A Sandy Beach Almanac

You've landed at Sandy Beach, NSW, Australia: Lat. -30.15331, Long. 153.19960, UT +10:00 – local map & zoom Google map. I live in a cabin on this beach, 25 kilometres north of the traffic and shops of Coffs Harbour, 600 km north of Sydney. My intention is to post observations of Nature and life within 1 km (1,000 paces) of my South Pacific home.


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Monday, February 28, 2005

Cantina Casuarina

Americans know it as the Australian pine, and it's a pest over there, but we call our native tree the Casuarina (its species name), or She-oak, and it's a necessary part of our ecology. In the US, it's our payback for Hollywood.

I call them Casuarinas, mostly. A nice word, like ocarina, cantina, Angelina and senorita. Sweet, like a Bob Dylan love song. In my memory and imagination, I always associate them with many picnics in many places, boiling the billy in their shade, by beach, river, lake, lagoon or creek.

By the way, they are neither oak nor pine, though they remarkably resemble a pine, with their needle leaves and cone-style fruit. Like 600 other species in this country, it's a Eucalypt. No other continent is so dominated by one genus of tree as Australia is by eucalypts. We Aussies have eucalyptus oil in our veins, and often when overseas, will send home for some leaves to burn, just to get the aroma.

The Casuarinas, and the heath they inhabit, form a boundary between the frontal dune area of Sandy Beach -- which is very low for most of the length of Sandy, with bigger dues up the south end -- and the now-cleared land spreading back from the shore. The land I live on. That land itself was probably Casuarina heath, too, before the advent of Europeans, not so very long ago.

Today, after some showers of rain overnight and in the morning, a small flock of Scaly-breasted lorikeets (pictured) were munching on one of the fruits that they love, as do the Crested pigeons, galahs and any number of pretty birds. That fruit is the fruit of the Casuarina, which today are plentiful. They're marble-sized and look like suede-covered landmines, or furry chocolate-peanut nuggets, but they taste like crap. Trust me. Not to the birds, though. They're crazy about 'em. Beats me.

Australia's national poet, Henry Lawson, often mentioned Casuarinas, or She-oaks, in verse and tale. In this stanza he is referring to his home town of Grenfell in this state, where he was born in a tent on the goldfields:

Said Grenfell to my spirit,
"You've been writing very free
Of the charms of other places,
and you don't remember me.
You have claimed another native place
and think it's Nature's law,
Since you never paid a visit
to a town you never saw:
So you sing of Mudgee Mountains,
willowed stream and grassy flat:
But I put a charm upon you
and you won't get over that.
"O said Grenfell to my spirit,
"Though you write of breezy peaks,
Golden Gullies, wattle sidings,
and the pools in she-oak creeks,
Of the place your kin were born in
and the childhood that you knew,
And your father's distant Norway
(though it has some claim on you),
Though you sing of dear old Mudgee
and the home on Pipeclay Flat,
You were born on Grenfell goldfield –
and you can't get over that."

(Quite a heritage Lawson had. His mother, Louisa Lawson, is the woman who Australian women can most thank for their right to vote.)

While the scalies were up in the casuarinas, doing acrobatics in that cute parrot way, chewing on their fuzzy, chaffy nuggets, a flock of Crested pigeons was beneath them, grazing on fallen fruits, and probably grass seeds. They prefer their meals on the ground, but were quick to fly up among their green-and-red Scaly-breasted lorikeet cousins when the strange Almanac bloke approached.

Six months or so ago a huge storm blew across Sandy. It was the fiercest windy night I've experienced in my more than half century. Come morning, there were a lot fewer trees for the birds to eat from, lots of them laid flat and pointing to the sunset, as I guess the wind came from the ocean, although it was too wild in the gumtrees and mango tree around my cabin for me to know where the hell it came from. Hell, probably.

Casuarinas are not strong-wooded trees as they stand, despite having a good working timber, so it's not surprising to see that Lawson wrote on another occasion:

That night the rain in torrents dashed,
The sky seemed flushed with blood,
And here and there the she-oaks crashed
Beneath the yellow flood.

Up the north end of the beach and facing west, for about a year, there has been a big sign erected by Council announcing that some of the trees that were there had been poisoned. It's a warning that Council is aware that there are some weird people who prefer dinner parties with an ocean view to a stand of native trees. I'm not real big on signs, but that one's a bottler. I think the scalies appreciate it too ... and the native pigeons, the Bearded dragons, the possums, the tree snakes, the Black-tailed cockatoos, the Blue wrens, the Red-backed wrens, the peewees, the Willy wagtails ...

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Selene said to say "g'day"

You shoulda seen her tonight. Just waning off the full, she rose up first behind a low-on-the-horizon bank of rumpled clouds. One of them was sort of bulbous, so for a minute or two there were two moons, one on top of the other. Then just her, big and brazen, luscious and lascivious on a bed of shining vapour.

I was thinking about that old Disney tele-flick, The Mooncussers ... the smugglers who cuss the moon. I had nothing to cuss, though. Even most of the Milky Way is still spread deep across the night, and here and there a shooting star. Later, no chance for that, the night goddess will be whitening the whole ceiling. The Milky Way has to fade sometimes or it would burn up the universe.

Up she came, Selene. Big and orange, like the blazing, sparking bonfire someone was having up the north end. Good luck to 'em. It's 25 degrees, the sky is clear as a bell and here comes the goddess up from the wild side of the planet.

This is a great way to look at her, staring you down right in the face and shooting a beam of orange laser across the Big Pond. I also like her on the other side of the night, when she's heading for bed in the west and lights up the breakers hitting the shore. That's when things really get the smuggler look, like when I was a kid playing in the bush at night, in my sheet, scaring the pants off my friends and even some ladies. I like the ghost look that comes around each month, the headless horseman riding the beach look.

