Treetop Campsite, Ripples Creek, Vic, Australia (GMT+14, 22 December 2014)—A couple of hours north of Melbourne, certainly not more, sits this Boy Scout camp, where some 1100 pitched their tents just a few weeks back. It’s a campsite in transition, as Paul, the new manager, works to bring it back from extinction.
The odd human trait to believe that everyone—or no one—is doing precisely what you’re doing tips to the all-inclusive side for me. Thus everyone on my interminable flight here had packed their long johns and hiking boots for surely there is but one way to live Down Under. Data—my own personal history—reminds me that this is not in fact the only way people travel in Australia but it is the way I travel now. This is my third trip to Oz, the first two for work with perhaps the country’s best known brand—Qantas—one of the few words in English that gets away with following a Q with an A and autocorrect doesn’t even do its sorry-mate-but-you-really-still-don’t-know-how-to-spell.
But those experiences were not camping in the least, what with being housed in an Intercon (Aussies abbreviate via the diminutive with abandon: rellies=relatives; breakie=breakfast; firies=fire fighters) and engaging in fine-dining crawls in search of the country’s most supreme crème brulee. One Saturday during our first visit, our hosts hired a houseboat so that we could motor up the Boorowa toward the restaurant that Zagat’s deemed to have the finest burnt custards in the land.
This is not that.
We, now, are crossing the land in a different style, we being four of my family plus me (the sixth member having left just a few days before my arrival), who move via 4-wheel-drive kitted out for water crossings, steep declines on rutted tracks, and hauling that weird contraption known as a camper-trailer, steel box by day, spacious tent where all five of us comfortably sleep at night, with side drawers that slide out housing a sink, a camp stove, a broiler, several pantries, and a sizable refrigerator. And a faucet, and many more drawers, and an awning or two, a prep shelf, and a dozen other things that I can’t think of at the moment.
Windmill Holiday Park in Ballarat
These comforts do not include those of the 4WD with its fridge, four more pantry drawers, a snorkel (for those water crossings that go a little too deep, which one did in not precisely that way a few months before I arrived), a kangaroo bumper (absolutely not its name but alas, no Internet access, which means I write without aid of the world’s largest encyclopedia), two solar panels that generate the power we need for this three-night stop, and two gas tanks, which slurp up $150 AUD at each filling.
Solar panels on right at Treetops
Gas prices have been falling since this excursion began, a good thing for those using large quantities of it but a bad thing for those who believe consumption monitoring is a very good thing yet again an excellent thing for those who would like to see an end to fracking and tar sands and a dozen other evil outputs of the industry that has fueled a level of comfort for a percentage of the world’s inhabitants far superior to any known before.
But back to our topic or is this our topic? Having swapped Brooklyn for the Bush, my daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons, are now into their fifth month of camping, principally in the Outback. Which is largely what Australia with its handful of large cities (wherein 90% of the population resides) and land mass that exceeds that of the US minus Alaska comprises.
The Bush, where wildlife abounds—emus, ostriches, alpacas, kookaburras, wombats, koalas, and, yes, those odd hoppers with the prehensile front legs/arms/paws. Until I looked it up in the dictionary just this very moment, I did not know its basic facts: This marsupial only found here and in New Guinea; its name came from a never-again-to-be-spoken Aboriginal language of the north Queenslanders. My kids are doing The Big Lap, a driveabout the whole continent-country, which could be some 20,000 miles, though it will be considerably more by the time they’re done.
People put such adventures on their wish lists then erase them with a dozen reasons why they could never. But these two did. Not exactly Brooklyn hipsters—though they did shop almost exclusively at the Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market, suffer the indignities of the sometimes-not-running B and the Q to take them to their from-the-outside-fascinating jobs in the city, and give birth to twins who knew their way around the Met, they decided and undecided to take this trip for quite a long time. And then they decided again, gave up their apartment, quit their jobs, dis-enrolled their nearly five-year-old boys from impending kindergarten in an overcrowded public school, put their stuff in storage, reduced their necessities to fourteen suitcases, and departed on July 30 for Sydney.
There they picked up their 4WD, which had been considerably modified from its original factory-form, and their camper trailer, and set out on their journey. They are documenting their five-Ws on their blog with such detail that the Australian Broadcasting Company has run a story on them and a camping magazine has contracted with them to write a series. It helps that they are fine writers and photographers—and that they have guts.
Within a month or so of setting out, they crossed a known challenge for 4WDrivers, Nolans Creek on the 55-km long Old Tele Track, named for the route along which the telegraph was taken all to way north in the east of the country. In their case, they happened to make that particular crossing (one of a dozen or so) in the company of three young men who were able to lend a hand when all did not go as predicted. They crossed the desert, this time without others in their wake, in 110-degree heat. They endured a night of snakes, winds, and a rainstorm so fierce that they, plus my younger daughter, who was visiting at the time, all ended up sleeping in the car. The car. Not the camper-trailer but, picture it, three adults and two little boys sleeping sitting up in a vehicle so packed with stuff that you can’t even see out the rear-view mirror.
And on they traveled—south to Longreach and Innamincka to remote stations, to The Flinders, the Great Ocean Road, and now, with my arrival, a few days first on Melbourne’s Cape Cod equivalent, the Bellarine [sp?] Peninsula; then a few more in Ballarat, an old mining town with a Sturbridge Village-like reconstruction, complete with the New York Bakery (we ordered the Devonshire Tea option, served with two scones, pronounced skons) and the Mechanics Library.
