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Peer Gynt (Recycled)–Auckland 2017

March 10, 2017

Two days ago, I saw an amazing play by a talented young New Zealand playwright, Eli Kent.  It was called Peer Gynt (Recycled).

I make it a habit of not researching plays before I see them because I like to be surprised, and anyway, it would have been pretty hard in this case because the play is new.  I had a vague familiarity with the Peer Gynt story by Henrik Ibsen and remember hearing the music by Grieg.  So I figured the play was going to be a modernized version of Ibsen.

The first hint that we were in for something different came when we parked the car and the attendant told us that he had seen a rehearsal and “it’s not for everyone.”  That was a pretty promising endorsement.

He wasn’t wrong.  The theatre was noticeably emptier when the curtain came up for the second act.  The triggering mechanism for the exodus may have been the closing scene of the first act in which the playwright, who is a major character in the play, is stripped and secured to a table by a group of enraged Ibsen academics for desecrating the master’s work.  The first act closes with the academics performing an impromptu caesarian on the playwright and the result is a mature but baby-sized Henrik Ibsen (complete with the cool facial hair) who, with the academics, embarks on an orgy of cannibalism.

(Incidentally, the academics aren’t the only outraged people in the play. In the second act, a full grown Henrik Ibsen himself appears and confronts the playwright and accuses him of “shitting on my work.” The playwright says he has done nothing of the sort, “I’ll show you what shitting on your work looks like,” he says as he drops his pants, moons the audience, and squats over a copy of the original play).

If all of this sounds like gratuitous shock theatre, I’ve given you the wrong idea.  I thought it was one of the most creative, innovative, timely and challenging plays I’ve seen in a long time and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It had a really important message and spent three plus hours reiterating it to make sure you got it.

I did my research after the fact and found out that although today the original Peer Gynt is considered pretty much a classic and national treasure, original audiences were almost as baffled as we were.  The play is considered to be one of the first examples of Modernism and surrealism in theatre and Ibsen ignored a lot of conventions, like limitations of space and time and chronology.

Norwegian postage stamp commemorating Peer Gynt

Not only that, and this is what made Peer Gynt (Recycled) so interesting to me, is that the original Peer Gynt character is what we would call a narcissist today and the original play was considered to be, in part, a satire on that kind of behavior.

Eli Kent has “recycled” the story into the 21st century and created a thought provoking critique of how we approach life today.  In some respects, there are two plays in one.  One, the weird one, is about Peer Gynt and his adventures, each of which is a surrealistic mini story on self-importance and ego.  In one scene, the mature Peer is a successful porn producer and is meeting with his publicist and biographers in a Dubai penthouse.  A disgruntled former employee, who is now, somehow appropriately, a Starbucks employee, bursts in and holds them at gunpoint.  Peer lives, of course, but when she kills everyone else Peer laments, “You can’t kill him, he was going to write my biography.”

Lack of empathy and egotism show up everywhere.  After a shipwreck, Peer is floating on a door and a famous Hollywood director, clutching an Oscar, demands to be saved because “I’m James Fucking Cameron.”

But the real story to me was the one involving the character of the playwright.  He’s a twenty something loser who has decided to write the play in his own image and likeness.  He has no frame of reference beyond himself.  In other words, he’s a modern Peer Gynt.  Any reference to classical literature or history is mediated through himself and the play is only important in terms of how he sees it and how he feels about it.  He spends a lot of time talking to—make that lecturing—the audience about his deep ideas.

We learn that he is so addicted to internet porn that he can’t function normally and he tries to get an old girlfriend to help him with the play only if she agrees not to take any credit.  He also spends a lot of time talking about the play to his mother who has a hard time figuring out what’s going on.  Like Peer Gynt, he’s a classic narcissist with no empathy for anyone, a huge ego and an exaggerated sense of his importance and talent.

Near the end of the play, Peer and the playwright, Eli, become essentially the same person and Eli is forced, on pain of death, to prove that he is special.  He goes in search of some of the characters Peer has met during the play but no one can find anything special about him.

