Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tasmanian adventures

Howdy doo.

Well, it’s been another week of fun in Australia. This time in Tasmania. For those of you who are on the fence about traveling here, Tasmania is a reason in itself to come. Of course, this is the opinion of two homesick Canadians, and I guess that should be taken into consideration as you’ll find out in the remainder of this blog. On a side note, family and friends, if we never return home you’ll find us in Tasmania.

I should begin by explaining that the wife and child are a strong magnet for poor researching Tim…He really could be accomplishing so much more in the field were it not for Edie and I who seem to find so many things to go wrong while he’s away. Unfortunately this leaves him stressing out not only over the fact that he might be eaten by a crocodile today, but that Edie doesn’t poo anymore (this really happened). So, to ease his mind, and also to get our family out to see more of what Australia has to offer, Tim suggested that for this most recent field trip to Tasmania that Edie and I would be welcome company. This would solve the long-distance marriage/family dilemma and as a bonus, I’m pretty handy in the field. Tim is also a good friend to many. And I think it might have been a combination of good-will and fear of having our family out alone in the Tasmanian wilderness that drove him to offer our friend Dominic the opportunity to join us on this trip, just in case we needed a hand. Dominic (who Edie refers to as Domino, and I will too from here on in) is a good American friend of Mexican descent who also happens to be great field worker/scientist and needed to kill a few weeks of overtime work. So he decided to come with us, and actually is staying in Tassie for the next few weeks.

So, what exactly were we doing on this field-trip? Well, the short answer is that we were collecting bugs, water, algae, leaves and long-finned eels. These samples will be used to determine what the eels are eating and where that food comes from. The reason that Tim is looking at eels in particular is because the same species of eel is found in both temperate Tasmania and tropical North Queensland, and everywhere in between along the east coast of the continent. What this information will contribute to is the question of why some fish eat in the ocean while others (perhaps of the same species, as in the case of the long-fined eel) get their food in freshwater. The real underlying question is whether fish actually have the ability or desire to remain in the same place (eating the same stuff) for the duration of their lives, or whether they migrate (eating lots of different stuff) to potentially richer feeding grounds. Not that much different than humans when you think about it. Pardon me as I now push up my nerdy science glasses.

So basically, our plan was for us to travel to the 12 planned sites over 4 days and enjoy our time ‘collecting’ samples. For Domino and I, that meant fishing for eels. What a life, hey? For Tim, it meant collecting everything else (it sounds like he got the short end of the stick but he was the only one getting paid on this trip…and I should mention that Edie did relieve the burden of leaf collection by undertaking this at every site). I definitely thought I had the eel fishing in the bag given my history of eel catching. Growing up, it seemed that for every trout caught, probably 5 eels were also caught. Just ask my dad who always ended up having to unwrap mucous-ridden eels tangled up in a ball at the end of my line, or who had to cut the eel out of the fishing net that I had unwittingly placed the eel that I didn’t want to touch into. Seriously, all I ever needed was a worm and a hook. The eels just came. However, the last time that I had a fishing pole in my hand, I was probably 15. And apparently I’ve lost my knack in my 15 year hiatus. It’s like the eels knew that I was fishing for them this time, and purposefully avoided my line. I caught no eels and the only thing I did catch was a trout fingerling (a huge 10cm). That’s not to say that there were no opportunities…the eel that I almost had (out of the water, hanging off of my beef-cube bait twice) was a real whopper, but he/she got away. It was with great grinding of teeth that I left that site, especially when I had to throw my beef-cube bait into the stream knowing that Mr/Ms eel was going to be able to finish off their lunch without my hook in it. I relearned a lot over the 4 days of fishing. One big lesson being the same that my Dad will always remind me of (it was how I caught my first fish)- patience. Cast your line in and walk away, or sit on a bucket and contemplate life. That is how you catch a fish. So, that’s what I did after 2 days of impatiently casting at every site, and certainly that’s when the eels started biting. I just needed a few more days to hone in on my technique and I’m sure I would have been bringing those eels in. But alas, I got nothing. The only redeeming thing for competitive me was the fact that Domino got nothing also. So poor Tim has no eels, which perhaps means another trip??? All the locals couldn’t believe that we hadn’t caught any eels. Apparently they are quite plentiful. Just embarrassing.

