Terrestrial Ecology Field Trip #2

Tomorrow morning, early (possibly so early that bright doesn't even enter the picture), Andrew and I will make our way down to UQ to meet up with the rest of our team/crew/cohort (I really should attempt a new synonym every time I refer to this gaggle of UC students of which I am privileged to be a part).

From there we will all launch out on the next field trip for the Terrestrial Ecology component of this EAP.

"Where?" you might ask.

I am glad you asked. We will be heading to Lamington National Park.

As everyone knows, lamington is that delicious chocolate dipped sponge cake coated in dried coconut.

hmmmm, tasty tasty field ecology.
Undoubtedly, we will be conducting research into the natural habitat of the lamington, which I predict would be some sort of tea tray or possibly small decorative plate. We may gather data on the life expectancy of these bars in a hot cup of tea. We also have been developing hypotheses regarding  resource competition in ecosystems where their range overlaps with the habitats of Tim-Tams.

The best part for me will certainly be getting to investigate the park service's strategies for maintaining a decent coconut coating in the wet climate that dominates that corner of the Queensland/New South Wales border.

While I develop my taste for scientific inquiry and erode the enamel on the teeth of my ignorance, I am afraid that yet again I will be without communication resources for the coming week. If you would like to leave a message, feel free to do so at the beep. We return to Brisbane on Friday. Chat with you then!


For the Transfer Student

I wanted to make a quick point. Knowing me, I may get going and then go on and on, but the intentions at the outset are brief.

There is a myth that transfer students cannot study abroad. I held this belief myself when I transferred to UC Irvine a year ago from community college. However, there are those who have disabused me of the idea, and I am very grateful that they did. Otherwise, I would not be here in Brisbane at the present moment.

Additionally, at least two others in our group (I have not performed an exhaustive survey of the 30 UC students in our group) are also transfer students. At least 10% of our crew here have the background of being transfer students, making the jump from community college to 4-year university.

If a transfer student reads this, please allow this to help unfold the future as a broader pasture of possibility. I personally love option and opportunity. Just the possibility of doing something makes me happy. You do not have to miss out on augmenting your time at university with a term or longer abroad just because you spent some time at community college. It may take a little extra work, but the best things often do. Given the toughness of transition for transfer students anyways, it really is not that major of investment in energy.

May you take my experience (as well as Ryan's and Mia's) as an additional possibility in the intentional educational experience you craft for yourself.



Not so much a sign as a grafitti'd sticker with a great Flight of the Conchords reference.

The food is good, but be forewarned about the sodium.

What sort of plumbing is this? Do they understand what passes through these pipes?

Just like father used to say about the hookers...
[disclaimer for mom...dad did not actually say this to me]

Woolworths has proven to be a good bastion of sociocultural novelty. Plus, the layout of their stores packs maximum convenience to save you from wandering up and down different aisles to find what you're after.

Oh, and don't forget to pick up the bread and diapers.

It's a shame, because everyone seemed really sweet:

For my liberal leaning friends, a produce of driving on the other side of the road...

...Or something for the more radically inclined:


If you thought Pineapple Things were weird...

I have encountered some other interesting packaging and marketing decisions for foodstuffs while here in Australia, with more to come, I am quite sure.

Our flight on Fiji Airways over served an interesting experiment in subjecting "breaded" "country" "fried" "chicken" to variable pressures and human taste bud atrocities:

Sir Mix-a-lot might ponder any pride he could direct this direction.

For the foreseeable future, these will remain untasted:

While making a delicious cheese to complement my sandwiches, which I am growing afraid might mark the pinnacle of Australian "cuisine," and probably not carrying the same connotations as in the States:


City Cat

Brisbane has a sprawling public transit system. Many complain about how unorganized and antiquated it is. Fortunately, they are complaining about it to a group of Californians...so for the most part a good public transit system is lost on them (I should say us, but I have been on some good ones).

One of the more charming components of the bus and train conglomeration is the City Cat. This is a river ferry that operates on the same system of tapping a pre-loaded Go Card to a reader as you get on and off the vehicle as the other modes of transportation. The boats go up and down the Brisbane River, criss-crossing at various junctures to stops at wharfs on either side of the river. Conveniently, the extreme end of the route is the St. Lucia campus of UQ. One time before we left for Girraween I took it back to the hostel from campus.

