Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My new neighbour - Rattus lutreolus, the native swamp rat

My new best friend, now officially named Swampy! At least I hope he'll be a friend considering that the swamp rat or Rattus lutreolus is a protected mammal and setting traps of the terminal variety is a definite no no.
Fossil records for Rattus lutreolus date back around 4000 years making it a relatively new animal in Australia, but without the yuk factor of recent arrival, rattus rattus, which is thought to have arrived here with the First Fleet a little over 200 years ago. Rattus rattus are the ones to watch out for; they carry fleas which in turn carry diseases which are harmful to humans (think in terms of the bubonic plague or black death) and will happily take up residence in homes and generally create havoc.

In contrast, Rattus lutreolus is a shy inoffensive creature, dieting on insects, funghi, seeds and grassy stems, and I've been assured by the Museum of Victoria that they don't pass on ghastly diseases.  Given that this little fellow (or possibly girl - I have no idea which) arrived unannounced on Saturday this is good news.

The Discovery Centre at Museum Victoria has a service where you can email them a photo for identification purposes. So, on Sunday, when it was obvious that a creature of a rat like appearance had begun burrowing near my very small pond and compact rockery, (small mounds of scattered pebbles and dirt were a dead give away) I sat patiently by the window, camera at the ready and spent far too much time enchanted by the scampering, munching, skittish little creature. I got the photo above and promptly emailed it to the Museum, not expecting a reply for weeks as per the advice on the web site. However within a couple of hours they'd got back to me - that's impressive!

My concern is that the swamp rat's penchant for digging burrow systems and constructing runways will be bad for our garden. *Wails - I'm new to this permaculture business, give me a chance and please leave my yam, lemon grass and the water chestnut alone!

I phoned the wildlife rescue people thinking they might take him to what I'd consider a better location, but was told quite firmly that the rat has chosen my backyard and it knows what it's looking for.  They won't assist by relocating it which would most likely lead to it dying because a more dominant creature wouldn't take kindly to an intruder dumped on its doorstep.

So it looks like we'll be neighbours for a while yet, or at least till he moves on, or a wandering cat gets him. (We don't own a dog or cat so there was no home grown deterrent). In the wild, owls and other birds of prey would be the main predators of the swamp rat though he does seem quite nervous when the pigeons land nearby and darts incredibly quickly behind the pots. Unlike some rats, they're active both day and night which makes for good entertainment and photography!
Swampy doesn't appear in the photo above, however behind the dragon it's possible to see the scattered soil covering the right half of the tiny pond which used to be water right up to the yam (with the heart shaped leaves) and water chestnut to the left of the yam (it looks a bit like a stiff grass). It's now mostly covered in, as a result of enthusiastic digging and pushing pebbles aside, which might, with a bit of luck suit those plants better!

Further information is available here and some basic identification information from the Museum of Victoria here.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reflections on Images of America. The 2013 Blogging Challenge.

An alphabet completed, yet so much left unsaid, images of pharmacies which seem more like supermarkets, birdcalls and stars so different to home. Light switches that are upside down, appliances which switch on as soon as they're plugged in, incredibly cheap fuel from petrol (gas) stations where you have to prepay and get a refund if you misjudge the quantity needed, abundant and inexpensive fruit and vegetables in supermarkets which were stocked with enormous arrays of similar canned and packaged foods making choice a challenge. And where oh where do they keep the muesli? Blank looks whenever I enquired, that must be another instance of a different word used for the same product - FYI, granola is not a substitute for muesli!

I've completed the last two years of the Blogging from A-Z Challenge and loved the experience, but ended up blogged out - possibly entering two blogs each year was a bit of overkill, and tackling a serious topic each year as well (Workplace Bullying and Climate Matters) was a huge job and very draining.
This year I knew time would be an issue and was unsure that I'd be able to complete the entire alphabet, so didn't formally enter the challenge. I really missed the camaraderie and meeting new bloggers, but equally, I didn't feel pressured to visit others or post on the correct day, which was important to me. Most importantly I had fun! The format was a great way to think about a recent trip to the United States differently. I knew I wanted to blog about it, but hadn't found an angle that worked for me ... yet again, I found the A-Z format works well and I'm pleased to have been involved, albeit unofficially!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Z is for zig-zag - images of America

Hooray, the last letter of the alphabet, the finale and end!

But what's this? More communication problems? Those in the US pronounce this tricky last letter as z.e.e. and Aussies say z.e.d.! However, right now, who cares - this is the last letter, there are zero to go!
Here's a wonderful, long zig-zag fence next to a field (which we'd call a paddock) which I photographed during a walk near Lake Tahoe.
The fence was beautifully constructed - holes had been drilled through the logs, then lined up and a heavy metal stud joined them together - simple, efficient and aesthetically pleasing.
There are a zillion other things I could have included in this alphabetical journey. I could have zeroed in on the zany, the zealous or how America seems to have passed its zenith particularly in regard to being a democratic, fair and wealthy country. Over 46 million people (around 16% of the population) are living below the poverty line - that's an enormous number to get your head around.

