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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Trading Everything #11 The SkinkOmeter


You may even find the time to invent something as I did, only to find that the road to scientific fame has problems laying in wait for you.

     I thought that I was finally on to something with the discovery of
the "SkinkOmeter". Although I could foresee patenting problems, I
believed the SkinkOmeter to be a meteorological device of unfailing
accuracy. It is environmentally friendly and eventually biodegradable.
It requires only light maintenance that you were going to do in the
general area anyway. Its moving parts move of their own free will.
 SkinkOmeter construction is easy. Whatever part of the garden that
gets the morning sun first will usually serve as a SkinkOmeter. Decide
just how big an area you want to include. Small garden patios that can
be taken in by one leisurely glance will do just fine. For myself
anything that falls out of the area immediately in front of a
particular two-metre garden edging board and the surface of the edging
board itself is not counted.
It is also easy to read and takes no more than a minute or so of
concentrated observation and limited numeracy skills. If there are
five or more skinks that are either crossing the area or bathing in
the sun it is going to be a fine, warm day.
Three to four skinks, sunny but cooler.  If there are only one or two
wet specimens huddled in the gloom it is probably going to continue
raining for a while. No skinks - winter.

 Unfortunately at one point I had to write...

All  was well until just recently. The 40 cm long blue tongued lizard
that stumps its way around the neighbourhood on its impossibly small
legs, has parked itself on the far side of the edging board. Here it
lies in wait, camouflaged by the leafy ground cover. Mr Blue Tongue
does not see this area as a finely honed weather instrument but more
like a buffet on a conveyor belt.

  The weather has been great but the readings have been poor. Lots of
sun, few skinks, just one big hot lizard with a swollen belly.
Unfortunately the SkinkOmeter can no longer be relied upon to offer
accurate predictions. Until this situation is rectified I will have to
rely on alternative sources such as the newspaper and the Internet for
my weather information.            Ken

Monday, 22 August 2016

Trading Everything # 10 Here be Dragons

  On the old maps it was written  "Hic sunt dracones" -Here be dragons. It was meant to indicate danger  or unexplored territories. In China the belief was that the dragons of ancient times emerged from the water to bring rain, wisdom or justice but I believe that the  modern dragons are still in the water and that sometimes "Here be dragons" means just that.
  The signs are written in three languages in large red letters on a bright yellow background: WARNING, followed by a head shot of a crocodile and an international symbol for no swimming followed by "Crocodiles inhabit this area.". The signs are clearly posted around the various swamps and rivers of northern Queensland and they are not there to make the area look quaint. One victim had used the almost long 2 metre sign as a clothes hanger before going swimming. While we were in Queensland,  an eight-year-old girl was taken from a riverbank as she fished beside her mother. A few dismembered pieces were found scattered on the opposite shore the next day. Last year a husband and wife went canoeing in a posted area. When a large croc attacked, the husband jammed the paddle into its jaws. The croc smashed the paddle then lunged up into the boat grabbing the man's arm and dragging him over the side. The canoe capsized. The wife luckily made it to shore but the body of the husband has never been found.
 Sometimes they go on a bit of a land hunt. Recently a croc walked 60 meters into a campground and dragged a man by his legs out of his tent. He was screaming "Get the baby!" so his wife ended up trying to hold the baby in one hand while using the other to play tug o war with the croc. A 66-year-old grandmother came from another tent and jumped on the reptile's back and began punching it in the head. The croc traded the man's legs for granny's arm. Luckily another camper arrived with a revolver and shot the thing in the head. I wonder if he got in trouble for having a gun?
   The big salties aren't everywhere in Queensland as they need a consistently high temperature in order to digest their food. The magic line lies somewhere between Brisbane and Cairns. Even though Cairns is a major built up modern tourist destination, the crocs still patrol the harbour and nest on the town's tidal flats and the pricey trendy beaches just north of the city. Salties like both fresh and salt water and will hunt effectively in either.  Five years ago a salty decapitated a scuba diver. A few years ago a large croc silently removed a university girl from a tour group at a freshwater waterfall area that their guide had led them to.
  In order to really appreciate them you need to observe them in a number of situations. In one round cement pool we watched one make a slow turn in clear water.   This fellow was so big that its body was well curved in order to fit the enclosure. The water barely covered its back. Using its finger and toe tips it slowly did a 360. Not a ripple. In a muddy pool we watched a crocodile named Bart disappear from the bank into the water as a handler entered the enclosure. Although the pool was shallow you had no idea where this hunter was until the handler splashed the water and it exploded into view. Once this fellow got a hold of the handler's bait which was a big chunk of cowhide attached to a hefty rope, the croc put on a performance of head shakes and death rolls in an attempt to maintain, drown, and dismember his prey. As the handler remarked, "Bart and I are not a team." Bart was a decent size, about 12 feet and weighing 250 kilograms. However he didn't come close to some of the fully-grown monsters that were on display. The real biggies were another 2 meters longer than Bart (6 to 7 meters or 20-23 ft) and weighed between 700 and 800 kilos. Not pounds, kilos.   Their head sizes were double Bart's. Looking at one made you think that you had just arrived at Jurassic Park.  One such monster was named Solie after the dog that it had eaten. Some kids had headed for a swim in the river, luckily for them Solie had jumped in first.
  At the croc farm they took you on a boat ride through the breeding area. This complex was basically a re engineered, replanted swamp. Although there were 25 breeders mostly at the 4-5m  length it was amazing how many you didn't see. They do some minor amount of feeding at each trip so even though it was their winter (25) and almost at the temperature which stops them feeding, some of the residents showed a bit of interest. It was amazing to see them all of a sudden surface by the side of the boat. The sound of their jaws closing at 2 tonnes pressure is quite dramatic at close range.
  On the jungle river cruise on the Daintree River the experience is much more "real". The river is about as wild and uninhabited as you can get. Snakes bask on the branches of the trees that overhang the muddy river. The river has a good density of crocodiles (about 50-60 having been spotted by helicopter in this stretch of the river) but you actually see very few. Yes you can find the ones basking in the sun on the banks, and if you have them pointed out, you can also see the eyes and nostrils of the ones holding in key positions like stream entrances. What apparently you rarely are able to spot are the walnut sized bumps that indicate the presence of a monster below. Mostly all you see is smooth, muddy water. The river holds some huge but boat shy crocs that escaped the heavy commercial hunting that ended in 1971. They have had years and years to grow long and heavy under the banner of a protected species.
Yup, just smooth, muddy water, but I noticed that everyone kept his or her hands well inside of the boat railing.  Ken