This week, Heather had an appointment in the city (people here respond to "downtown" with a look of confusion...they say "city") one morning, so Andrew (my homestay roommate) and I drove in with her, had breakfast in the South Bank, and then caught City Cat to campus. Being still winter, it was a chilly ride, but a pleasant way to start the day and see Brisbane from a different perspective.

Birds perch on the front and launch off to either catch bugs spit up from the river by the boat or play in the spray. Other avian life flies across the path. It is very gentle and removes one from a sense of urbanness.

Later that day, Mia and I had lunch down by the lake on campus watching a ridiculously massive conglomeration of cockatoos (not sure what the proper animal group name is...a typically Australian response to an inquiry would probably yield "A bloody nuisance of cockatoos") on the lawn. They were squawking, eating, hobbling around, and even wrestling! It was the cutest thing.

After class and review session I returned home to make dinner and get to studying. There is definitely a goodly amount of work to stay on top of in this program.

Midweek midmorning

In honor of the great Lucksmiths song...

So, I have not done much blogging this week...my apologies. Our time in Brisbane has been rather busy and hectic, but nothing epically amazing.

Except that tonight I saw my first flying foxes! WOOHOO! I kept hearing that they would be all over, but I had not seen a single one. Fortunately, a combination of peak our commuting and Brisbane's terrible urban planning (at least in the sense of traffic flow) meant that we spent a long time waiting for our bus. Sadly, there are no pictures of this event to share since a) the flying fox was in motion and b) it was dark (nocturnal animals...gah!). Still, imagine a bat, but with a three foot wing span (they call them megabats!). Not an excitement many of you will be sharing with me, granted, but it has been something important for me. The one tourist thing I have done in Austin, TX was see the bats launch at dusk from the Congress Street Bridge.

Otherwise, today we had our first quiz, which we were constantly reminded throughout is more "fun" than an exam. It was rather nice of them to give us a taste for Australian test taking and what to be prepared for in two weeks when we have our larger examinations for Terrestrial Ecology and Australian Studies.

I guess a little recap of the week thus far is in order.

We had "free days" on Sunday and Monday. Sunday I found a meeting and explored the surrounding areas while the rest of the crew attended an Australian rules football match (apparently, Brisbane's team had its ass handed to it by a team from some other place...).

As I discovered that I was lost, I received a text from some friends demanding that I come meet them after the game. Of course, everyone loves to be an expert, so their texts consisted of things like "We're crossing the Story Bridge" "Meet us at the festival" "Going to the Valley" and "Brunswick" may have sounded informative to them. However, as you are probably experiencing, these words to an outside are completely meaningless!

Fortunately, everyone in Brisbane I have encountered, and Australians in general I would venture to guess, are friendly and helpful folks. An older gentleman I came upon walking his dog strolled with me for a while and helped me find my way. When I was 3/4 of the way across the bridge a jogger helped me discover I was heading in the wrong direction, and even hung back on his jog to make sure that I found the correct pedestrian underpass to get where I needed to. Kudos, Brisbane!

Met with the gang at this little street music festival that I was not present for long enough to really take in. It is situated in a neighborhood that people are warned off of going to. I suppose that makes it that much more enticing to adventure-seeking youths. Still, it was nice to see everyone. Despite having just spent a week in camp and close association with these 29 other UC students, I have to admit that I missed them. Even stranger still, they had all wondered where I was at the game and missed me. Awww.

Our homestay is lovely. Heather, our hostess, is a retired violinist and music instructor and seems to be somewhat of a regular homestay hostess. Andrew and I are situated in a lovely house in Bardon.

Across the street is forest. Our first morning found us awakened by the now familiar and amusing cacophony of Kookaburras. We are the second to last house on a road that ends in hiking trails up Mt Coot-tha (the highest mountain in the Brisbane area).

Heather even took me up to the look-out to have a good late afternoon look at the city over a cup of coffee.

Monday found Andrew and me heading to campus to get a sense of what our commute would be like, even though we did not have class. I also needed to check in with the program office (staffed by the lovely Jemma, Justine, and Ross). Realizing that we left Girraween under a blanket of rain, I went to unpack my sleepting bag to give it some air, only to discover it was not in my possession. Fortunately, I did leave it at the Biology school at UQ, and Jemma and Justine had stowed it in their office for me.