You have to wake up early for that setting moon vibe. Or better still, stay up real late. Like my folklore campadre in the US, Anneli Rufus, says,

"For in a hard-working society, it is rare and even subversive to celebrate too much, to revel and keep on reveling: to stop whatever you're doing and rave, pray, throw things, go into trances, jump over bonfires, drape yourself in flowers, stay up all night, and scoop the froth from the sea."

If ever there was a time I was certain that for people to have a soul, or at least, for them to really know they do, they have to scarpa from the city ASAP, it's on moonlit nights.

I was sitting there on the sand thinking, if some researchers got together, say, ten million words of collected poems, lyrics and prayers from the English language, all written before, say, 1950 when most people in the Western world could still breathe, and compared ten million words from poems, songs and prayers written post-2000, what would be the difference in rate of usage of words like "moon", "stars", "Milky Way", "flowers", "butterflies", "stillness"? Someone should do that sometime. You can see those words dying in front of us. That's you and me on the floor.

Selene coming up over a country horizon is probably the best way to dissolve a head full of bills, TV show crap, noise, cars, other people's bullshit, your own bullshit, my bullshit, and probably even anxiety and depression. They should write it out like a prescription. But that will never happen until they can sell us moonlight, like we'll never get solar energy until they can sell us sunshine.

People have to write their own prescriptions, and do their own staying up late, jumping over bonfires and scooping froth from the sea, at peril of their lives. It's a self-help thing, like cleaning your teeth. The dentist'll tell you you should do it, but you've got to put the brush in and boogie.

Save Sandy and Hearns Lake: what you can do

Click http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com/shag.html for the latest from SHAG: the Sandy Beach/Hearns Lake Action Group (opens in a new window).

Making shift with things as they are

As I noted here a few days ago, the beach can change almost in the twinkling of an eye.

It's one of those days that the God and Goddess of Perfect Days put on display in their portfolio. Twenty-eight degrees, a sky as blue as it can get, comfortable breeze from the NNE. My three mates the Sooty oyster-catchers greeted me at the rocks at the north end with my first name, as they do with their oddly Mediterranean accent: "Peep! Peep!". Just a handful of people on this perfect Saturday are revelling with me in the 1,285 paces that make up the length of Sandy.

Around the north rocks a few days ago was a vast pile of kelp, about knee deep or more in places. Today, not a skerrick. The rocks and surrounding sand have been scoured clean. Just as they brought it in by the truckload, the wind and the waves have taken the kelp out to sea, tons of the stuff, and just a scattered line of crunchy, sun-parched seaweed runs along the high-water mark of the sand.

Where a few weeks ago were hundreds of thousands of Soldier crab castings in glorious patterns -- sunbursts, snail trails, flowers and kaleidoscopic drawings -- now there is flat, shining sand (for the tide is just an hour off low), and thousands upon thousands of pebbles, with the occasional seashell. So many colours! Pebbles of almost every hue known to Nature, with here and there a flash of jasper red, pure quartz white, and slates that, when wet, are almost as blue as the sky.

I hope you will click the thumbnail for a photo I took a few weeks ago, of pebbles and Soldier crab castings at the south end. I think they always look their best when there isn't a wide, deep car tyre track running over them, don't you agree? With luck, we can keep these treasures as long as human beings walk the planet. It'll take incredible effort, but I think the photo shows what worth the effort will be for our great-grandchildren.

If this is what we have to do, make an effort -- if we have to make shift with things as they are and not as we wish they were -- then I hope I am up to that effort. Frankly, it's the last thing I feel like doing. I'd rather just look at crab tracks and pebbles.

* Ø * Ø * Ø *

Aldo Leopold: A man ahead of his time

I love this quote by the American conservationist author, Aldo Leopold, from the Foreword of his classic book, A Sand County Almanac, which was one of the inspirations for this blog. I'm going to put it permanently in the sidebar and a cheap paperback version of the book is available on my Amazon account.

Aldo was born in 1887 and died in the year of publication of his masterpiece, 1948. Amazing to think that anyone could write like this nearly 60 years ago:

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.

Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.

These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress, our opponents do not.

One must make shift with things as they are.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Faster than a speeding midge

Image used in Fair Use for non-proft, educational purposes, and linked to the page of origin by way of recommendationPerhaps, like your almanackist, you have been in a plane or fast moving train, or even in a car, and the realisation has struck that if you were to drop something, like Newton's apocryphal apple, or Galileo's stone at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it would fall at your feet and not some metres behind you. It's rather odd, and I still don't fully understand why.

It was a bit like that feeling at the north end of Sandy today. In a small pocket there you will find a lot of biting midges (Culicoides spp., I believe) flying around, and I walked into them. With an air temp in the high 20s, and humidity in the 60s, it's an ideal day for midges, but a sticky day for peoples, and the tiny insects can be quite annoying.

So I ran. Not as one would from a swarm of bees, but I ran.

Now here's the amazing thing: I'm a pretty fast runner (not that I ran my fastest), but it took me 200 metres to shake them. I was halfway down the beach and they were a few still buzzing around my head. OK, how do they do that?

The population of midges in that place near where the creek empties into the ocean, has skyrocketed in recent days after the rain because of the nutrients that wash into the waterway, particularly from residences. Unhealthy waterways and wetlands mean more midges and mozzies; another reason to keep our Hearns Lake foreshores safe from human occupation. So run, don't walk, to find ways to preserve and restore aqueous environments, wherever you live.

Reduce Mosquito & Midge Populations – Restore a Wetland!

Sandybeach City

The following letter came from Stuart Buchanan of Rosemary Lane blog:

Dear Pip

I am delighted to hear that Coffs Harbour Council might bring all the joys of material progress and the benefits of 21st century civilisation to your sleepy backwater Sandy Beach village.

