Braided Streams

Reflections | Travels | Interests

Life in the Rainforest

It’s been much colder here than I expected, though over the past days it has started to warm up, and when the sun is out, it’s almost hot.  It’s finally starting to feel like the dry season after a week of cold, rainy weather.  The students have been troopers though; I’m sure they didn’t expect such cold weather, but they’ve maintained sunny attitudes despite the chill.  Because it’s been so wet, my rain boots have been a staple of my attire, and they are good and muddy from the path to the Centre.

The rain also means that the terrestrial leeches are out in full force.  When walking through the rainforest, one is soon picking them off pant legs before they can find a section of skin to attach to.  When hungry, these creatures look innocent enough, resembling small dark brown inch worms.  Luckily, they can’t spread any diseases, but they do introduce an anti-coagulant when they bite, which means that you may bleed freely from a leech bite for a while.  Very attentive to my surroundings, I am usually able to catch the little buggers before they bite.  However, I sustained my first leech bite the other day while sitting at my office desk.  It must have climbed onto my foot while walking to the Centre and had been working its way up my leg all morning until it bit me on my hip.  I was able to pull it off before it had the chance to eat me.

Other insects have also been making their way into my lap over the past few days.  As soon as the sun came out, hundreds of winged termites hatched and have been daintily flying around outside and getting themselves stuck in salad dressing and other food items at meals.  These insects also appear to have hatched in my office.  After flying around for a bit, however, these termites lose their wings, and wings have been raining down from the ceiling and landing on me while I try to work.  The termites themselves are crawling all over my walls and me.

The birds have been active and noisy as well, especially since the sun came out.  Now that it’s warmer, breeding season has begun.  At night, pademelons hop in the long grass outside of my room.  Living in the forest is never a silent experience; the frogs and birds have become a part of my dreams.

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On Sunday, a large student group, the interns, and I walked to the Cathedral Fig Tree, a six kilometer journey from the Centre.  After walking the “Site Walk”—a beautiful rainforest hike on our site—we passed through a cow pasture and then traversed a country road past Tableland farms to get to the tree, which is believed to be more than 500 years old with a canopy as large in area as two Olympic-sized swimming pools.  The fig tree starts out as a hemi-epiphyte when a bird defecates on a tree branch, passing the seed.  The plant will live off of the nutrients and sunlight found on the branch until it sends roots down to the ground to take up more nutrients from the soil.  It will eventually strangle or simply outlive its host tree, and some, like this one, become giants, its roots forming pathways as intricate and beautiful as the Aboriginal Songlines.

On Monday night, Doug, an Aboriginal elder, came to visit us.  Too wet for a campfire, we gathered in a circle around Doug while he told us about the intersection of his family’s history with a history of the Aboriginal people in Australia, and upon my request, he ended with a Dreamtime story that explained the creation of Lake Barrine, one of the crater lakes in this region.  There were two young men who had just been initiated and were told by an elder to remain in one spot until they were retrieved.  The two young men saw a kangaroo hopping by and knew that their elders would be surprised and proud if they hunted this kangaroo.  So they disobeyed their elders and left the spot to go hunt the kangaroo, but when they threw their spear, it missed the kangaroo and crashed into a nearby flame tree.  A giant explosion occurred when the spear hit the flame tree, and fire and smoke engulfed the region.  When the fire stopped and the smoke cleared, a giant crater stood in the place, which the rains filled with water to become Lake Barrine.

We haven’t been to Lake Barrine yet, but we did spend part of the afternoon yesterday at nearby Lake Eacham, a favorite spot from my semester here.  The water is crystal clear and the sun was out and it was warm enough to air dry, though the water was cold.  It was a perfect afternoon.  And now, there are too many termites crawling over me for me to sit at my desk any longer.