Throughout the play there have been numerous references to getting to the heart of something by “peeling the layers of the onion.”  Ibsen appears and gives Eli an onion to peel and when he does it, there is nothing inside.  Eli can’t accept that he’s just some guy rather than the special creation he has come to consider himself.  He’s also desperate to find a way to end the play in a meaningful way and he and his mother start to read from the original to get some ideas.  The play ends with Eli asking his mother (appropriately because she is complicit in having made him the narcissistic millennial that he is) “If we all believe in the lie together, isn’t that as good as the truth?”

Sort of a timely warning for everyone around the world, isn’t it?

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I Too – A New Novel

December 20, 2016
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For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a novel which has come to be called I Too. 

The book grew out of feedback I got on my last book, Identities.  Younger people who read Identities told me they really liked its message of making the world a better place, starting with the work place.  But they felt they had limited opportunities because, for example, they were new in their careers or had a new family or mortgage and felt that they were too busy or weren’t in a position to make changes.

At the same time, like everyone else, I saw the further polarization of society along all sorts of fault lines—political, ideological, religious, racial, and also read daily headlines about growing inequality and its negative effects on society.

I Too is an attempt pull these issues together and to make people think about these issues and how they can do something to make the world a better place and a micro level.

I Too is now available from Amazon both as a paperback and in a Kindle version.

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Here is the back cover blurb:

Ben, Paul, and Ridge were best friends growing up, but after they went off to college, their lives began to diverge. When they reunite at Ridge’s twenty-eighth birthday party, they find that if they want to remain friends, they must confront some major differences.

Ridge is materialistic and career focused, and he has a glamorous and rich girlfriend, Julia. But he’s discovering Julia’s values and priorities don’t mesh with those of his friends, and she wants him to choose between his past and a future with her.

Ben’s life is completely different from Ridge’s. He teaches history at a community college but longs for an academic career at a more prestigious university. What will Ben have to give up for success?

Paul always feels like he is caught between Ridge and Ben. He shares some of Ben’s ideals but also has some of Ridge’s desire for material success. Will a mentor and a new love interest help him find the balance he craves?

Through Ridge, Ben, and Paul, author T. E. Stazyk encourages readers to challenge accepted norms and values and think about how they too can make a difference and change the world.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

I hope you enjoy I Too and share it with your family and friends.  Let me know what you think.

Time To Learn Some New Words!

November 29, 2016
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We haven’t talked about words for a while.  But that doesn’t mean that the language is in any better shape than the last time we looked.  Partly because awesome continues to be the word of choice to describe anything and everything.

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Anyway, language has been in the news recently because the Oxford English Dictionary has taken to announcing its new additions to the dictionary each quarter.  I finally got around to having a look at the most recent additions and I found a lot of interesting items.

Sociologists tell us that narrative is important because how we say things reflects our underlying thinking. That’s why we have political correctness.

And speaking of narrative, did you know that “narrative” has taken on a new meaning? It used to only mean a story or account of events.  But now it is used to describe the events themselves.  “Aesthetic” is another word that has been co-opted.  Instead of just meaning appreciation of beauty or describing an artistic style, it too, now means moods, feelings or things. As in “Chloe and Tyler got into a big fight at the restaurant because she didn’t like the aesthetic.  I didn’t want to be part of that narrative so I left.”

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But that’s not the important narrative woven into the list of new words.  A good example of new words reflecting who we are is the large number of words on the list that are from foreign languages.  Globalization means we are more widely exposed to other cultures and words that work well get readily adopted.

But if the words we use are an expression of who we are, we might be concerned that of the almost 200 words on the list, over 10% refer to food or cooking.  And a lot refer to shopping or consuming.  More on that later.

There are some interesting surprises as well.  For one thing, there aren’t as many technology neologisms as there have been on past lists.  And there are some totally legitimate made up words such as Flerovium and Livermorium.  They are new elements that have been discovered.  Now you know.

