Sunday, November 30, 2008

Farewell to rainforest animals

I'm counting down my last few days in Cape Tribulation, spending as much time as possible out in the jungle or on the beach while I still can. These final days here are proving to be a wildlife bonanza for me. I'd like to think the animals are showing themselves as a personal favour to me, but the truth is that this stifling heat at the end of the Dry season is a time when animals are very active: mating, nesting and whatever other mysterious animal motivations get them out in the open.

This cassowary crossing the intersection of Camelot and Cape Trib roads is on the cusp of adulthood. His big brown but is still in juvenile colours, but the rest of him is all grown up.

Driving in and out to town last week I saw nine cassowaries on the road in one day which may be some kind of Cape Trib record. Five of them were chicks, two I'd seen before with their dad, wandering aimlessly around the middle of the road while cars stopped to enjoy the sight. The other three chicks were tiny hatchlings, no bigger than chickens with their stripes still very distinct; it's very unusual to see three siblings, usually they come in pairs.

Tragically one of the adult cassowaries I saw that day had just been hit by a car, the third cassowary automobile fatality that I know of in the past two weeks (the others were at Mission Beach to the South). The cassowary wasn't dead yet when we drove past, but apparently the rangers have a policy of not trying to nurse them to health, as they are such difficult animals to care for. The people who had already stopped (presumably including the driver that hit it) looked as devastated as I felt to see it. This incident brought home to me how important it is to scare the cassowaries off the road when we see them, not stop and gawp, let alone feed them from cars, all of which just reinforces their lack of road-sense. There are only about a thousand of these amazing birds still alive, with only a fraction of their original habitat left and reamed with roads, we need to slow down and scare them away!

Last night I went on a guided night walk through the Cooper Creek Wilderness, and got to see lots of wildlife. Mostly insects and spiders, quite a few tree frogs, some sleeping birds and lots of Boyd's forest dragons. The forest dragons are the chilled out dudes of the night forest. Generally posed vertically on tree trunks, poised for hunting, we also saw many babies just hanging out on branches and twigs looking incredibly relaxed, their human-like hands clasped or drooping.

But what I really wanted to see was 'furry cuteness', and not just melomys (native mice) or (native) white-tailed rats who I interact with inside the house all too often (I caught a kitchen melomy in a plastic bag the other day). My wish came true near the end of the guided walk with two red legged pademelons, the only ground dwelling wallaby in the wet tropics rainforest. Furry cuteness embodied, click the link to see .

The python being pulled out of the chicken coop with its chicken-sized bulge clearly visible.

Our guide also pointed out a tiny but highly venomous Small Eyed Snake. Last weekend I came across two snakes all by myself. The first was an Amathystine Python curled up in a nesting box in the neighbour's chicken coop when I went to collect the eggs. The snake had already eaten a chicken. Lawrence Mason came over at my request and wrestled it out of the coop and into a pillow case. The Amathystine python is so named because of the beautiful irredescent sheen on its scales in the sunlight. I was struck by how vigorously muscular pythons are, this one really didn't want to be stuffed in a sack and twisted itself around and and around before Lawrence succeeded and took it away to relocate on a bit of the rainforest where he takes guided tours. In fact he let it out on the track just in front of a tour group. Later I heard how my python had heaved its chicken-bulge over a log before slithering off into the jungle to finish digesting.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cape Tribualtion Time Capsule

Rob's latest project is a couple of Time Capsules being concreted inside one of the moai* . All sorts of locals, and some guests, have contributed interesting items including books, seeds, honey, clothing, photos, letters, newspapers, magazines, menus, brochures, posters etc. There are two capsules, one to be opened in 19 years on Rob's 65th birthday, the other to be sealed 'forever' for archaeologists to discover thousands of years hence, a testament to the rock solid nature of Rob's moai construction. By then, nothing else may remain as evidence of human habitation at Cape Trib (except presumably fifty years of indestructable and ubiquitous plastic rubbish), but those moai will stand in the jungle forever.

My contribution to the time capsules were two copies of my latest attempt at making books in the rainforest. I wanted to make a book as a thankyou gift for Rob who has been my WWOOF host for six months, giving me this amazing opportunity to live immersed in an inspiring, challenging, stimulating environment. Rob's Place is the result: the text is a poem I wrote a while ago about the Rainforest Hideaway, the photos include several I've already published here on Bibliophilia. I had the pages laser printed (and, oh, I can't wait to get back to letterpress... soon!) but the covers are made with some of the botanical handmade papers I made on the Sunshine Coast earlier this year.