The boys were able to pan for gold (sadly, pebbles instead), peek inside the reconstructed tents of the miners, watch the melting of gold (or is it smelting) and go down into the first level of mine where gold was found both by mining companies and by father-and-son teams who picked along the vein of quartz that pulses with tiny flecks of gold; and now this campsite just outside Ripples Creek, where we were greeted by a mob of jumps. Are there as many words for kangaroos as for snow?
There couldn't be too many words for these strange creatures, who wander close to our campsite, chewing and pooping and hopping and rolling on their backs and tucking their joeys into their pouches then letting them out. They prance quickly, mostly at the end of the day when the sun is dialing down its bake temperature. And 1245 words later this writing session ends with the return of the family from a trip to town.
Adding to the wildlife roster: deer, coyotoes, fox, howler cats... what's next?
I'm also sad to learn that the bear was killed rather than sedated and saved. And the outcry has begun. Surely the Newton's police could have come up with a stun gun when the Department of Environmental Protection's police tranq gun jammed (the official story). After all, the Newton Police Department is literally across the street from where the bear was found.
This is one of those posts that I've been meaning to write for nearly two weeks but life trumped every attempt and now I'm in the position of having heard that the hurricane has caused flooding and...
What am I talking about?
Earlier this summer, Farmer Extraordinaire Ray Bradley of Bradley Farm in New Paltz, NY, started hosting Farm-to-Table dinners in his barn. My daughter and son-in-law went to the first, raved about it, and invited me along to the third, which took place on August 21.
Ray sells his wares at the Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market in Brooklyn, which I've blogged about many times. It is indeed a grand farmers market and the Bradley Farm stand is a de rigeur stop for us...which is how my family knew about these extraordinary dinners.
The August 21 meal was one apart - incredibly, David Bouley, chef of great renown (viz. Bouley, brushstroke, Bouley Test Kitchen, etc), who's known Ray since they were 14 and growing up together near Storrs, CT, collaborated on this event. David was the chef, Ray was in the kitchen, Iris Kimberg was the producer...along with a very large staff, including many volunteers, and the result was pure wonder. When I properly blog this event, the post will be called "Carrot dust and heaven in a barn."
But alas, I've learned just a few hours ago via Etienne Frossard, who took the pictures on the Bradley Farm site, and who has sent me a bunch to share here, including the one at the top of this post, that Bradley Farm was flooded by Hurricane Irene and that Ray finally was able to reach his precious land - by canoe.
We wonder who really gets touched by this wild weather. A number of people I know have lost power; a friend couldn't drive from Vermont to Boston today due to roads being washed out. And now we know that there's so much water at Bradley Farm that Ray is moving around in a canoe.
I'll still do the post about the best meal I've ever had but tonight there is only this report and the hope that the animals are OK and that the harvest is not lost. Thinking of you, Ray and Iris.
[A]mong dog owners who took their pets for regular walks, 60 percent met federal criteria for regular moderate or vigorous exercise. Nearly half of dog walkers exercised an average of 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. By comparison, only about a third of those without dogs got that much regular exercise.
The researchers tracked the exercise habits of 5,900 people in Michigan, including 2,170 who owned dogs. They found that about two-thirds of dog owners took their pets for regular walks, defined as lasting at least 10 minutes.
And it turns out, if you walk your dog, you're likely to be otherwise physically active in sports and gardening.
On average, [dog walkers] exercised about 30 minutes a week more than people who didn’t have dogs.
*Cursory search suggests that Dr. William Osler, one of founders of Johns Hopkins, was first to say this.
Three young London based designers are “collaborating” with honey bees to create an Edwardian-inspired baby crib from cast metal and honeycomb. Their inaugural project is called “Built by” and will symbolize the hope of a future pairing between humankind and our environment.
Maybe everyone is as smitten with where they live as I am...and as surprised as I at the nearby places they've never been.
Case in point yesterday when we altered our walking routine, which often leads to a trek to the woody-leafy conservation areas west of Boston (Concord, Lincoln, Weston, Wayland and the like) and simply went to "The Cove," another of Newton's many delights in the village of Auburndale, just a long walk from our house.
I've been to the Cove many times but my trusty trail guide always can be counted on to have discovered a path I've never seen. Thus, our approach through nearby Waltham past Purgatory Cove. Who knew? Not me. An isolated baylette along the Charles where we spotted a family of swans.
I thought we'd only be able to see them from a distance but, as we sat in silence on the bank, a chipmunk running back and forth in front of us, they came closer.
Still closer until their reflections were as clear as their silhouettes
And then the mother decided to show us her stuff ...and float away
These things don't really belong together but alas the joy of blogging.
Although we live mere moments from Boston (eight miles by the odometer), we're also blessed with many woods nearby--Hamlin in Wayland, Paine in Weston, Lincoln Conservation Land near the DeCordova Museum, Elm Bank Reservation in South Natick, and, of course, Cold Spring Park right here in Newton, just to name a few whose paths we tred on a regular basis.
Should you ever come across something like this in any of those woods, know that someone near and dear to me, one celebrating a birthday today, marks the woods in which he runs when many paths converge. On Sunday, we found that this one for five paths had survived yet another winter at Paine.
Belle, at 14, still can make the trek, with a bit of huffing and puffing, so here she is too, surveying the snow, even as we were just in our shirtsleeves.
And now on to Taste, which celebrated its first birthday this past week. Packed, as you can see, when we were there on Saturday, no less because there was a trio playing - percussion, voice, and keyboard. Very nice - and the cappuccino was great too. Congrats to Taste!
And that I reported seeing it a second time a couple of weeks ago?
I'd be hard pressed to prove it with this photo but I was just sitting here, watching the snow, and reading a nice email that had just come in to a friend, when suddenly I screamed at him, "There's the fox! I gotta go!" And this is what I ended up with. See him/her? (The phox, not the phriend):