Montana Wolf

Friday, March 2, 2018

Eclipsed: Tasmania Blog Nine

We had no pre-determined  destination when we left Strahan. We weren't planning to drive far but wanted to get a head start on the next day's visit into old growth forests. Mario Andretti at the wheel (I joke, but I am so thankful it was him and not me), we were immediately into mountains and more slow-going hairpin curves. I gingerly staggered to the back of the van and stowed the traveling gladiolas more securely; made sure the one surviving wine glass was prone. Up we climbed toward Queenstown. A former mining mecca, the entry into the city was through a red and orange moonscape. Eroded gullies and barren hills had replaced rainforest. Like the scarring I'd seen in Arizona, this abomination was due to King Copper, discovered in the 1890's. I sensed a community effort to move beyond those days; hoped they would be successful. On we went.

Misty rainbows and winding roads
The moonrise and eclipse were on the radar. Given the last forty-eight hours, no telling what weather would materialize. My mind wandered to the wonderment of Tasmania -- the endless, deep wild places and spirits, the friendly folks, incredible wines and delicious local foods, seafood and cheese. I realized I hadn't heard one siren. What would the final days bring? THIS!

but wait, she's backwards! 

She had just crossed the highway. An oncoming vehicle had stopped in the road to ensure safe passage. Greg pulled over and I followed the meandering echidna (ee-kid-na). Once I got close it rolled up into a spiny ball and didn't move. There were no visible feet, ears or face. I waited, hoping it would unfold, but it had more time than I. We continued up the highway as I read that echidnas preferred to eat ants (take a look at that face). And, it laid eggs! An echidna: I was over the top, so satisfied that I told myself I'd be okay if I didn't see a Devil in the wild. The Sydney zoo might have to do. We only had two nights of wild camping to go. The possibility of a sighting was slim. 

Glacier-carved rock 

Wind-twisted trees 

Tired and ready for showers, we turned off the highway for Lake Sinclair Visitor Center on Cynthia Bay. Home to the Lake Sinclair Lodge, we figured boondock or campground, we'd find a place to park. By the time we arrived two dry camp spaces remained. The camp spots weren't level but we were too zonked to care. We pulled between two campers, packed in like proverbial sardines. We slid the side doors open as eclipse energy took charge.

Greg and I lost all semblance of synchrony. Communication turned squirrelly. I settled in, bouquet and all, and he disappeared to the lake. He returned and announced the sunset underway. I grabbed my camera, took off for the lake and he stayed behind. I sat on the shore in sundown meditation; gazed across the stillness at distant Cradle Mountain and smiled. I finally got to see her.

Cradle Mountain from Lake Sinclair 

I rounded up the correct change for showers and we headed for hot water. I finished sooner than Greg, only to find that he'd locked the van. A twenty minute cold, in-my-robe-with-wet-hair-sit-on-the-bumper-wait. Like I said: squirrelly. We managed to walk together to the beach to watch the moonrise. I found the spot where I wanted to photograph, he continued on to find his spot. I took a few shots and wtf??? -- the low battery light appeared. The spare battery was back at the van, a fifteen minute walk; the moonrise would be over. Momentarily devastated, I switched off the camera and came to my senses. Literally. I don't know if it was the latitude, altitude or both, but I was treated to one of the most stunning moonrises of my life, as Luna threaded her way through a train of clouds, casting silver linings hither and yon. Once into the clear, the Supermoon turned night to day. I walked down the beach to find Greg. No where in sight, I turned around.  

Pademelons galore! 

I stopped midway to the van in a grassy clearing to soak in moon glow. The bushes began to rustle and out hopped a pademelon! Then another. Hop, hop. And another. The triple goddess of pademelons. I relished every second of my fifteen minute meeting before the night chill pushed me on. Picking my way through moon shadows, I hadn't walked but twenty-five steps ... I rounded a corner and BAM, walking toward me ... A TASMANIAN DEVIL. I (literally) could not believe my eyes as my brain chattered to confirm. It walked to within ten feet, stopped and checked me out. Her energy was sweet and curious, not at all like the popular mean caricature on signs and tourist paraphernalia. We had a minute together before she moved on. I squeezed one, poor, shot-in-the-dark out of my camera and stood spellbound, eclipsed by a full-moon Devil. 

Greg and I met at the van and excitedly shared our moonrise night. Our paths had been a weaving of searches, he for me, I for him. The day was too much to grasp: the Gordon River rainforest, the Echidna, Pademelons and Tasmanian Devil. The quirky camera event was a first. And. It. Didn't. Matter.

I fell asleep exhausted and awoke at midnight, during the eclipse. I wasn't compelled to walk to the lake and observe. My awe-factor overfloweth. I fell back to sleep and dreamed Melania asked me to accompany her to Italy and we were packing. Ya, that Melania. I awoke in the morning with a Kookaburra laughing outside the van; checked email to find I had been selected to give a talk at the Tucson Festival of Books in March.