Another interesting thing is the words on the list that I thought would already be in the dictionary—like fine tuned and shoplifting.  And what took jagoff so long to make the list?

There are some words that I don’t think are going to last into future editions of the dictionary. One example is Yoda, which means a smart person, expert or guru. Another is fuhgeddaboudit, which most people think was Tony Soprano’s go to word, but it was actually properly explained by Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco which predates The Sopranos.  Check it out here!

I’ve selected a few of the words on the list to share with you and to explore the narrative and aesthetic around them.  So you too can get a feel of the state of English.

Biatch–n. This is supposedly used by people too polite to say “bitch.” I don’t understand the distinction, especially because the origin is rap music.  For those of you who want to use it and its nuances, the Urban Dictionary informs us that the state of being a biatch is biatchitude.  And exemplary biatchitude is known as biatchitudestein.

Balut–n. You don’t want to know. This word is both from a foreign language (Tagalog) and technically about food, although you might not agree.  It’s a duck egg that is just about to hatch that is cooked and, er, eaten. Basically, its part egg, part duck.  Use your imagination.  It made the list because it’s a popular gross out food on reality TV shows like Fear Factor.

Bodoh–adj. Another foreign word (Malay) and one you will definitely want to use.  It means stupid.  Sian bodoh is a wonderful multilingual insult which has the huge advantage of probably not being understood by the person it’s directed at.  Sian means boring in Hokkien so combined with bodoh it packs a nice one two punch.  It also has a nice ring to it.  Use it wisely.

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Chefdom–n. A truly frightening cooking word.  Or maybe it’s just bodoh. It means being a chef.  If, like me, you think there are too many chefs and chef programs on TV, you are probably worried about all of chefdom banding together. Remember, they have knives.  Lots of them.

Kindsa–? You know how you cringe when someone writes “I could of  . . .” instead of “I could have?” Kindsa represents the elevation of that sort of thing as a word in the OED.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, it means “kinds of” as in “Like, I’m so into all kindsa words.”

Non-apology–n. If the words we use reflect the way we think, be afraid, be very afraid.  Meaningless apologies are now so de rigueur, that we need a word for them.

Shopaholism–n. See non-apology.

Shoppertainment–n. Times were, shopping was something you just did in order to acquire things.  Now our attention spans are so short and we’re so bored that retailers have come to believe that we need “an entertaining in-store shopping experience” and there are consultants who specialize in helping stores with “experiential retailing.”  I wonder if Black Friday shootings in the US qualify.

Skronk–adj. A term to describe music that is dissonant, grating or irritating.  Why has it taken this word so long to find respectability in the dictionary considering how often it can and should be used?  Also applies to some news reporters and radio announcers.  Also an integral part of shoppertainment.

Squee–n, v. Essentially a squeal, usually of delight.  I don’t know if this word came about as a result of text language because it’s easier to type than squeal or what.

Upcharge–n.  A euphemism for paying more for something.  Also known as “accessorial charges.” It’s a fancy way of saying you pay more for extra cheese on your pizza.

Vom–n, v. Like bodoh, I’m going to be using this one! Take a guess.  It is short for vomit and is a wonderfully versatile word.  As in, “there was vom on the floor after the party.”  Or “I vommed when I saw that guy eating balut.”  I like it because there was no need for yet another word for vom, but it’s always nice to have one.

This is but a small sampling of the new words in the dictionary.  Have them ready when you do your Christmas shopping and buy all kindsa stuff. Watch out for the shopaholics who might be squeeing over the shoppertainment and don’t get upset by the skronking PA system or the biatch behind the counter who gives you a non-apology when you question the latest upcharge.  Don’t buy any bodoh gifts and whatever you do, don’t vom if a chefdom tries to get you to sample some balut.

 

Peter Clifton-Sprigg 1954 – 2016

October 29, 2016

I have a lot to say, but don’t know where to start.