With 350 new houses and 1,400 new neighbours you will become large enough to interest the major supermarket chains in opening up branches and a car park or two in Sandy Beach. Who knows, before long you will see the main street turning into a prosperous High Street, with perhaps a shopping mall, pizza and Chinese takeaways, and of course a number of real estate agencies to sell property and investment land to all the ‘new money’ flooding into your burgeoning Sandybeachtown

From there it is but a short progressive step for the forward-looking Council to encourage the building of a striking row of spectacular Miami Beach style highrise seafront hotels with conference facilities (competition is always good for business). After the hotel chains build these, Sandy Beachtown Airport with regular flights connecting with Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Tokyo and Los Angeles. By then of course your forward-looking council will have finalised plans to dig out a proper harbour for an international yacht marina where your unused beach currently is, build a commercial quay, a kelp-processing plant by the shore, an industrial estate, and a housing estate to accommodate the influx of workers to the new light industries attracted to this new hive of industry. They will also have laid out plans for three new housing estates on the empty land overlooking the sea, an elegant, floodlit concrete shopping promenade along the new marina front and more car parks for the moneyed visitors you can expect at weekends. Prosperity will come quickly to flourishing Sandybeach City!

I look forward to the opening day of the Sandybeach City’s first ecological museum/aquarium complex next to the city’s new funfair boasting Australia’s highest and longest rollercoaster. The museum will doubtless have interesting artefacts and photographs showing from what small and uninspiring beginnings this rich metropolis sprang, and the aquarium will have tanks full of examples of the sort of marine life that once used to live along those shores before they were polluted by Sandybeach City’s sewage outflows.

It is amazing what the fusion of speculators' money and a dynamic, forward-looking Council can do to wrench a sleepy village backwater like Sandy Beach with a useless and profitless stretch of sand, out of its slumbers to place it in the forefront of booming international tourism.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sandy Beach meeting

The meeting last night was very well attended, with I guess about 70 people concerned about development plans for Sandy Beach and Hearns Lake. The meeting was called by a new group, Sandy/Hearns Action group (SHAG).

The proposal that's now before Coffs Harbour City Council is now open for public discussion. Although the meeting was attended mainly by interested locals, several speakers with specialist knowledge, including an ecologist, set forth a number of very good reasons for concern about the developer's proposal. This proposal allows for an additional 300 or more houses to be built quite close to the shores of Hearns Lake.

The ecologist explained that Hearns Lake is what scientists call an "ICOL", an "intermittently open and closed lagoon". The intermittent opening and closing of the mouth of the lagoon is an important part of that lake's evolution, but makes it susceptible to accumulations of pulltants. Hearns Lake, we were told, is already under stress from stormwater and other matter entering the lake, and we were given the impreesion that any further stress would be disastrous.

Among other creatures, the lake vicinity is home to an endangered species, the Wallum froglet (pictured at left), and a breeding ground for the endangered Loggerhead turtle (pictured at top).

Of course, much more transpired, including reports from action groups of nearby beaches which, quite frankly, were not encouraging as not all environmental battles are being won in the face of so-called 'development'. Tales of councillors neglecting to answer correspondence abounded. Stay tuned because in future days I will post more info here.

It's raining hard, but I hope to see you tomorrow with some more Nature from within 1,000 paces of my home.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Sandysiders, is this what we want?

I'm told that these days, on beaches on the world's remotest islands, you can find Bic cigarette lighters, probably tossed overboard by people on fishing boats and cruise ships. And hundreds or even thousands of miles from remote islands, you can find all sorts of creatures, from turtles and dolphins to pelicans and albatrosses, dying because they have eaten, or been caught in, plastic bags, drift nets and long lines from the fishing industry.

Neither is Sandy Beach immune from the folly of our species, as this picture shows.

In Summer's last hurrah, with the tourist season well past, I was feeling great and free as I mounted a dune beneath a bright blue sky and hot sun, pondering how so many pebbles and shells came to be at such a height above the high-tide mark. At the top of the dune, as I headed south, out the corner of my eye and on the edge of the dune and the frontal dune forest, I saw a tawny glimmer from the south that somehow I thought might be a female koel, a beautiful migratory cuckoo that we discussed here before.

Trying to make myself as small as I could, I slowly and quietly stalked the wild koel. But as I got closer, I saw that it was something else. A plastic wrapper from a six-pack of Castlemaine XXXX.

Uttering an immoderate imprecation (because Four X tastes like cat piss), I stuffed it in the pocket of my stubbies, and headed south again along the dune's ridge. Several paces in that direction, another glint caught my eye and I found that it was a shard of brown glass forming a small pinnacle in the smooth, windswept sand.

Like friends of mine, I usually take a plastic bag with me for picking up pieces of litter (one for me, one for Mother Nature, and a few for the idiots), but today I'd forgotten. So I was lucky that a considerate beach user had provided one for me. I scooped out the nasty shard, which could have caused very serious injury to me or any adult or child walking barefoot on the beach, and placed it in the beer wrapper. Very gingerly, I ran my fingers through the fine, parched, white sand, until I found another, and another. After ten minutes I had more than 100 shards in my bag.

Tonight at 7.30 I'll be attending the public meeting about the Coffs Harbour City Council's intention to have 1,400 extra people living here. That's a lot of people, plus their relatives and friends visiting for holidays, a lot of people wanting to break the law and drive on the beach, and a lot of beer bottles. Let's face it, those consequences will be inevitable. It will be another case of thousands of people coming to be a part of the things that population growth will eradicate.

Such things, I hope, will be on the mind of Sandysiders over the next weeks and months, including those who hope to make a great deal of money when the place "opens up". There are big things at stake. Over the next few hours I'll be reading more fully the council plans, and looking forward to the meeting.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Only one day off Sandy and I'd forgotten how good a beach smells.

They smell best when a lot of seaweed has washed up, for a day or two, anyway. I was flaneuring along the strand, picking up the things in this photo, and at the same time wondering how I could convey in SBA, for those who can't get to the beach often, how kelp can attach itself to rocks and get washed in, rock and all, in high seas such as we have today.