Nearly 17 million children are living in 'food insecure' households and 2.8 million are living in extreme poverty. These unsettling figures aren't what's expected in what is arguably the most powerful nation on earth.

The perception in many other parts of the world is that the US is not only a powerful country, but that the people are generally wealthy. I suspect that in part this is perpetuated by film and TV.  Although we may know intellectually that those media are prone to fantasy, it's hard to break free of their influence.

I know first hand how easy it is to fall into the trap of expecting to walk into a movie set! When we travel, we choose what we want to see, often through the tint of rose coloured glasses - naturally enough, after all we've spent a lot of hard earned money to travel overseas. We avoid the distressing and uncomfortable, the down and out or sleazy areas. We choose places to visit that will entertain, amuse, delight or soothe depending on our needs.

Having travelled to the US to attend a series of training sessions in RFT and ACT, I became aware of the less touristy reality. There are huge numbers of young service men and women (Veterans) who are suffering dreadful physical and emotional injuries as a result of the various conflicts the US is, and has been, involved in.

Many of these youngsters are unlikely to recover adequately to live a "normal life" - and so the price of being powerful on the world stage has had huge costs, not only to the Veterans themselves, but to their families and friends and also to those who work with them to assist and support. Nothing happens in isolation, and the ripples spread ... the cost of war means there's less money for new infrastructure, or to repair old or damaged items like roads.

It's been reported that the US has spent $2 trillion in direct costs associated with the wars, but that
this spending was "only a fraction" of total war costs. The "greatest expenses," which the report said were medical care and disability benefits, have yet to be paid to soldiers. In the future, an estimated 2.5 million veterans will receive state benefits. (
When you factor in the indirect costs the figure is apparently closer to $6 trillion, a number so large that few of us can comprehend its enormity ... So, alongside the warm, welcoming and generous locals, there's also an air of despair, despondency and decay far from the superficial glitz and glamour of the attractive and zany tourist havens.

There's a video in this link to footage of veterans and discussion on the hidden costs of the wars.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Y is for Yosemite - images of America

High in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, (also known as the High Sierra, The Sierras and assorted other names just to confuse the tourists!) way above the gauzy blanket of hazy, smoggy air in the valley below, is Yosemite National Park.
The beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountain range extends around 400 miles north to south (about 650km - the distance between Melbourne and Canberra) and rises from between 5000 to 14,000+ feet (1500 - 4300 metres).
Australia's Great Dividing Range in comparison, is a string of mountains and hills which extends around 3000 kilometres (1,900 miles) from the northern part of Victoria up through New South Wales and into northern Queensland and includes the bulk of the snowy peaks in Australia, aptly named The Australian Alps.
The highest mountain in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko, is in part of the Alps called The Snowy Mountains, and boasts a height of 2228 metres, which is more or less where the Sierras begin, so there's quite a difference! Feeling woozy and lightheaded with altitude is something we rarely need to think about!
The famous photographer Ansel Adams spent much of his artistic life in Yosemite, shooting fabulous black and white images. He remained deeply involved in the area throughout his life and found it a place of beauty and inspiration. He's described in the history of the park as a bit of an agitator and became an advocate for extending the National Parks in the US.
National parks are often under threat and cutbacks are all too common both in the US and Australia. Mining and logging interests see them as an untapped resource and sadly in NSW, Australia, hunters have been granted access at a cost to the taxpayer of $19 million. You really have to wonder at that decision.

However, back to the beautiful Yosemite National Park and Ansel Adams. In 1980 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
"Drawn to the beauty of nature's monuments  he is regarded by environmentalists as a monument himself, and by photographers as a national institution  It is through his foresight and fortitude that so much of America has been saved for future Americans."
Not only talented, but visionary as well!
I was fascinated by the colour of the water in the Merced River which runs through the valley. Crystal clear and a vivid candy-apple green. Small clumps of ice had broken off the banks upstream and floated lazily along, eventually melting and being incorporated into the surrounding water.
The same colour in an Australian river would mean that the water is toxic and there'd be signs around warning you not to eat any surviving fish or use the water in any way. Here it looks fresh and very inviting, though no doubt a bit chilly! I couldn't help but think of the drink marketed as Mountain Dew and wondered if the toxic looking liquid in the bottle was in some way a tribute to this pristine water.

National Parks Service - Yosemite
More on Ansel Adams
Shooting in National Parks NSW
Hunting "incident"


Saturday, May 4, 2013

X is for Xenophile - images of America

Xenophile: An individual who is attracted to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.

That sounds good to me! Though I think the more common terms would be - "someone who has the travel bug", "itchy feet" or simply "wants to see the world"!

