been updated to take account of the new realities?  Not even close.  All the parameters measuring climate change have shown an accelerating trend with both ice caps melting at over 200 billion tons each of ice per year.  That is land ice that adds to sea level rise and does not include sea ice melting which does not.  The arctic may be navigable to shipping in 10 years and countries are already jostling to take a share of transport economies and resource extraction that will allow.  Australia and the world are hitting higher temps every year this century.  

There is a federal election coming up soon this year.  The law requires it and I can tell it is soon, as the present government has abandoned any pretense of actually doing any work and is already on the campaign trail.  Scomo is scampering round pork-barreling for all he is worth under the impression that the old strategy of “it’s the economy stupid”, might just get him across the line.  I am hoping that the voters are realising that it is only the distribution of the economy that will do us any good and the trickle-down effect has never worked and never will.  It is not altogether surprising that the money sticks at the top.  

No, this election I am hoping that a huge chunk of voters realise that the one thing we all share, regardless of economic status, is the environment and how important it is.  Australia is a highly urbanised society with half the population in just two cities and its people not in daily contact with earth and mud, trees and sky, rivers and dust.  Scalding heat has reached into the cities this last month.  Uncontainable fires have raged despite heroic attempts by firefighters.  I hope this enough of a wake up call that we hold the next and future governments to account for their stewardship of our country and environment.

I think we reached the nadir (lowest point) when we had an MP, who shall remain nameless for fear of everlasting shame, brandishing a lump of coal in parliament extolling its virtues.  Now we have this bottom benchmark of environmental destruction to work from, we can steadily work towards a future that holds some promise of a good environment for the next generations.  I am encouraged by recent activism from school kids who have said “hey, it’s our planet too” and are calling out my generation for trashing it.  Actually, they weren’t that harsh, but were calling for future action.  Go girls!  Maybe it was media who picked out the girls, but likely they were leading the way.  

My dear daughter in Darwin doesn’t preach like me, but has installed solar panels on the roof.  Last year for Xmas she gave me fridge wraps of cloth impregnated with bees wax to save leftover food, and this year robust shopping bags she had sown from chook feed bags.  I love these individually made economy presents.  I hope this is a sort of groundswell of thinking and feeling for the environment that persuades a future government it’s survival depends on addressing these issues.

This was not the blog I set out to write.  I don’t want to do political stuff, but I just have.  I just wanted to point out how curious it was to be 31C hotter 2000 kms to the south.  

The rain is still pouring down on the roof and I shall go to bed with the beautiful sound.