Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Cane Toad

How bittersweet it is on this last day of my holiday. I'm back at Trinity Beach after five days staying north of the Daintree River, exploring Cow Bay and Cape Tribulation. It was a perfectly blissful time, every minute a pleasure: playing on pristine golden beaches, eating exquisite food in beautiful settings, waking up to the green glow of dawn filtered through the triple canopy, lounging around in crystal clear swimming holes shared with brave little fish, discovering all kinds of exotic fruit, falling in love with the foliage, the butterflies, the geckos, the bats, the birds... even the enormous spiders.

This whole Northern Queensland trip has been delightful, every day has been relaxed and warm yet has had its own character. In summary:

Day 1 was the Day of the Fruit Market in Cairns
Day 2 was the Day of the Night Swim and the Fruit Bats over the sea at Yorkey's Knob
Day 3 was the Day of the Frog in the Redlynch Train Station
Day 4 was the Day of the Backyard Ulysses Butterfly
Day 5 was the Day of the Baby Crocodiles on the Daintree River
Day 6 was the Day of the Cane Toads on Trinity Track
Day 7 was the Day of the Brush Turkeys in Mossman Gorge and the Kuku Yalingi Walk
Day 8 was the Day of the Cassowaries* and the Red Legged Wallaby with Papaya at Crocodylus
Day 9 was the Day of the Bandicoot , the Tiny Grey Frogs and the Little Bats
Day 10 was the Day of the Bespectacled Bats in the Orchard and the Little Fish at Emmegen
Day 11 was the Day of the Turquoise Dragonfly and Golden Orb Spiders at Cape Trib
Day 11 was the Day of the Pied Imperial-Pigeon at Trinity

Baby Crocodile (40cm long)

*Cassowaries are big birds, related to the moa and kiwi of New Zealand, with long blue necks, red wattles, aqua eye masks and a fat body covered with fluffy kiwi-like feathers. Afterwards we were told that only 1 in 400 visitors to the Daintree sees a cassowary in the wild. We saw four of them in two days.

Sitting on the front porch of our rain forest cabin one morning, enjoying a fresh papaya and the majestic Strangler Fig dominating the patch of forest before us, we suddenly realised that a giant cassowary, about 2m tall, was stalking deliberately across the forest floor directly in front of the porch railing. I scrambled for the camera but couldn't get a good shot in time and instead kicked myself for being distracted from just enjoying the bird itself. When a wallaby hopped past our cabin a couple of minutes later I didn't make the same mistake and concentrated on imprinting his cute furriness on my memory rather than trying to take a photo.

Back in the same spot for evening drinks we watched the same (or another) cassowary take exactly the same path in the reverse direction-obviously a commuter route! The next morning I was up early, back out on the porch on my own, writing rain forest poetry, when who should come cruising back again, to make another majestic pass for my eyes alone. And finally, as we were clearing out the cabin and loading up the truck, we both enjoyed a final sighting- me through foliage and Santo almost eye to eye with the bird (who can be dangerous, with its big feet, sharp beak and hard high crest).

Golden Orb Spider (See the golden sheen to its web? This spider was bigger than my hand)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hot Holiday

This post is coming to you from an internet cafe at Trinity Beach, near Cairns, Queensland, Australia. I'm having a holiday, a real, live, purely self-indulgent holiday, my first in years. I'm here in Northern Queensland because I was invited to stay in a tree house in the rainforest, which just happens to dovetail with a dream I've held for 20 years, about staying in a treehouse in the Daintree Rainforest, inspired by the film, Bliss. When offered the chance to follow my Bliss, I didn't hesitate to accept.