Yesterday I went to a friend’s funeral and I don’t feel like I’ve been to a funeral.  For one thing, we had some time to get ready for it.  Just before Christmas last year, Peter had been told that he only had a few months to live.  So we knew we’d be going to his funeral, we just didn’t know when.

And he wasn’t shy about reminding people that it was up and coming.  Lately he would introduce himself by saying, “I’m Peter and I’m dying.”

That by itself was a new experience for me.  Usually when people are terminally ill, it’s the elephant in the room.  But Peter made it a totally acceptable topic of conversation.  More than that, he inspired everyone with his courage, humanity and determination to get the most out of whatever time he had left.

I first met Peter in 2011 when he was on the faculty of a horticulture school that would bring its students out to CUE Haven to plant trees and help us with maintenance work.

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Peter was one of three faculty members and I mostly remember him as the one who would insist that the students take extra time and make everything just right and to his credit, the culvert drainage boxes he helped build on the walking track have stood the test of time.

Unfortunately due to funding problems, the school’s priorities changed and they haven’t been back to the farm since 2013 and we lost touch with Peter and his colleagues.

In June this year, Joan, one of the other teachers, contacted us to tell us that Peter had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wanted to bring his wife out to CUE Haven to show her the work he and the students had done.

We arranged a time to meet up. We didn’t know what to expect and were shocked.  Peter was on crutches and unable to eat most solid foods.  Because the cancer was in his bones, he was at constant risk of fractures.  Nevertheless he took off and insisted on walking the entire track from the top of the property back to the house.  We also planted celebration trees and he insisted that we pick out a special tree to plant as a memorial tree for later.

We happened to show him an area where we are planning to put some benches and artwork. That’s when Peter’s wife told us that he had won numerous awards for his garden designs in the UK and Peter said that he would like to design the area for us as his gift to CUE Haven.  A few weeks later he came back a couple of times and mapped the area and drew up a professional plan for us to use.  He even set up an office in the field!

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In his last few months, Peter decided that he was too busy to give up.  He had been a karate teacher for the past few years and one of the things on his bucket list was to get his black belt.  He was awarded the belt on September 1.  He also did a tandem sky dive to raise money for the West Auckland Hospice where he spent his last days.  He generally refused to go to the hospital, in spite of serious medical complications, on the grounds that time in the hospital prevented him from living life.

Yesterday at the celebration of Peter’s life we saw pictures of his life and listened to some of his favourite music.   Yes, Led Zeppelin’s In My Time of Dying and Stairway To Heaven made the list—and the ceremony ended with Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond.  There was also a guest video appearance by Peter himself—and he was there physically, too, in the wooden coffin he’d designed and built himself in the past few months.

The funeral home was filled to capacity and there was a stream of people describing how Peter had positively impacted their lives.

The ceremony was called “A Celebration of Life,” and I know that is the new euphemism for “funeral.”  But this really was a celebration of a life well lived.  And a life that will continue to positively influence a lot of people.

Peter’s attitude was an inspiration—in a world where we seem to be afraid to discuss issues like death and dying, he confronted it head on.  Usually we don’t have candid conversations about these topics.  But Peter made it comfortable.  When he could no longer eat solid food and had to feed himself through a device installed in his stomach he thought nothing of pulling up his shirt and showing you how it worked.  He treated his illness as something that was happening to him and that was part of his life and not something to fight but to live in spite of.  He had been a missionary in Uganda years ago but was constantly questioning our place in the universe and had come to view death as just a step in a larger spiritual journey.

Being around Peter helped put things in perspective.  When explaining his desire to get the black belt, he said that he wanted people to say, “If he can do it, what’s stopping me?”

Here’s Peter making the local news and talking about making the most of life.

Peter, we look forward to telling your story to future visitors to the platform you have designed.  You will always be remembered at CUE Haven and by all the others you have touched.