So what was so great about Tasmania? Well, it had all the features of home that we just didn’t realize we miss so much. The placed that we rented for the first two nights was a 2 room house located in a pasture, less than a 10 minute walk to the beach. It had a chimney (which most houses do there), so for the first time in a long time Tim and I enjoyed the heat of a wood stove, which was very necessary. The temperature at night there gets down into the single digits. The blanket on the bed felt like the weight of 5 when you got down under it…Oh how I miss blankets! And nice people. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of nice people that we know in Brissy, but that’s just it. They’re people we know. Generally people we don’t know aren’t go-out-of-their-way friendly to us, and some (more than we’d like to admit) are downright rude. The people we ran in to in Tassie were just really, really, down-home friendly and they really had no reason to be, although you could argue that they were earning out tourist dollars. The general friendliness more than anything, really reminded us of home. And all of the yards with old cars rusting out in them – good ol’ economic depravity…That was a little taste of eastern Canada as well. We really were a bit sad to return to Brisbane after the trip, which says a lot considering how livable this city really is. Perhaps city slicking is just not our cuppa. I think that’s safe to say.

Edie traveled really, really well which also puts a positive spin on any of our travel destinations. We made the tactical move of renting cottages or apartments with 2 rooms rather than sticking to the hotel circuit. This was golden. We were able to set up a room with a single bed just like hers at home (mattress on the floor with lots of pillows to romp around in, complete with dollies which we brought from home), and basically leave her there for the night as if it were any normal night. She bought this hook-line and sinker. It wasn’t quite as smooth as going to bed at home is, but it was SO much better than our hotel room stay in Melbourne (see 2 posts ago for that adventure). Domino unfortunately had to sleep in the living room of each of the places that we stayed, but he didn’t seem to mind. As for driving, Miss E has a rocky history with traveling by car…Ask my sisters about it someday if you have the chance. I believe they may have experienced the worst of the worst when Edie and I met them in Maine in August last year and had to drive 2 hours to get to New Brunswick after having traveled across the planet earlier that day. Top of the lungs screaming the entire ride. I cringe at that memory. Regardless, she was really great on this trip. It probably had something to do with the hearts she had in her eyes for Domino, whenever he was around she was quite pleasant, including in the car.

We’re super excited to welcome Little Says back on Sunday. Our first repeat visitor!

Enjoy the pictures!

Love to all,



Friday, April 9, 2010

We've been everywhere, man.

Hello all and Happy Belated Easter. It was a big four-day weekend for us (one of the advantages of the Australian life) so we managed a couple of rainforest hikes. Edie once again missed out on Purling Brook Falls, one of the nicest walks in southeast Queensland. She spent most of it fast asleep on my back even as we passed under the waterfall and got a little wet.

I've been on the move a lot in the past two months, with trips to the Flinders River (north Queensland), Mitchell River (ditto), and the Gippsland region (Victoria) for various sampling events. Victoria reminded me a little of home, with some nice clear water streams with gravel bottoms that had trout and eels, very unlike what I've become used to up north. It was also nice to be able to splash around in the water without worrying about a hungry reptile making a meal out of me.

This Wednesday we (and by we, this time I mean the whole family) are traveling to Tasmania to do some more sampling. Laura has kindly offered to come along to try and catch eels with a rod and reel so I can take samples. Apparently she has a bit of experience fishing them from her days on the Chegoggin River. And of course Edie will pitch in by variously collecting leaves and picking up stones. I think she plans on bringing her binoculars. Either way, it's going to be a great combined work trip/vacation, and we're pumped about seeing Tassie for the first time.

After our return from Tassie we'll be once again welcoming sister Sarah for her second vacation down under. She and Justin fly into Sydney on April 21st. No doubt we'll find plenty of things to do while they are here. But the fun doesn't end there. Laura is heading back to Vietnam in early May to see Van Anh and celebrate her pending marriage. That means Dad is staying home for a week with Miss Edie. We'll keep that a secret from little ears for the moment, as it could get ugly.

All for now, enjoy the pics!