I made an edition of eight: one for Rob, one for each of the time capsules, one for me, one in an exhibition in Mossman and the rest for sale on Etsy. It wasn't any easier making this book than my first attempt in the rainforest many months ago. The Dry season meant the paper wasn't buckling but I still had to contend with lack of light and flat work surfaces as well as excess uncontrollable dirt. Plus I was trying to make them without Rob noticing, so they'd be a surprise, and my life here is completely lacking in privacy, so that was hard too!

* Moai are Easter Island heads. Rob has now made three moai at Cape Tribulation, two out on the roadside and one next to the fishpond. You can see photos of the construction methodology on this post. They are solid concrete, built to survive cyclones and rapacious jungle growth. The time capsules are where the brain would be on the moai by the fishpond.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Secret revealed

I won't bore you with my lifetime history of dental trauma, but let the phrases 'panic attacks' and 'resistance to analgesics' provide some context for this triumphant story.

My last one and a half dentist visits have been easy, relaxing and if not exactly pleasant, then at least not unpleasant. Today I almost fell asleep several times, that's how relaxed I was.

The difference is not in the dentist, but in my mind. Half-way through the writhing agony of my second-stage root canal I had this thought: wouldn't it be nice if dentists arranged for a foot masseuse to work on the other end of our body while they did their drilling? And I started to imagine, in exquisite detail, having my feet massaged. So absorbing and delightful was this fantasy that I was surprised and a little miffed to have it interrupted by the end of my dental treatment.

So when I went back for stage three today, I launched into my foot massage visualisation as soon as I settled into the chair. This time I included skillful reflexology and Body Shop Peppermint Foot Cream, and kept it going the whole session, eventually extending into some Thai massage all the way to my buttocks. I would have drifted into sleep a few times but for some pesky drilling.

It is possibly the first time in years I haven't had to stop dental treatment for second and third helpings of painkillers that just didn't seem to work. How miraculous to have my mouth functioning again within an hour of the session finishing, and not to have my jaw aching from so many needle jabs. The most traumatic part of the whole experience was paying for it (which as it turns out was due to this).

It seems too good to be true, but it is truly too good a secret not share. Next time you go to the dentist, I recommend a DIY imaginary foot massage, it makes all the difference.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Riding bareback in the Coral Sea

Me on Morgan on Myall Beach, Cape Tribulation

Years ago I woke from a dream about riding horses in the surf, suffused with a sense of joy and bliss and peace and pleasure that carried into my waking state. This seemed surprising, since I didn't really associate either the ocean or horses with those feelings. But it was a powerful dream and over the years since I have used it many times as a visualisation to represent self love and self nurturing.

So a couple of weeks ago, when I was walking along the beach and saw a group of people taking their horses into the ocean, I recognised the scene from my imagination. I had been thinking for a while that I might like to do the Cape Tribulation Horse Rides, but all the excuses I've ever used for never riding* had been keeping me from taking the opportunity this year. But when I casually asked Juliette if she would she like to go horseriding during her visit here, she instantly and enthusiastically agreed so I was committed. I kept busy 'til then so that I wouldn't have to think about all the things that scare me about riding, and suddenly it was time to get on a horse.

The horse riding groups don't usually swim in the sea, so I assumed that was a special treat kept for experienced riders only, and that as a total novice my horse would just be walking tamely along the beach for photo opportunities as most rides seem to do. But when Steve picked us up to take us to the horses, he said there were only three of us going on the trek and that we would be going in the water!

I think the knowledge that I would soon be in the sea with the horses was so enticing that I forgot to pay much attention to my old fears, and instead summoned all the theoretical knowledge gleaned from reading KM Peyton novels to try to ride as well as I could. I was even comfortable enough to actually get impatient with the slow walk to the beach, at least until we tried trotting and I discovered how painful that can be, bouncing up and down on a hard saddle.

Morgan after his dip in the sea.

Finally, on a ribbon of silver sand between the azure sea and the jade-green rainforest, it was time to strip the humans down to our bathers, and the horses down to their halters. First we led the horses into the warm water where they pawed at the water and Morgan immediately lay down and had a roll in the shallows. It was a little scarey to have my bare feet so close to his big hooves under the stirred-up sandy water, especially as once Morgan had his roll, he clearly felt that one dip was enough and kept trying to go back onto the shore. I had to be very firm, and tug him hard to follow the other horses into deeper water.

When the water was deep enough we climbed onto our horse's bare backs which is considerably less secure than riding on a saddle, and more so, I suspect, when your bare legs and the horse's back are both slippery wet! But I was less scared in the water than I had been on land, since I figured the water would cushion a fall. Of course I didn't fall off though, I just squeezed my legs (consequential inner thigh pain is still making stair climbs a challenge) and held on tight to Morgan's mane as we walked into deeper water.