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He who binds himself to a joy
Does that winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

–William Blake

Another Sign It’s Time to Go Home

September 21, 2016

American novelist Erma Bombeck wrote a hilarious book titled When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home.  The big news in NZ is all about a French tourist who has been hitchhiking around the country, and although he doesn’t seem to know it, is looking suspiciously like his passport photo.

One of the more popular ways to travel in NZ is backpacking and even in the big cities there are all sorts of backpacker hostels.  Seeing people of all nationalities trekking alongside the roads with big packs is a normal year round sight.

Although there are many options, a popular way for backpackers to see the country is by hitchhiking and when my wife and I are travelling around New Zealand we routinely pick up hitchhikers.  So hitching a ride from just about anywhere in the country is usually not a problem as long as you look half way human.

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Enter this French guy who has been in NZ for an unspecified period of time but who supposedly has been making a career out of backpacking around the world and has so far visited 70 countries.

To me, that would make him a fairly savvy traveller, considering that he’s survived 69 other countries where hitchhiking is probably not as easy or safe or accepted as it is here.

So what we can’t understand is why he has ended up as national headline news this week and with a bill of $3,000 for damage to road signs that he inflicted in a tantrum as a result of not being picked up for four solid days. In court, he claimed that no one “even offered water.”

To clear up some of your obvious questions, no he is not weird looking and no he was not hitching in some godforsaken corner of the country. He was in one of the most popular tourist sites in the South Island.

He claims quite simply that he was ignored for four straight days and admits that in frustration he did damage some signs but not to the tune of $3,000.

Worst of all, he now claims that New Zealand is the worst country he has ever been in and should be renamed “Nazi Zealand” and that the worst aspects of the US were better than NZ.

Oh, my.

As is usual with unusual media stories, this one is crying out for some back story.

Locals who were interviewed said they had in fact seen him wandering around but didn’t think he was hitchhiking because he didn’t have his thumb out.

Other locals claim that he was seen with a finger, which was not his thumb, being displayed at passing motorists and someone called the cops when they saw him lying in the road. Apparently he mouthed off to a Department of Conservation officer and was seen acting “strangely” at other times during the four days.

I can’t help feeling that if one has hitchhiked through 70 countries one would probably have developed a fairly broad understanding of human nature and would have developed an ability to cope with the unexpected and also get along with a variety of people.  And also have the ability to get a ride in a popular tourist spot in less than four days.  You kind of have to wonder what went wrong.

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What is also interesting is his suggestion that NZ be called “Nazi Zealand” because of his treatment at the hands of the justice system. I have to believe that in his travels he would have picked up some sense of the way people view and interact with law enforcement in other countries.

And he should have realized that to get a $3,000 fine in NZ he had to do something pretty bad. Or at least make a lot of people very mad.

After all, NZ is the country where earlier this year a woman protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, threw a rubber sex toy (aka dildo) at the Minister of Economic Development.  As she tosses the dildo she yells “This is for raping our sovereignty.”  It was a perfect shot to the nose, and as American comedian John Oliver said, if you did that in the US, you’d be dead before the dildo hit the ground.  She wasn’t charged with anything and you can see the footage here.  As the security men escort her away she’s actually looking around for someone to get arrested by and the minister seems to be having a chuckle over it.

So as I was saying, there is some backstory to this French hitchhiker story that we’re not getting and I’d love to know what he did to make everyone so mad.

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Australian Rain Forests

September 12, 2016

We haven’t done much exploring outside of New Zealand lately so we decided to take advantage of some cheap flights and flew to Cairns in northeast Australia to explore the Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tablelands, all within easy reach of Cairns.

This is the area we explored.

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I didn’t know what to expect.  My earliest images of Australia were based on The Road Warrior and Crocodile Dundee and I imagined lots of desert and open spaces.  Since then I’ve been to the big east coast cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and was always surprised how green everything is.

But nothing prepared me for the rainforests we visited.  They call the area the “Wet Tropics.”  They are well named.  It was the “dry season” but it rained every day we were there.  And yes, there are poisonous snakes and spiders.  And leeches.