Revelations continued to pepper my mind as we headed for the Styx Valley and the loftiest trees on earth.

More Devil Shots, taken at the Sydney Taronga Zoo, a large outdoor enclosure.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Boat to Hell and Nirvana: Tasmania Blog Eight

Macquarie Harbor - heading toward Hells Gates

We dropped from the highlands into Strahan mid-afternoon. High energy enveloped the town which was positioned between saltwater and rainforest. I don't know what I expected of Strahan. As one of the few towns located on the wild western coast, I anticipated something beautiful and raw. It leaned more toward cutesy, but the impressive historic architecture showed through.

It was January 30th, the eve of the full super moon eclipse. Edgy energy was on the uptick as we made our way to the harbor where the rainforest cruises departed. We purchased tickets for the next day, choosing the cruise that departed and returned the earliest. Next up was finding a camp away from the RV-park throngs. We followed our noses to a dry camp location adjacent to the small, empty golf course. There were only a few RVs; this was our spot. Daylight waning, we circled back to People's Park and the trailhead for a rainforest walk to Hogarth Falls. A beautiful little hike with interpretive signs, it was the perfect introduction to the Eucalyptus rainforest, and my first meeting with the incredible tree ferns.

Eucalyptus Giant

Alas, no platypus.

The brown rainforest water is common, the breakdown of natural elements, not pollution.

Hello again to my White Cockatoo buds!
Greg and Tree Ferns ... Rubber Fern and Hard Water Fern in foreground.

We returned to camp as sheets of rain moved in. Dry camp turned to wet camp. No worries, we were in the van, right? Then, plop, plop, plop in the middle of the night, onto the middle of my forehead. What the ... ??? I switched on the light: water was leaking through the air conditioning/heater unit. Greg pulled a tarp out of his elephantine suitcase and covered the bed. The next morning we realized that the tarp, taken from his work tools at home, had dried paint on it. The bedding was covered in tiny paint chips. No time to deal with it; we had to get to the cruise.  Yes, it was now the morning of the full moon eclipse. The first boat I saw in the harbor was the Climax. I smiled. Pretty sure it didn't refer to the Capt's great sex. On the other hand, aren't boats named after women? I tucked the omen away.

Hell's Gates
We boarded the boat at 8:30 for a six hour cruise. The weather was tumultuous, a constant shift from sun, wind, quick storms and rainbows. Magnificent. We made our way out of formidable Macquarie Harbor on the Lady Jane Franklin II toward the ocean's opening: Hells Gates. We threaded the narrow passage into ferocious waves, turned around and headed back into the harbor. Dare I say: I'd been to Hell and back. On we chugged toward the Gordon River which would take us into the UNESCO World Heritage Wilderness Rainforest. Amazing to learn this designation met seven of the ten criteria. It was the was the most qualified on the planet, including examples of "on-going evolutionary ecological and biological processes" (threatened Beech Myrtle forests), "superlative natural phenomena," threatened species habitat, traditional settlements and testimony to disappeared cultures. In addition, scientists contended that Tasmania's west coast was the cleanest air on the planet.

The boat slowed as we entered the narrow Gordon River. Cloud and sky reflected on the water and rolled into the rainforest shore. Eons of civilization peeled away from my psyche. I became transfixed, hypnotized by the elemental grandeur of the passage through time. Words became useless; a drumbeat would have been more appropriate. I perched alone at the front of the boat. People would rush out to gaze when instructed to do so and return inside, eschewing wind and showers, as I joyfully stood, metaphorically bowing to the likes of a 2500 year old Huan Pine. One of the slowest growing, longest living trees on the planet -- up to 3000 years -- the tree's golden hue and rot-resistant resins made it a prime target of furniture makers and shipbuilders. The Huan forests, once plundered for their "yellow gold," are now protected.

Scenes along the way:

Expecting the African Queen

Tas Cormorant 

We debarked deep into the Gordon River's wilderness for a rainforest hike. Too many people, too short a trail, too little time. Still and all, wholly thankful for the entry into the eons old sanctuary, assured that she would hold tight to her mysteries for eternities to come. Mysteries like the rare King's Lomatia that grew only in one small part of the rainforest. Was it near? Was I looking at it from a distance and not knowing it? Every King's Lomatia is a clone in and of itself, a biological wonder. It's the oldest clone in the world, believed to be more than 43,600 years old. The very thought pushed tears to my eyes. Its energetic presence permeated the wildscape.

Rainforest walk - one cannot fathom the millions of lifeforms in the layers and layers of plant and soil.

The trip back to town included a hearty buffet lunch. I celebrated with a glass of champagne; toasted the Huan spirits as Greg struck up a conversation with folks on the boat. I attempted to join but words were still hard to find.