I was thinking I might have to bring home a kelp attached to a rock the size of half a house brick, a common enough finding on the beach, and not relishing the thought. That's when I found the cute lil one in the photo. the kelp is a few days past its prime and not good for eating or even having inside your cabin. Not to put too fine a point on it, it pongs to high heaven and it's now outside The Ponderosa. But it's a perfect thumbnail of the big kelp-rocks that can be washed up right to the high-tide mark.

Cute lil shells, huh? (Sorry about the crummy webcam shot.) There's an online shell identification service here which I will place in my links list in the sidebar for all of us.

The bubba sea urchin in the picture at top came from a mass of kelp about 600cm high, at the rocks down the south end. It's the only one I saw but apparently in the last day or so there have been dozens of them washed in. This one was minus its meaty creature on the inside, so he can stay indoors with me in the cabin, with the shell collection.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Local 'development' meeting

According to a poster in the general store, a public meeting ("all welcome") will be held to discuss the proposed the Coffs Harbour City Council 'development' plans for the Sandy Beach / Hearn's Lake locality. The meeting will be Monday, February 21, 7:30 PM in the Sandy Beach School library.

Sandy Beach on Oz sat map

Fellow Sandysider Fritz Brzon has again kindly sent me an image with an invitation to post it for your interest.

This one is a satellite image of Australia, with Sandy marked. Thanks once again, neighbour. As is usually the case here, click the thumbnail to enlarge. It's about 105 kb (new window).

Robin’s Nest, Primrose, and Parsnip Wine

If you enjoy flaneuring with A Sandy Beach Almanac, I think you'll enjoy it more with a daily flaneur down Rosemary Lane, where a recent post is 'Robin’s Nest, Primrose, and Parsnip Wine'.

Rosemary Lane is Stuart Buchanan's weblog and it's the twin of SBA. As my buddy Stuart is on the beautiful Isle of Wight off the coast of England, RL and SBA are exploring complementary seasons, climates and environments. Our mutual love of folklore, poetry, phenology and Dame Nature have made the blog-twinning almost inevitable. We both hit on the twinning idea together as our blogs are so similar, though different.

RL and SBA are like wine and cheese, pancakes and syrup, hot curry and cooling yoghurt. When I'm writing about the nor-easters that blow in off the South Pacific to soothe the baking land and bring stinging Bluebottles into the surf, Stuart might well be logging the wild North Atlantic westerlies as they roar across his island, and the changes in the local environment that the chill winds bring.

I invite you to visit Stuart when you visit me, and say "gidday" to my clever Pommie mate. His writing sets a high benchmark that keeps me on my toes. You'll always find a link to Rosemary Lane in our sidebar.

When the sun comes out at Sandy

Image used in Fair Use for non-proft, educational purposes, and linked to the page of origin by way of recommendationYesterday it happened, and again today. After several days of overcast weather and showers, the clouds roll back, the sun comes out, the temperature shoots up and things change again. It's lunchtime, about 26 degrees and 79% humidity, with just a puff or air from the north. Big butterflies cruising the garden, the grapevine reaching its tendrils further into the fragipanni.

Outside my door on the soggy path the big mango leaves and frangipanni flowers need raking so I don't slip on them and sprain my navel.

Yesterday, behind the beach the ants in the timber rails massed for take-off in anticipation of the stormy wind which never really came. All the boys in their winged finery looking to score that evening. I wonder how they got on. But the little ant hills on the grassy area before the beach showed no such signs of activity. I wonder why this is so.

And yesterday the galahs (Cacatua roseicapilla) ate seeds in the trees while the Crested pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes) grazed beneath them on the grass seeds.

On the beach are the watercourses of small rivulets that formed in the rain and are left behind like aerial views of the world's great river deltas. And like the deltas, they have occurred on relatively flat land, forming wadis rather than canyons. They run west-east along the sand to the ocean, fairly subtly as they are not deep because the rain wasn't particularly heavy and the fall of the land is slight. They cross over shallow, wide, north-south ridges that are left on the sand by the retreating tide. I keep coming back to the beauty of the sand, because it really is spectacular and changes daily.

I watched some Ghost crabs (Ocypode cordimana) emerging from their occasional burrows on the west side of a sand dune. They live well above the sand flats occupied in their many thousands by their Soldier crab cousins, and would hate the twice-daily drenching their cousins receive with the tides. They even make their nests as far as the grassed area, and I've had one knock at my door. We must talk more about the translucent Ocypode cordimana another time.

I like the way that when the sun comes out after the rain, you can hear it. Seems like the birds and insects like it as much as your almanackist does.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Aboriginal site, shifting sands

The speeed with which things can change at a beach is truly phenomenal.

The thousands of small stones on the sand at the south end of Sandy just a few days ago have mostly disappeared as the sands shift both underwater and above, due to waves and wind.

It's only a few days since I wandered over the southern sand dune on the track to Emerald Beach, but since then there are signs of work by the council. No complaints here: they've covered over with tons of sand the old flaking site as used by the local indigenous tribe in years gone by.

This is where the people would bring back smooth, rounded stones from the rocks and make implements of various kinds. For once I think it a good idea that the effects of Nature have been modified by human intervention, because that section of the beach is something of a wind tunnel and the old implements and flakes were exposed to idiots such as I who can pilfer them. The reason I was there today was to return some tools that I had brought home to take a closer look at, I confess. I shouldn't have done it, so I gave them back to the shifting sands, and the ancestors, where they belong.

The recent work done by council looks like it might have been done centuries ago, for in just a matter of days the dune sands have made it their own. Once again, I didn't want to come home from my flaneur on Sandy Beach, as there is nowhere I know that is more fun to play than on the feet-burning white dunes on the walk to Emerald Beach, where just for a while you can run and climb and feel like Lawrence of Arabia.