But don’t get me wrong.  It was beautiful and amazing and fortunately we didn’t get a single mosquito bite.

We picked up the car in Cairns and headed north.  Cairns is on the coast of the Coral Sea and is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.  The road up north mostly follows the coast.

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After a couple of hours you come to the Daintree River.

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There is no bridge, only a ferry which will take 27 cars at once.

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As soon as you get off the ferry you know you are in the rainforest.

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Our first couple of days we stayed in a place called Cow Bay.  It is right on the water but you don’t know it because the rainforest goes right down to the shore.  The place we stayed was called Crocodylus, which wasn’t very reassuring.  That is the Latin name for the saltwater crocodile which lives in the estuaries.  As recently as May someone was eaten by a crocodile at Cow Bay and it’s a good idea not to ignore the warnings.

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We did see a crocodile on a boat ride and from the way the skipper behaved I could tell he had a lot of respect for it.  This one is 4 metres or about 12 feet long.

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The Daintree area is sparsely populated and we really enjoyed meeting some of the locals, who were all interesting characters.  The farthest north we got was Cape Tribulation.  It got its name because Captain Cook ran into trouble there.  Captain Cook named a lot of places in Australia and NZ and he was very imaginative.  In NZ we have Poverty Bay, Doubtless Bay and Cape Foulwind.

The local cafe at Cape Tribulation, which serves crocodile, kangaroo and emu burgers, is a nice laid back place and had some interesting signs.

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And here is the helpful weather report provided by the front desk at Crocolylus.

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Speaking of which, this was our accommodation at Crocodylus.  We wanted to be in the rainforest and got our wish.

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We also stayed at places on the Daintree River and in the Atherton Tablelands that were very close to nature.

The main attraction at all these places was the rainforests and the animals.

First of all, though, let me clarify a few things.  Rainforests are essentially forests that exist in areas of high rainfall.  Because of the conditions they usually have a variety of plant and animal life.  A lot of the rainforest in the areas we visited is recovering after being cleared but there are areas of untouched forest and the entire area is a World Heritage Site.

Rainforests are not for the faint hearted.  They are never quiet, but at dawn when the birds start their day they are positively noisy!  And the variety of birdcalls is amazing.  There are also, at least in these rainforests, a lot of things that you don’t want to encounter like poisonous snakes, spider and centipedes.  One of the biggest dangers, however, is wild pigs.

We did a lot of exploring – walking on all sorts of paths from the luxurious —

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To the scary–

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We saw lots of interesting plants.

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This is called a fan palm.

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Where the rainforest meets the ocean there are mangrove swamps in the estuaries and the mangrove trees and roots sometimes look like something from outer space.

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One of the most amazing trees we found is the strangler fig.  It originates from the seed of a normal fig tree but when a certain wasp lays its eggs in the seed and carries it to the top of an existing tree it can germinate and send airborne roots down to the ground.  The roots harden around the host tree and eventually kill it.  When the host tree dies, the strangler fig appears hollow.

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When the seed lands at the top of a huge old tree and the fig has been growing for a long time, the results can be amazing.  This one is called the Curtain Fig.  At some point in the process the host tree fell against another tree and the strangler fig roots have created a “curtain.”

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This one is called the Cathedral Fig.  The canopy is 1,250 square metres and it is estimated to be over 500 years old.

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Care for another fun fact?

We didn’t know this, but in this part of Australia there are no native bees to help plants pollinate.  And because birds, who are also pollinators, don’t like flying from flower to flower in dense foliage where they can’t spread their wings, Australian trees have developed flowers on their trunks instead of in the branches.  This way insects and other creatures walking on the trunk will pollinate the flowers.  The characteristic is called “cauliflory” and you can see the flowers on the trunk of this tree.

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Here is a rainforest flower related to the gardenia.

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And here is something called a basket fern which grows high up in trees and is a ready made home for birds, snakes, frogs, insects and even other plants.

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And some pretty glow in the dark fungi.

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These are flowers of the jade vine.