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Trading Everything # 9 What about Dirk?

On your journey you may have experiences that make you question which philosophy you believe in.

 It seems to be one of Hollywood's favourite philosophical themes.
You know the one about if you save someone's life you are responsible
for that person or equally popular is its inverse- you save someone's
life they owe you big time forever. From Christmas movies like "What a
Wonderful Life!" through to the Terminator flicks this simple message
is repeated. However, in the real world, given  the behaviour seen in our
backyard a more fitting movie would be, "What About Bob?"
 When Doug (2nd son) and his traveling companion were here we returned to the house one day to
find a young kookaburra floating motionless in the swimming pool. I
fished it out and although we didn't give it much hope, Doug wrapped
it in a towel and warmed it with his hands for a while and then placed it
in a warm area of the yard. We sat around in lawn chairs and had a few
beers as we supervised lest some opportunistic predator come by. Plus,
we felt like we had a stake in this now and we wanted to know how it
would turn out. Over the hours it eventually warmed up and dried off.

  Eventually it crawled out from the loose towel and flew to a nearby
tree. After watching us for a while it flew off. Only recently did it
return for some steak strips. I figured that was going to be about it.
The young kookaburra with the punk looking head feathers that we
named Dirk had finally returned to take a peace offering as a way of
saying that he forgave us for our hands-on treatment during his
rescue. He would doubtless fly off and I'd never again get that close
to one of these creatures. Hail good fellow well met! Thanks for the
encounter! Adios amigo!  End of story.
 Today was cloudy and cooler with a morning drizzle. The kind of
morning that should either be spent sleeping through or on the couch
with a good book, a blanket, and single malt. As it was a workday no
such luck. The living room curtains opened to reveal Dirk already
perched on the railing. Great excitement filled the house. "Our
special visitor! O happy day! Your breakfast coming right up sir!" I
took five pieces of raw strip steak (they won't eat it cooked) three
to five inches long and a cm wide to fill him up and send him on his
way. What a pig!
 An hour or so later. "Oh look who's back? (A touch of sarcasm
creeping in.) He can't surely still be hungry." Three more pieces of
steak said that he was. After he flew off Gord (oldest son) and I went down to the
break wall to gather saltwater for the aquarium while it was still
high tide. This normally mundane task made much more interesting
knowing that I am potentially sharing the rock pile with a brown
 Want to guess who was sitting on the railing when we got back? Still
with the hopping along the rail until he is directly opposite me,
still with the leaning in with intent and the head bobbing, and still
with the bloody fixed stare.   "He can wait." We made him sit there
until we were finished doing our fish tank cleaning. Three, maybe four
pieces this time with Gordon taking a share of the hand feeding honours.
 The next time he showed up we made him wait even longer before
grudgingly handing over two more pieces of tribute.
 I had to go off to my work around three and then pick up Jan. Upon
arriving home I popped the all-important question. 
                                                      "Yes Dirk was here
                                                        "Did you feed it?"
 Someone in this relationship has it all wrong. Why am I the one who
has to wing to the store to get the next load of food? Shouldn't Dirk
be the one who is off killing things in my honour? He has the economic
theory of supply and demand backwards. He shows up and demands and I'm
expected to supply. Seemingly I'm also expected to supply the soap and
water and labour to clean the railing after he has left.
 Perhaps this whole thing just illustrates another time honoured
philosophy. No good deed goes unpunished.  Ken

Monday, 1 August 2016

Trading Everything #8 Keep Calm and Bite your Tongue

  After a few weeks of filling my days with walking the beaches I decided that I needed to be more productive so I got a part time job at a tutoring business. I taught them English and Math(s) and they taught me how to bite my tongue.

 One of my students is new to grade 2 as of February 1st. She is blonde, blue eyed, and as beautifully elfin as any Lord of the Rings character. Last week she let it be known that she might be moving soon. She told me that her parents were managing a caravan park well outside of town. "My dad told me that he renamed the park. He told me that it used to be called Moby the Wild Dick Park." (and if you've ever been a teacher you know the frozen smile that was on my face as I said,  "Oh......that's interesting."
  This week I was sitting beside her, marking her homework. Being small she has a tendency to kneel on her chair. As she reached up over to the back of the the work table she broke wind like a sailor. She turned to me with a big smile and said, "Bless me!" 
                                                                                                  Ken/kg/Dad/still the teacher/learner

Today I was working with one of my younger students - grade one or two. His word attack skills need a fair bit of work, like when we tried "boy" he came up with "dog"- you get the picture. So today I showed him his new list of sight words and putting my pencil at the top of the page asked him to try to sound the first one out.
                                                     "No, Jesus is not one of your new words."
                                                      "Jesus Christ, do I have to learn all of these words?"

   You just can't beat real life.