(Click thumbnail to enlarge)

See you on the waves: Almy radio

Readers living in this neck of the South Pacific might be interested to know that there are now two radio stations on which your almanackist is appearing regularly.

Here's the schedule:

Radio 2BBB-FM: Wilson's Almanac Book of Days
Fri Sat Sun 7.45AM
Mon-Thur 9.45AM

ABC Afternoon Show with Mike Corkill: 'Blogging Around'
Tues 2.45PM

Monday, February 14, 2005

Zooming in on Sandy

I've written a brief review in the Blogmanac on MultiMap, a great online location finder and map maker. I'm sharing it here in SBA because I was so impressed that I could zoom from the world map right down to the beach and the street I live in. Other Sandysiders will like it, I think.

Better than a poke in the eye

The Draft Development Control Plans for the Hearns Lake/Sandy Beach district is online. Coff Harbour City Council is asking for public submissions.

Sorry, it's a link to PDF files, don't know why. My guess is that a number of years ago some PDF executive had some really dirty info on a politician, because there's hardly a government instrumentality in the land that doesn't unnecessarily inflict these antiquated mega files on the populace. Still, click on one of the links if you're a local, it might be interesting when it eventually downloads next week or thereabouts.

Speaking of council, I've had a reply to my letter concerning some environmental hazards at Sandy Beach mentioned here on January 20. Will reply soon and keep you informed.

I didn't want to come back from my lunchtime flaneur today. With a blue sky and 25 degrees, why would I? There's quite a bit of driftwood, and still a fair bit of kelp today. Not much of it has been at sea for long -- not real good mantelpiece driftwood, more like firewood driftwood. Not keepers. I suppose the recent rain brought the wood down in the creeks and rivers, but it was a little surprising how much there is considering the rain wasn't all that heavy. However, there was a fair bit of wind about for a day or so, and that knocks a lot of branches into the waterways upstream.

It's not often someone introduces themselves to me on the beach, but I weelcome it, if they're friendly. I was wading near the three Sooty oyster-catchers I wrote about recently, watching them and listening to them calling my name, then they flew onto "Cormorant Rock" where they perched a bit lower down than two cormorants, who didn't seem at all bothered. Just then a gentleman came up: "Are you that bloke with the Sandy Beach website?" Thinks I "Oh gawd, who have I upset this time?"

He introduced himself and shook my hand. "I think it's great and I'm with ya all the way!" Better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. Not that anyone's done that to me lately. It's just not the done thing, not at Sandy Beach.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Mark Twain jumps ship at Sandy Beach

The brilliant American author and humourist, Mark Twain, arrived in Australia on September 15, 1895, spent about three months here and wrote of his travels in Following the Equator.

And in his book, More Tramps Abroad, he recorded a remarkable observation on the people he found on this continent:
The Australians do not seem to me to differ noticeably from Americans, either in dress, carriage, ways, pronunciation, inflections, or general appearance.

He also wrote about my town. Well, not Sandy Beach exactly, which isn't a town, but the nearest one (7 kilometres) and the place where I buy my food, Woolgoolga (see map):
In the weltering hell of the Moorooroo plain
The Yatala Wangary withers and dies,
And the Worrow Wanilla, demented with pain,
To the Woolgoolga woodlands
Despairingly flies.

Did Mark Twain stop in at Woolgoolga on his travels? The question isn't entirely rhetorical, because perhaps a reader can tell me. I would love to get a copy of his Aussie itinerary. I suspect he got the exotic-sounding words from a map and other documents, and in an idle moment, perhaps on the deck of a steamer, or in a Sydney hotel late at night after one of his successful lectures, strung them together just for fun.

Possibly the steamer stopped in at Woolgoolga or nearby Coffs Harbour on its 1,000-kilometre journey from Sydney to Brisbane, to load wood and fresh water for its boiler.

It is tempting to conjecture that Twain, who said of himself "I am a revolutionist -- by birth, breeding, principle, and everything else", if he were steaming by Sandy Beach and Woolgoolga in our day, might not wish to return home. He was a fervent anti-imperialist and anti-war activist, as his 'The War Prayer' attests.

As Vice-President of the Anti-Imperialist League from 1901 till his death in 1910, he wrote extensively on the theme, and some of his works he asked to be not published until after his death, because he knew how strong the forces of war and American empire were during his lifetime. His progressive worldview dogs him even to this day: His The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the fifth most challenged book in the American library system, ie, by readers who wish it removed from the shelves. That process of banning Huck had been started in Denver, CO, as early as 1885 by a General Funston.

Part of me imagines Twain wanting to jump ship and camping out in the Woolgoolga woodlands rather than having to face for another time the strenuous attacks of those for whom war is a matter of pride and profit.

I must add that in Following the Equator, Part I, Twain refers to the Ornithorhyncus, or platypus, which happens to be (along with hail and the kookaburra), my totem: the platypus is "... that curious combination of bird, fish, amphibian, burrower, crawler, quadruped, and Christian called the Ornithorhynchus -- grotesquest of animals, king of the animalculae of the world for versatility of character and make-up."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Joseph Blake changes his mind

Image used in Fair Use for non-proft, educational purposes, and linked to the page of origin by way of recommendationAt the beach entrance track that I use, today a Common or Eastern brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) slithered off to the right (south) into the grass and scrub, then as I kept walking he changed his mind and decided to cross my path again into the scrub on the left. Browns can run like the wind, but this one, while not dawdling, was not going at full speed, so I had time to observe him quite well for a few seconds both times. Poor bugger. All he wanted to do was catch a few rays on a bright and warm day at Sandy, just as I did.

At the time, I was thinking about the safety issue and not his motivation for the about-face, but I've since had a beautiful flaneur on the beach and come home for dog's eye and dead 'orse (in Aussie rhyming slang, pie with tomato sauce) and cuppa, and am a little more reflective. Not that I've figured it out.