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And here are two of the few unlogged Australian Kauri which are cousins of New Zealand’s largest tree.

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In addition to the new and interesting plants, we also enjoyed the unusual birds and animals.  The big draw in the area is the cassowary which looks like a cross between an ostrich and a dinosaur.  This is how big the females can get and although we didn’t spot any real ones the advice is to give them a wide berth because they have a bad temper and sharp beaks and claws.

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We did however see some paddy melon wallabies and kangaroos.

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This is a platypus in search of food.

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We went for an interesting night walk in the forest and saw a lot more than we could photograph.  There were centipedes and spiders and cane toads which are poisonous.  It was especially worrisome when a huge centipede jumped across the path in front of us and our guide said, “I didn’t know they could do that.”

If things didn’t move too fast we were able to get pictures.  Can you spot the interesting cricket with the long antennae trying to camouflage itself on a stick?

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Here is a Boyd’s Forest Dragon.

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The rain forests here are also renowned for the variety of birdlife. We heard and saw lots birds and almost all of them were new to us like the Victoria’s Riflebird and Golden Bowerbird below.

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While on a dawn birdwatching tour on the Daintree River we saw some more very interesting and colourful birds

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. . . and giant bats known as flying foxes — their wingspan is a metre wide.

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At the Hasties Swamp National Park in the Tablelands, we couldn’t believe the number and variety of ducks as well as swans and pelicans.

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The last place we stayed was by Lake Eacham in the Atherton Tablelands, and our lodging was also set in the midst of a rainforest. The owners here encourage the guests to interact with the animals by leaving fruit for the birds on the cottage porch.  Each morning we put orange and tomato pieces out on the railing and got lots of visitors.  The big bird is the bush turkey and the little one is Lewins Honey Eater.

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This place also had a lighted viewing platform where at night they put honey on a couple of trees to attract animals.  The animals are too busy eating to pay attention to the people taking their pictures.

This is a striped tail possum:

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Here’s a sugar glider:

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And a long nosed bandicoot:

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The Tablelands area is quite volcanic and has many beautiful waterfalls.  We spent a morning exploring the Millaa Millaa Falls circuit which is circular road that takes you to several waterfalls in the area.

This is Millaa Millaa Falls, looking just like a waterfall should!

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This is Zillie Falls.

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And here is Ellinjaa Falls.

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There were never ending interesting things along the way.  I wasn’t sure to laugh or cry about this sign at the base of a tall tower that you could climb up for a panoramic view of the rainforest canopy at the Daintree Discovery Centre.

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Be glad that I’m sparing you a selfie from the top of the tower!

We’d heard about the problems with jellyfish on Australian beaches and it’s no joke:

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They actually have a bottle of vinegar in that little tube which you are supposed to spill on stings.

It wasn’t all wilderness.  We visited a number of little towns.  One of our favourites was Yungaburra.  It has a population of 1,100 and several heritage buildings, including this one that looks iconically Australian to me.

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There were a number of whimsical shops.  At the Mad Hatter Café everything is Alice in Wonderland themed.

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And they have an interesting community arts centre.

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We also did a bit of non-tourist stuff.  The School for Field Studies Centre for Rainforest Studies is located in the Atherton Tablelands and each year for the past three years, Dr. Amanda Freeman, centre director, and several students and faculty have visited New Zealand and stayed at CUE Haven and helped us with our restoration planting.

We didn’t exactly return the favour because we didn’t do any work, but we spent a nice day meeting up with old friends and seeing their facilities.

We met them at a community nursery operated by TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands).  The SFS team was helping out in the morning with a community working bee.  Volunteers from the area grow and nurture the trees until they are ready to be planted and then participate in community planting days to restore and extend the rainforests. It was very interesting talking to the volunteers and learning of their efforts to restore their rainforest.

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We then went over to the SFS centre for a tour and to meet the rest of the staff and students.  Amanda showed us some of the research and experiments they are working on to see how to improve the effectiveness of rainforest restoration.