We stopped at Sarah Island, site of Van Diemen's Land's infamous penal colony, and were treated to a lively interpretive walking tour and dramatic stories of the cruel, and yes, creative, personalities that  met their fates in the inhospitable place.

White-bellied Sea Eagle
Seen from boat as I thumbed through bird book! 
Still an hour from port, the pontoon sped up as weary travelers settled in. Greg slept as I thumbed through the ship's bird book, identifying what I'd seen since my Tas arrival. Thirty-nine species, not to mention those I'd forgotten and the Blue-tongued Lizard. As for the big guys, the Tasmanian Devil still eluded me.

We stepped ashore. I headed to the van to offload trip packs and coat; told Greg I'd meet him in a bit for a snack. By the time I got to the cafe he had finished and I ordered, as he did a last bit of sight-seeing. I sipped my iced coffee as I collected myself and made notes of memories. A big part of me wanted one more night in Strahan to hike and observe the mutton bird rookery. We stepped into the van instead, not sure where we'd stop, wanting to cut the distance to the old growth forest the next day. As the moored boat had portended, the climax was yet to come. We were a few hours from the full moon rise.

Feet back on the ground,iced coffee time!

More miscellaneous shots:

Terns tucked away

A Hells Gates Lighthouse

Sarah Island

Sarah Island

Monday, February 26, 2018

Near Death, New Life: Tasmania Blog Seven

One day rolled into another and they passed way too fast. We bid the Tiger Pub goodbye and headed for the west coast town of Strahan. More specifically, we sought access into a World Heritage Rainforest. In addition, we were coming up on the January super full moon eclipse. We weren't sure where we would be for the event and didn't put energy into planning the perfect location since we would be in the land of clouds and moisture. See the eclipse or not, we would feel its propensity to intensify feelings and birth surprise.

We were into tall forests and tight curves immediately. We crossed a large river, pulled off the road and walked back onto the bridge. I was looking for platypus; Greg, I guessed, a Tasmanian Tiger. What we saw was a shocker:

A sculling team? There was no nearby university or city, and I was a long way from the Charles River, the last time I'd seen scullers sweep toward Boston. If I'd been on my toes I would have understood the message: expect the unexpected. We were back on the road, heading uphill into a tight horseshoe turn, when a second dose of surprise met us head on: a humongous tour bus. 

We'd seen tour buses with accompanying safety vehicles that stopped traffic so buses could maneuver through the mountainous horseshoes. Greg didn't consciously challenge the bus. I'm sure he thought it would back off. Or he forgot he was driving an RV and thought he had room. Whatever the split-second rationale, the encounter turned into a game of chicken. Neither stopped and I thought we were goners. No shoulders, steep drop off; I don't know how that bus managed not to push us off the road. Let's just say I got to verify what I've often imagined my final words might be: o fck! (Second scenario: I love you Hope.)

We drove in silence, too stunned to speak. A wave of homesickness rushed through my body as the effect of the close call intensified. I longed for the comfort of Teak and Hobo. I wanted to speak to Hope. Regret raised its head as we passed the turn off for Cradle Mountain Wilderness area and a hike I longed to take. I was seeing the world in terms of what I didn't have, and I needed to crawl out of the funk!  I reminded myself that only four Tasmania days remained and choices had to be made. We had opted for rainforest and old growth that beckoned me more than mountains. As for the funk, it was about to get a swift kick.

Greg had worried for days about damage to the upper side of the van. He'd run into branches a couple of times, leaving marks and some small indentations. Nothing serious, I said. RV companies didn't expect to have the van returned unscathed. My reassurance didn't work and the damage weighed heavily on his conscience. We stopped in the village of Tullah (aboriginal word for "the meeting of two rivers") where he stood on a cement embankment to scrub off the marks. I handed him cleansers and meandered over to the neighbor's yard of spectacular flowers: gladiolas, roses, mums, lilies ... my spirit soared as I moved from bloom to bloom. Then I saw her small, bent-over frame on the porch, snipping stems and arranging flowers in bottles. I asked if they were for sale. Yes, $5 a bouquet, she said. I couldn't get the money fast enough. I chose my bright blossoms and we began to chat. She was eighty; she had lived in isolated Tullah all but four years of her life, when she went to college. Then she invited me inside to see her teddy bear collection. A room like none other  --

What funk? Every inch was adorned with furry comfort. This woman was a Goddess. 

Greg successfully erased the brown marks and I had a big bouquet of joy I carefully carried until our final day in Tasmania, when I would leave the flowers in a Hobart B&B.  

We dropped onto Tasmania's west coast within a few hours; entered Strahan with a second wind and excitement for the few remaining hours of daylight.

First view of  Tasmania's west coast!

Scarlet Robin

There was a time when Tullah's only link to the outside world was by steam engine.

One can ride this restored wood steam engine through the hills and rainforest.

Through the windshield: the mountainous highway