Possibly when the Joe Blake first turned south, he might have run into a dog turd that scared him. He would have done a quick Uey (you can hear the Hanna-Barbera sound effects) as quick as he could -- I'd be much the same. Or perhaps, in his fear of me, his first reaction was to go into the nearest thicket, just as mine was to stop still; then, maybe, Joe realised that, being a better class of Reptilia, he wasn't a southsider, he was a northsider, and he'd be safer closer to the centre of his territory and not on, or beyond, its boundary.

Joe was fat and easily 1.5 metres. My first guess was that he was as long as I'm tall (183 cm) but as snakes, like fish, are always smaller than you believe, I'll estimate lower than I think he actually was. And since the books say Eastern browns only grow to a metre and a half, I'll bow to the judgement of the experts. However, the width of the path where I saw him is two metres, and his body length was almost that. It's like a "fish that got away" story, especially as brown snakes aren't common around here, but I'll go to sleep tonight happy believing that he was 160 centimetres.

Strange to say, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Wildlife Atlas of Moonee Nature Reserve doesn't list this Joe Blake. However, he was too beige-brown to be a Marsh snake (Hemiaspis signata), unless I'm very much mistaken, and he was definitely not boldly patterned like a Carpet python. I grew up in the bush with more than enough browns around my backyard, and browns are common enough outside cities on the east coast, so I well know the look of them, but this was the biggest I've seen.

So I have a few mysteries today. Another is why I hadn't noticed before this day how strewn with stones the south end of Sandy has become, for about 50 paces on the sand before the rocks. I suppose they came in with the rough weather a couple of weeks ago and only today was the tide right for me to observe them. Then again, maybe I'm just as thick as two short planks, which a lot of people think. I just hope I'm not thought to be a snake fibber.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

It's raining, but not inside the Ponderosa.

Hey ants ... consider this!

Of course, it's a non-urban, sub-tropical environment here and just a spit from Moonee Nature Reserve. Not a place to live if a few critters are going to bother you.

And I love ants, really. I had a few plastic ant farms as a kid and even as a young adult I built a beauty out of two window panes and cast a plaster (plast a caster?) moat around it so they couldn't get out into the house. Not that it worked very well. So I'm not an ant hater.

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise." I know that King Solomon said that in the Bible because (a) it is always in every general article about ants and every ant farm kit that you buy, but moreso, (b) because I was brought up Baptist and if you don't have the entire Old Testament memorised by age 13 the Sunday School superintendent threatens to exorcise you in front of your schoolfriends, none of whom knows what you do on Sundays (although hurtful rumours abound).

I could consider her (the ant's) ways all day and even if I didn't become wise, which I already know is as likely as an ant becoming lazy, I would still have a good time watching her, though my attention span could be better. Not because of age, I think, but because it's only 34 years since I killed my TV (before it killed me). And, just by the way, how wise was Solomon to know the sex of an ant!

So, I have less than nothing against ants.

And compared to some people, I even have a high tolerance for ants in the house. Sometimes I get little ant hills growing up in my carpet. Not a lot, but I do.

And even around the sink, I don't mind a few. But here is a confession. I had a little bottle of AntRid for when they got out of hand. When the bench seeems to m-o-o-o-o-ve.

AntRid is efficacious only in an approximate way, but shaming in a very precise way. I've been avoiding nasties like insecticides all my life and really felt bad that I had succumbed just because I could see my toaster moving.

Every time I saw my kitchenette looking like the Wynyard Station Concourse at 5 PM, I would run through my head all the alternative therapies I knew and dismiss them one by one. Pennyroyal mint (too rare), baking soda (I'd have to buy it), chili powder (too allergic).

Lately I've been feeling extra guilty, since one of the other many tiny creatures that shares my cabin with me, a little garden skink, was on my bookshelf stalking some little critter caught in a daddy-long-legs spider's web, and I panicked to think that such an exquisitely beautiful creature might eat a poisoned ant. Then I thought about how my food bench is the only place on the property which is part of 21st-Century chemical warfare (which is the state of much of the world), so I decided to end my shameful experiment then and there. What about all those other tiny things that share my home? How could I live with myself if I made the place a toxic dump? I've been enjoying a grasshopper the size of a match head so much, this madness had to stop!

Ladies and gentlemen, there is an answer: salt. All I did was slosh around a bit of the old Cerebos on the ant concourse and they've gone, or so it seems. That was easier than I could have dreamed. I got rid of the AntRid, and now the only thing weighing on my conscience (in the insecticide department, anyway) is that soon it will be seeeping into some landfill near Coffs Harbour. The only consolation, I suppose, is that it couldn't happen to a nicer country town, and it wouldn't be noticed there anyway.

I know today's post doesn't refer to "Nature within a thousand paces of my South Pacific home", because it's in the cabin, but it's wet outside, I've been hell busy, I'm getting busier tonight and I thought I could get away with it just this once. I hope that was wise. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Come to the edge

Come to the edge, Life said.

They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, Life said.
They came.

It pushed them ...
And they flew.
Guillaume Apollinaire

When I stand at the edge of the ocean, where the warm water surges against my legs and my feet are in the sand, I'm at the edge of some large and incomprehensible entities.

I'm at the edge of the South Pacific Ocean. But such geographical delineations are, after all, rather arbitrary. Because the South Pacific flows into every other ocean and sea, river and creek, bathtub and can of Pepsi-Cola on the blue planet. At the water's line I am standing at the edge of all the world's water, precipitation, evaporation, flood, drizzle, waves and snow.

Then again, I'm at the edge of Australia. So then I am at the edge of surface earth, the bit that we can see, or at least, that I can see when I turn my head back from the waves and towards the low trees lining the sand. Behind them is my home, and behind that is a continent. The continent is that part of a hump sticking up above sea level, some four thousand kilometres wide. On that hump, wriggling and hopping and slithering and walking are billions of creatures including some twenty million of my brothers and sisters (how often do I forget who they are, in my arrogance!).