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The next day we headed back to Auckland. It was a short but very interesting and enjoyable trip.  We learned a lot and met some great people and we look forward to exploring more of Australia.

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Farm Adventures—They Just Keep Coming

August 28, 2016
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Over the years I’ve told you stories about the farm project, most of which involve me ending up somewhere out of my comfort zone as a result of interaction with large and small creatures and machines.

Please be assured that silence doesn’t indicate the absence of thrilling (at least at the time) stories.  Like the autumn mouse invasion or the three day effort to get the neighbor’s cow off our property after it snuck through a gate.

But in the past couple of weeks we’ve had a new adventure that no one saw coming.  After a rainstorm of Biblical proportions, a section of the neighbor’s hill let go taking the boundary fence and a couple of thousand trees that we’d planted in 2015.  The laws of physics were working overtime and the landslide kept going across a service road and out onto flat ground in the wetlands.

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And here is the “road.”

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Fortunately no one was around (although it might have been cool to watch it from a safe distance if only to find out what kind of noise it made).

Our amazing volunteers have already offered to come out to replant the area, and we will do that next year once the area has dried out.  The more urgent problem was the blocked road. The mud was waist deep and that’s about how far you would sink if you tried to walk across.  So what was a short walk/drive before, was now a big detour by another road.

Getting the road fixed was a priority so we called Peter, the guy who does our roadworks to see what it would take to fix.

One of the things we’ve really enjoyed about this project is the fascinating people we have met and Peter is one of the most interesting.  His resume is a bunch of cool jobs that I didn’t even know existed but which have involved interaction with hammerhead and great white sharks and all sorts of other menacing four and two legged creatures.  He’s now got this earthmoving business and in addition to the roadwork at our place he’s always been happy to help out with advice on maintenance problems since he also has a lot of experience as a mechanic.

It should come as no surprise that Peter is a veritable font of hilarious stories about everything.  And he has the most colorful way of expressing himself both with rich vocabulary and amazing phrases filled with impossible grammatical constructions to describe impossible anatomical rearrangements or juxtapositions to which he would like to subject government officials, politicians, neighbors or anyone else who disrupts the logical flow of life.

We called Peter and he agreed to come out the next day to have a look at the situation.  He decided that it was still too dangerous to go into the slip area but he would be able to clear the road and also improve the drainage (an impromptu lake had formed) in a few days.

We met Peter early morning one day last week and he went to work to clear the mud blocking the road.  At midday he joined us for lunch at the cottage and it was a nice winter day so we were sitting at the tables outside.  He regaled us with stories about land slips and some of his adventures.  I didn’t think it was possible for a tracked vehicle like a digger to lose traction but he described slaloming down the side of a hill for about 100 feet one time.

Needless to say, it was a fascinating and hilarious story with gravity, physics, the digger, Isaac Newton, the digger manufacturer, and the landowner and a few other people and organizations all being subjected to a tirade of amazing length and lots of subordinate clauses as he described his thought process about how long it would take to stop and what condition he would be in when he did come to rest.

He interrupted the story for a minute (not to take a breath–he usually doesn’t do that when he’s on a roll) but because a car was roaring down the public road with a highly modified exhaust system that made it sound like the startup of the Indianapolis 500.

Once the roar had subsided, Peter didn’t continue his narrative.  Instead shook his head and said with a tone of professional authority, “There’s a man with SPS.”

Now, because Peter worked as a mechanic, I assumed that an SPS was some sort of esoteric vehicle or vehicle modification that enabled his car to sound like an A360 taking off.

So I said, “SPS? How does it work?”  He laughed and said, “No.  SPS is ‘small penis syndrome.’  You show me a guy with wheels like that and I’ll show you a guy worried about the size of his willy.”

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I’d never thought of it before but it made perfect sense.  And even though we were paying Peter by the hour, we had an extended lunch in which we talked about the applicability of the SPS theory to other walks of life besides cars.  And believe me, there are a lot of examples!

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