I had to work hard to encourage him to go deep enough to start swimming as some of the other, more enthusiastic, horses were doing and as I have dreamed for so many years. We got pretty deep but he couldn't be persuaded to swim. Even so, it was a dream of 'joy and bliss and peace and pleasure' come true.

Back on dry land, I discovered that Morgan's most notable personality trait is that he has to lead all the other horses off the beach. Steve and Sarah said it was 'his five minutes of fame', and indeed as soon as he was allowed to, he set off with sure purpose, heading south towards the mangroves. It was the only part of the ride where we weren't following the other horses and I shared in the pride and pleasure he clearly felt as we walked tall along the sand.

Once we were back on the trail I had to be quite firm with him about not bending down to eat grass. He was very enthusiastic at every chance to canter, taking off earlier than the other horses ahead of us. Cantering caused me to giggle with terror which I tried to disguise as enthusiastic yee-ha's, which probably only egged Morgan on to greater speed. But by the last canter Iwas starting to believe I wouldn't fall off immanently, the hysterical laughter wasn't bubbling up spontaneously and my yee-ha's were of unambivalent delight.

We followed winding trails through paddocks and rainforest, glimpsing gorgeous sea views and crossing creeks. Near the end of the ride we stopped for afternoon tea and a (people-only) swim in Myall Creek. I felt both safe and challenged, and enjoyed a new (tall) perspective on some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

I have to endorse the other comments I've heard from many visitors, some of whom have ridden horses all over the world, that the Cape Tribulation horse riding experience is outstanding. Those twenty minutes with Morgan in the Coral Sea stands out as one of the greatest highlights of my six months at Cape Tribulation (along with snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef).

The grin of a woman holding onto the male who has just made her dream come true


* I was once, briefly and unmemorably, on a horse about 30 years ago, so for the purposes of this post, let me write as though I've never ridden before, because that's certainly how it felt.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tropical Fruit Cookery

It's officially Dry season here in the rainforest which means the weather is humid and steamy, but the ground is dry. The fruits available at the local markets have changed from the mid winter selection I wrote about in June.

Yellow sapote cut in half

I've gone mad for eggnog smoothies. Yellow sapote is, unromantically, known as the 'egg yolk fruit'. It is the colour and texture of a hardboiled egg yolk, and kind of sweet and bland. Blended with whatever other soft fruits are left over from the guest's breakfast platter
(white sapote is best, black sapote turns it a very unpleasant colour), some yoghurt, apple juice and most importantly cinnamon and vanilla, I enjoy something approximating a tropical virgin eggnog.

Eggnog smoothie

I helped out at the Exotic Fruit Farm for a few hours last week and Alison gave me a couple of breadfruits to experiment with. Breadfruit is amazingly versatile and generous. Unripe breadfruit it's used as a savory vegetable, and overripe it's good baked in a sweet batter.

Breadfruit: ripe on left, unripe on right.

The white spots on the skin of the breadfruits are latex sap which is a sticky leakage from the unripe fruit that totally covered the knife I cut it open with and had to be removed with kerosene. There are a few latex-leaking fruits around. Whenever I eat abiyu, no matter how careful I am, I always end up with sticky lips for the next few hours. It's probably lucky there's no one round here to be kissing with, since as Alison says, its a long term committment if you've both been eating abiyu.

Overripe breadfruit flesh ready to mix into batter

But back to the breadfruit. First I scooped out the mushy insides of the overripe specimen and realised I had enough to try two different recipes: (they all seem to require one cup of breadfruit). I made a slightly sweet, slightly spiced, quick bread which was demolished by two boys on a break from filling Easter Island heads with concrete.

Remains of breadfruit bread

Later I made doughnuts which were delicious, if slightly burnt. Its been years and years since I made doughnuts but they still always remind me of Jo who gave me her doughnut recipe when our daughters were very small. I went through a brief doughnut making binge, got very fat and had to stop. But even decades later I remember how hard it is to not burn sweet batter in a wok full of hot oil.

Breadfruit chips (uncooked)

The a couple days later I chopped up the underripe breadfruit into chips, tossed them in spicey dukkha (breadfruit chips would be too bland) and roasted them. Some of them were quite tough, and I'm not sure if that's because I didn't remove enough of the core, cooked them too long, or used the fruit too soon. But we ate them all anyway, before I remembered to take a photo.

The newest additions to the Cape Tribulation moai family.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Do the Dishes in Noosa

This book is on exhibition on the Sunshine Coast at the moment, part of the Books '08 : Back to Basics exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery. I haven't heard from anyone who's seen the exhibition which seems to be much smaller and lower key than previous NRG book exhibitions I've contributed to.

If anyone in SE Queensland has seen the Back to Basics exhibition, I'd love to hear about it and see photos of the other books on show.