I was pretty nervous before I got here about coming in the height of the Wet Season when it is hotter and rainier than any other time, with cyclones too, and when the stinger jellyfish and crocodiles make swimming dangerous. But I find that in reality, I love this climate. The sensual, languid, tropical heat makes me feel very happy and at home. My physiology isn't necessarily as keen on the heat as my soul: I almost got heat stroke in Kuranda after spending too long inside a greenhouse-type butterfly enclosure (but oh, the butterflies here are so abundant, so beautiful). I'm fine in the fresh air though and have discovered that when I am really hot it is more bearable to be moving than sitting still panting like a wallaby in the shade. The rain held off for the first five days of my stay, and now that it has come the air is cool enough that we even turned the fans off last night.
Thanks to stinger nets on many beaches I'm getting lots of swims. The best so far was a calm evening when the sun was setting, the moon was rising, the water was bath warm and as I floated on my back in the undulating, amniotic water hundreds of fruit bats flapped silently overhead, silhouetted against the darkening sky. I like the fruit bats here very much. I was walking past the library in Cairns (an air conditioned oasis in the city) when I looked up into the huge trees to see what was causing the cacophany of squeaking and twittering: hundreds of fruit bats hanging upside down, flapping their big black wings steadily to cool off their golden furred bodies. They were not asleep at midday, but chattering and playing -or fighting, and even flying a little from branch to branch.
Fruit bats on the banks of the Daintree River.
My best animal encounter so far was also totally unexpected. Santo (my treehouse host) and I were waiting in the train station gift shop for the scenic train up to Kuranda and he beckoned me over to see a display of clever paper sculpture animals, specifically a green tree frog which I was admiring when our eyes were caught by a remarkably likelike frog-toy on top of the display stand. We both were thinking, how clever and lifelike this mechanical toy was: its white throat pulsing, and then we realised it wasn't a toy but a real Common Green Tree Frog, somehow inside this gift shop. Crowds of tourists swirled around us as we spent a few long magical minutes with the hand-sized frog, making eye contact and wondering at its presence. Only when I lifted my camera up to take a photo did he leap away, swift and far, to land high on the wall, still unnoticed by anyone but us.

Tomorrow we head North for four or five days in the Daintree. I love the rainforest here, especially to walk very slowly, or sit still for an hour in one spot, and let the detailed diversity of the flora and fauna enter my awareness in a way that is simply not possible on a swift pass no matter how skillfully guided. At speed, from a car or boat, or even a brisk walk, it doesn't seem so different from dense bush at home... But with contemplative awareness I become suffused with its unfamiliarity, taking it into me to become familiar, and already it feels like another home, one that I have imagined for so long and now is where I breathe and feel and listen and see.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A New Shroud for King Tutankhamun

King Tutankhamun's new shroud is all finished and almost ready to send. The shroud is 120cmx100cm and looks like the sea, like mermaid scales, like armour, like magic. In the end I decided that adding hieroglyphics or the John Donne quote would be superfluous. It is full and complete just as it is. Ironically for a shroud, it is full of life and energy.

I came home from packaging it up for the journey to Auckland and was reading Synchro Destiny by Deepak Chopra. He used an analogy of the sea to explain the soul. Each wave is a unique entity, yet inseparable from the whole of the sea. Oh, I thought, that is like my shroud, each little circle unique: its own subtle shade and pattern, its own curious little face and yet all part of the whole piece, a little wavelet of the ocean.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Summer Do 2008

The Quarry's 'Summer Do', 9 days of parallel workshops in everything from life drawing to earth building opened yesterday with a lovely powhiri. Unfortunately I am not able to participate in any of the workshops, such as Experimental Printmaking or A Capella Singing) as I have to go back to my office job on Monday. But in the meantime I am hanging around trying to be helpful to the organisers and soaking up the life and energy that has suffused our usually-somnolent little piece of paradise.
In the foreground is a birds-eye view of the Quarry on a quieter occasion- at the moment bright yellow marquees and sky blue tarpaulins dot the grounds and the parking lot (the arc of grass) is covered in tents and campervans. The buildings on the lower left are Te Kowhai Print Trust where I do my letterpress. My little Studio 4 is tucked out of sight in the building facing the car park.