My early travel memories are of milling around the Melbourne docks with my relatives ... waiting, waiting, and more tedious waiting for a huge ocean liner to leave. We'd have explored a relative's tiny cabin, looked at the schoolroom set up for the children travelling (can't have them missing out on lessons!), and have been shooed away as the time came for the gangway to be pulled up.

Eventually my cousins and I took off (waiting is sooooo boring when you're 5 or 6 years old) scampering around, getting lost amongst the throngs of people and generally whooping it up.

I recall the excitement of purchasing bags of colourful streamers to throw from the dock to the side of the ship where people jostled for a position to catch and hang on the the flimsy paper, keeping in touch with their loved ones for as long as possible before the paper stretched, became taut and eventually snapped as the tugs shunted the ship into position to leave. By this time adult tears were flowing freely as they knew we'd be unlikely to see these people, who'd become so much part of our lives, ever again.

We'd crawl over the atlas below trying to find the countries and towns which had been mentioned. You can get an idea of the size of the atlas from the iPhone at the top left.
Other early memories are of groups of guests at my childhood home.  Chinese people who appeared to be similar to my young eye, but who were unable to converse with each other in their respective languages, and needed to speak in English which was their common tongue.

Sometimes they'd bring their own visiting relatives to meals. I remember one occasion where someone's uncle looked just like the old Chinese men in paintings - he painted me a picture of a Junk bobbing on waves which I still have somewhere. The dinner chatter would be punctuated with questions about how my mother cooked roast lamb, lemon delicious pudding and other dishes unfamiliar to these friends.

Sometimes, there must have  been discussion about the war, (WW2) because I remember my father reminiscing about being on a Naval vessel in the pacific islands and talking fondly about the native peoples who he referred to as the Fuzzy Wuzzys - always with deep respect. I was aware that even though China and our Chinese friends hadn't been directly involved in WW2, they had been struggling with their own conflicts. These dinners were sometimes very sombre affairs.

There was also discussion about far away exotic places with wonderful names, people with strange customs and lands which even smelled different. How could that be possible?! Letters and post cards came in the post, covered with colourful stamps from around the world as relatives and friends would travel, slowly by ship stopping at different ports and sometimes staying somewhere for months on end.
I learned to pronounce some place names and even find them on a map: Tanzania, Tanganyika, Kenya, Stratton Strawless,  Norwich. I never managed any Chinese ones, though I recall attempting to learn Cantonese, sadly with no success at all.

So how does this relate to America?  The answer is both nothing and everything.

I get an enormous amount of satisfaction when I travel.  I'm fascinated by place names and have fun attempting to pronounce them, both at home and abroad. I love conversing with people even when we have no common fluent language, using only mime and basic, mispronounced phrases. Finding out about different cultures is a pleasure, and I'm always reminded how similar we are, no matter where we live.

When friends have travelled I'm the one who sits and listens, asking questions, drooling over photos. Vicarious travel is the next best thing to being there yourself - and there's little chance of catching a stomach bug!

Naturally, one of the other things about travel which provides general hilarity and entertainment is coming across unusual place names and wondering how the name came about, and why it was chosen for that location ...
Some amusing Australian place names are here

What is your favourite place name?


Friday, May 3, 2013

W is for Water - images of America

I think I've become a bit of a lake lover since visiting some beautiful ones in the United States.

Fallen Leaf Lake.
 Snow and desert were an unexpected combination.
Not a lake, but cheerfully gurgling water - with bear paw prints everywhere and lots, and I mean lots, of fresh scat around - evidence of them waking from their winter's hibernation!
We went for a slip slidey, crunchy snow walk here and were charmed by the wooden huts dotted along the nearby lake. Many appeared empty, but it would be a lovely place to swim and relax in warm weather. Without the bears!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

V is for Visionary - images of America

Influential groups of people in the United States saw the benefit of preserving nature for the good of the people, and with the support of President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service was created in 1916.
The first designated national park in the world was Yellowstone.
Indeed it was!
Thanks to this vision and the acknowledged benefits of National Parks, nearly 100 countries around the world have followed suite.
That's something to be justifiably proud of.
According an article below, "Last year, almost two hundred seventy-five million people visited the national park system in the United States" (my bold) That's an extraordinary number of both locals and people from all parts of the world.
Why do they come? Scenery has to be high on the list, photography, painting, bushwalking, exploring, recharging their "batteries" or simply to relax and be.
The idea of the National Parks is to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." (my bold)
Unfortunately this is proving more difficult than anticipated back in 1916. (see N is for Noxious, and O is for Oil). Not only as a result of the naturally occurring changing climate, but man made influences are having a detrimental affect as well.
How plants, animals and humans adapt to these changes remains to be seen.

There's some history about the National Parks in the US
here, here and here.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

U is for Unusual - images of America

A wine bottle with a difference!

... and ready for the picnic :)
The four drinking vessels travelled back to Oz for picnics here. They're a useful souvenir and a fun talking point!