Saturday, August 28, 2004

Cairns, QLD
29 August 2004

This is our last day in Queensland except for one upcoming night in Brisbane. I really have a lot to write, and almost no time to write it, so will stick to e-bites. Went on a rainforest tour yesterday. Saw LOTS of platypus in a river pool. Dom, if you're out there, I was thinking of you. About to go for another rainforest drive.

Not quite sure how to describe Cairns. Parts of it remind me of Nashua, New Hampshire with palm trees. Other parts are indescribable in an urban tropical way. Must go back to hotel and meet Rick. Must sleep someday ...

Thursday, August 26, 2004

26 August 2004

There is a certain leap of faith -- literal and figurative -- involved in strapping on fifty or sixty pounds of equipment and jumping off the deck of a dive boat two hours away from a continental mainland. But, yesterday, we did it anyway. Twice. We had, of course, each made similar excursions exactly 35 times before -- neither of us count one fairly useless plop into a Tennessee mud lake that we made out of boredom and then declined to log -- but the previous time had been in 1990.

Chalk up dives numbers 36 and 37, on the Great Barrier Reef. What a way to pick up where we left off! I'd never seen so many echinoderms in a single day. Also saw some giant clams in varied neon colors, and also some live tunicates, which are invertebrate chordates that lose their notochords and such early in their development. Don't know whether Rick's camera got over its early malfunctions, though, so can't promise any photos just yet.

We've also been leaving a trail of old things that have finally died after their last utility was squeezed out. My ugly old Army surplus brimmed camo hat flew off the dive boat in a high wind. My ancient Timex, water-resistant in its youth to 15 meters or so (yes, I know that doesn't mean "waterproof"), took on a thin internal layer of fog, then began babbling in digital gibberish before finally dying this morning. Maybe this is a sign that it's time for new things.

And, of course, I'm managing to make professional connections on three continents -- in fact, today marks a milestone in that I'm officially off professional duty for the remaining two weeks of the trip. (May visit another researcher's lab in another part of the country as well, but that one's more of a social call.)

We're off to Cairns tomorrow, so watch this space.

Monday, August 23, 2004

23 August 2004

Not sure how to summarize the whirlwhind of the last nine days, except to say that the conference was lots of fun and that some interesting things may transpire over the next few days as well. In the meantime, I've met lots of cool Australian ants (ask me about Rhytidoponera and Oecophylla! I do however, have to say a few words about the birds.

Australian birds, of course, come in gazillions of sizes and colors, but the characteristics that stand out from the perspective of a temperate-U.S. tourist are two: BIG and LOUD. If you are sleeping in a room with an open window (or, Zarquon help us, in a tent), you will hear them. For people my age: Think of a cross between Maria Callas and Charlie Callas (who were probably not related in real life, but that's the way things go.) For people not my age: BIG and LOUD will probably do just fine.

Oh, and one more thing: If you happen to be hanging clothes out on a clothesline in, say, a suburb of Brisbane, and there are lots of big birds in evidence, do NOT hang your clothes under a tree. Furthermore, if an American tourist tells you to NOT hang your clothes under a tree in an Australian backyard, you should not press this person for details. He or she is probably already traumatized enough.