Below sea level, my continent has no edges between it and every other nation. Six billion people could meet each other on roller skates if all the water died up.

If, there on the strand, I squat down in the water and look in any direction to what we name the horizon, because we name everything and perhaps have to in order to survive, I see the edge of Planet Earth touching, as it were, the edge of its own atmosphere. I look at my belly and arms and see the edge of my meat touching edges of earth, water and air. I am wet and covered with droplets, and a thin layer of salt, so now the edges of both Pip and everything else are shaped differently from when I walked across the beach to the water's edge. So I am a being of different shape. Who am I now if I have shapeshifted?

And if I squish up my eyes I see little squigglies that are on the edge of the retinas of my eyes, and the particle/waves of light that whoosh through the universe. Those rays hit the edges of atmospheric particles that are invisible to me, and make the sky blaze with blue. If the edges of those particles were laid out, I'm sure they would make a plain on which I could walk to Andromeda.

When I stand on the dry sand, only the soles of my feet form an edge with the solid earth, and my edge with air is much, much larger. So although I consider myself as a terrestrial being, I have more in common with the cormorants, cicadas and dandelion seeds a-floating. Perhaps I have more in common with the lens flare on a photograph taken on such a sub-tropical scorcher as this, than I do with any god that I could imagine. But the water that now splashes my tummy and makes me jump up, is what makes up most of my body, and thus my life, whatever that is.

But if I were to drown now, in the water that is like me but in which I can't live, and they laid my wet carcass out on the sand in this hot weather, soon I would dry out like those desiccated Muttonbirds that are brought in by a high stormy Sandy Beach tide on the way back from Korea. And within days or weeks of this weather and when not one molecule of H2O was in Pip, they could grind me up and in some laboratory find that I, when weighed, like all my 6 billion bothers and sisters, am 15 per cent other creatures.

Those same creatures are below these edges, miles down, some of them living at several times the temperature of boiling water, and in acids stronger than undiluted sulphuric. Those creatures, which we call bacteria (because we must name things), if they all came up from under the hump of Australia and all the other lands that are connected beneath the place where an edge is between water and solid stuff, would cover the whole planet (land and water), some say, to a depth of five miles. By comparison, all the mighty forests of the planet would look like a potted herb.

Come to the edge, I said to myself. And I closed my eyes and I found that I myself am an edge between ... between ...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Baby pinky

The Pink-tongue skink, Tiliqua gerandii, is very similar to its better-known cousin, T. scincoides, the Blue-tongue skink (usually called the Blue-tongue lizard). Their street names are highly descriptive, as anyone who has seen them poke out their tongues will attest. Fortunately, they do it quite a lot for the punters. The cousins have similar body markings, a bit like tapestry, but pinkish-brown and slate-blue-grey respectively. Very nicely coordinated.

This baby, who lives around the Ponderosa when he's at home, will grow to about 40-45 cm (Cousin Bluey can grow to about 50 cm, about 20 inches in the old money) if we don't scare him to death trying to get this crummy webcam plugged into the right USB port, and if kookaburras, dogs, cats and cars don't get him.

As he lives mostly on slugs and snails, Pinky's very welcome in this garden but very vulnerable to snail and slug bait, which of course you won't find in this yard. However, the more common blueys used to be common pets for generations of Australian children but these days most kids have never seen one, for the above-mentioned reasons. Especially the baits, as chemical warfare was de rigeur for Australian gardens in the 1960s - 80s, but now seems to be as generally derided as it should be. Or am I looking through rosy (pink) lenses? Perhaps snail bait sales statistics will make a liar of me, or show that I just don't move in chemical-using circles.

This pinky's Ma, or Daddy, was around the other day, hiding behind the water tank. The parent is as beautiful as the child, and the tongue is spectacular. Baby Pinky probably has, or had, about 11 - 14 siblings, depending on what they've been eating, and what's been eating them.

Thanks, Peter the Landlord, for displaying Pinky for a glamour shot.

Note: many taxonomists are using a new classification for the pinky, Hemisphaeriodon gerrardi or Cyclodomorphus gerrardii.

Sandy Beach 'development' proposal

I should read the local paper more often. Local (not local enough) council has put a Development Control Plan on exhibition, which I'll visit in Coffs Harbour soon. Hands up, those who have ever seen 'development' improve an environment.

I'll be interested to see how financial interests -- and those are what drive development -- will try to convince the rest of us that by doubling the population of a small coastal village in a few short years, life will be improved for human beings and other living and non-living things of beauty.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A pink and grey swoop

Big panorama; scroll rightA computer maintenance day today and pleased to say I have the old Esmeralda back and working better than ever thanks to Monsieur le Tuff, with thanks.

Plenty of kelp on the beach after the week's big weather. I was wandering back from the sand when a flock of noisy galahs swooped overhead. The galah (Cacatua roseicapilla) is another of Australia's many parrots, and its reputation for being not only squawky but also not very bright, gave rise to the Oz slang term for a fool. He's no fool in the reproductive department, though, as he is capable of breeeding with the White cockatoo.

Because of today's down time with Esmeralda, it will be another day that I write about one of Australia's favourite idiots, the beautiful pink and grey galah. Meanwhile, may I present you with a pleasant photograph?

Pictured: Sandy Beach panorama from Bare Bluff, February 4, 2005
(Click thumbnail to enlarge; big panorama; scroll right)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Robinson Crusoe: if not he, whom?

Australians have an expression: "You're not Robinson Crusoe" -- meaning, "You're not the only one". This Pandanus tectorius which I photographed with Baz le Tuff's camera on this morning's flaneur, is not Robinson Crusoe, because there's another in the background, and plenty more around Sandy Beach.

Indeed, the humble Pandanus is a common feature of coasts all throughout the warmer regions of Oceania. But common or not, they have a special charm, don't they?

Not trees, not even palms, and not exactly shrubs in the gardener's lingo (though they may be to the botanist), they lend a Robinson Crusoe ambience to almost any beach, though some might say a Martian one.

And certainly Robinson would have found the Pandanus highly useful, particularly for the strong fibres in the long, swordlike leaves. Had he not sewn his clothes and umbrella from goatskin, he might have found Pandanus quite serviceable, and he might have made a fine Panama hat, for that famous item of apparel is made from leaves of Carludovica, a cousin of Pandanus in the Pandanales family.

He certainly would have found, like people of many nations, that he had something with which to weave baskets, and it sounds like he could have used the diversion as there was no TV on his island way out there off the coast of Chile, not even with a dish. And if he had thought about it, the fibrous, almost hollow trunks of Pandanus float so well (they're often found washed up around here), he could have made a raft from them.

Defoe doesn't tell us precisely what Crusoe thatched his hut with, but it might have been Pandanus and it would have done quite well. All we are told is:

... I raised a kind of wall up against it of turfs, about two feet thick on the outside; and after some time (I think it was a year and a half) I raised rafters from it, leaning to the rock, and thatched or covered it with boughs of trees, and such things as I could get, to keep out the rain; which I found at some times of the year very violent.

If he hadn't been so dim-witted (after all, it took him 18 months just to put a basic roof over his head) he might have used Pandanus leaves as a fragrant spice in his goat curries, or as the traditional wrapping for Thai Pandanus chicken, gai hor bai toey. I love a good curry, but I really don't get time to cook. Don't be hard on me: I'm not Robinson Crusoe.

Notice: So Stuart Buchanan isn't Robinson Crusoe either, not when it comes to blogging about cuisine, although his Rosemary Lane, our sister blog, is the place for you to go this week, where my Isle of Wight buddy is talking rabbit pie and elderberry wine. Here in Sandy just now, the weather suits something a bit lighter, something troppo to go with the Pandanus. Maybe a goat salad.

Perhaps we should make an historical (or fictional) correction: Robinson Crusoe wasn't Robinson Crusoe. Man Friday used to visit. But Friday always came alone, so he was Robinson Crusoe. But it should be noted that Friday rarely showed up more than once a week.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ongo Bongo!

New at Wilson's Almanac, a new version of Ongo Bongo!. Older readers will probably remember it. I couldn't think of a name for the new version either. :)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Here's lookin' at you, lady spider

This gal is a Garden orb-weaving spider (Eriophora spp), cousin of the St Andrew's Cross spider I wrote about last week. She lives one pace from where I sit, right in front of my face, and I can watch her by day and by night. Nothing between us but the window on the other side of Esmeralda the Computer. Sorry, it's just a crummy webcam shot. That's why the window looks dirty, of course -- it's just graininess.

I just watched her have a very big feed for a lady with a body about half the size of a golfball. They're relatively common and quite harmless, by the way.

(Click thumbnail to enlarge)

Water, whence we wandered

Baz 'Anselm Adams' le Tuff took a wrong turn when he was driving me home from Woopi (Woolgoolga) yesterday, after coffee at the 2nd Bay Cafe, and I was too engaged in conversation with another passenger to say anything. Baz never listens to me anyway, and 40 years of friendship (come August) gives him good cause, I admit.

Anyway, we ended up at the top of Green Bluff, and Monsieur le Tuff ripped on the handbrake, jumped out, and took this great shot, looking down towards Sandy, which is behind the point near the horizon. That's Groper Islet sticking out of the blue, just off Sandy Beach. I must get over there some day; pity I can't swim that far. (Click the thumb to enlarge.)

Later, I went for a quick flaneur in the shallows of Sandy, and felt compelled to drink a little of the water.

Have you ever had the urge, and succumbed? An occasional sip of the Pacific Ocean, any ocean I suppose, is mandatory for health as it has not only strong powers of prophylaxis, but immanent magick as well -- in almost homeopathically small doses. If not indulged in too often, there's no wine, no nectar, no exotic delicacy can compare.

I confess to having a sweet tooth, but a little salt and savory is a welcome part of my diet. When the mood strikes me, I can eat an embarrassingly large number of dillpickles or rollmops, even a bag of pretzels in a sitting, or more olives than I should. But none of them compare to half a mouthful of South Pacific, judiciously imbibed.

In the 19th Century, I was informed recently in an essay by the late and wonderful Stephen Jay Gould, a certain scholar studied the salinity of the sea and from his calculations was able to deduce the great antiquity of our planet. He considered known rates of solubility of solid matter, the volume of the water on the planet, the mass of land, and various other data of his day, to arrive at what was then a revolutionary conclusion.

In those pre-Darwinian times, the chronology put forward long before by Archbishop James Ussher was still widely believed even amongst the intelligentsia, viz, that God created the Earth in 4004 BCE. At 9:00 AM on Sunday, October 23, to be precise. Just before getting the Boy off to Sunday School, I suppose (for we learn from scripture that the Lad existed before the Dad made the People).

The perceptive scientist, whose name I don't recall (and the book is now back in Coffs Harbour Library), didn't make a perfectly accurate estimation of the Earth's age, but his notion that it was a lot greater than six millennia was influential in its time. We owe him a debt for his dipping into the sweet and magickal brine.

As I stood near naked in the lapping warm waters, tasting of them, I was drawn into and beyond the wet and the salt. As I stared to the horizon with the trickle of delicious salty water running down my thankful throat, and as the rush of being alive thrilled every cell of my being, I looked towards, and beyond, Peru. My body, hot as sun, melted into the South Pacific. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, ocean to ocean, sun to sun, home to home.
Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny little twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again.
Stephen Jay Gould, RIP