We have since begun our Australian studies lectures, covering some history and social conditions that have gone into shaping Australian culture and national identity. I look forward to seeing where this course (taught by Chris Salisbury) goes.


A diminishing alphabet game!

During a “comfort stop” on our way to Girraween, I purchased three items…

Pineapple THINGS

Salt and Vinegar THINS

and THIS!

It’s a knit beanie meant to resemble a viking helmet, complete with horns and pigtail braids (those kooky, yet stylishly crafty norsemen). It is super warm (handy on cold Giraween nights in a tent) and ever so fetching. Still can’t figure out the pineapple things, though.

Girraween National Park

This evening, our party returned weary, dirty, damp, and scruffy to Brisbane. For the last four-ish days (seriously, the passing of time here is something else...coupled with international date lines and time spent camping, where clocks are more or less meaningless), our crew has been studying and participating in gathering field data in Giraween National Park, on the border between Queensland and New South Wales.

It is traditional Australian scrub-land (or dry sclerophyll forest, as we learned in our lectures). It has some amazing granite tors (clusters of eroded granite boulders) that are reminiscent of Joshua Tree (or Hampi in India).

The Sphinx:
 The Granite Arch:
 A portion of Castle Rock:

Our first faux-casualty (courtesy of Shira):

(I should add that occasionally my posts get updated with pictures and other odds and ends. The picture matter has to do with the fact that in Australia, almost all internet plans have a data limit, which means that uploads and downloads can tax and eventually shut down someone's connection. I try to hold off on some of these until I get to school out of respect for my hosts)

Over the course of the time there, we sat in lectures held in a ranger's station, in our campsite, in various fields and creek beds, and occasionally along the hiking trail while stopping for a quick drink of water. Needless to say, taking notes (and I am a meticulous note-taker when it comes to my academics) could be difficult.

And it was cold! Remember it is Australian winter. The administrative team at the International Programs office attempted to forewarn us, and the weather did not fail to deliver...although we apparently got it easier than in previous years. We never fully froze, but the week was an adventure in layers. I now regret not stopping to purchase gloves those several times I thought of it over the last few months. Fortunately, I did pack for some warmth, and besides the first night when my air mattress gave up its structural integrity and I awoke to realize my back was pressed on cold rock (through the sleeping bag, of course), the temperature was never truly unbearable. The last night and day also saw some unseasonably early rains that brought a new light to the camping trip, including the final push to pack up and take down 35 tents in the wet. My poor tent-mate found this morning that a slight gap between the rain fly and the tent allowed a puddle to form beneath his belongings, soaking just about everything of his. Tip for campers: choose the slightly uphill side of the tent!

We received a lecture from the ranger on park management strategies that include fire regimes, changing political attitudes toward national parks, and relations with neighbors (including private holdings and other national parks). It turns out that national parks in Australia are managed by the individual states, which makes for some interesting relations between Girraween and a neighboring park that is in New South Wales.

Dr. John also delivered some excellent lectures on Australian vegetation and its relationship to fire and the geologic and geographic idiosyncrasies of this continent. He has an incredible knack for keeping 30 completely exhausted UC students in thrall with his Tom Baker-like appearance, groan-worthy yet guffaw-evoking jokes, poetry recitations, and lectures that reflect both a sense of wonder at the intricacies of the natural world and a deep sense of pride in his country.

In the field, we observed a variety of birds and kangaroos.

It was a whirlwind of activity. We were exposed to forest canopy and organism mark and recapture surveys. We gathered data on kangaroo grazing (believe it or not, by counting scat abundance) and its effect on grassland persistance and forest regrowth as well as on potential indicator species that help determine policies on control fires set in the national park. Mornings started early with the clattering cries of kookaburras and magpies, followed by a nature walk, which we trudged through still heavily bundled for warmth.

Corrine pining either for a warm sleeping bag or a warm breakfast.

We then split into teams and embarked on some of the aforementioned data collections as well as further hikes to portions of the park. On these hikes, frequent water breaks (it is indeed easy to get dehydrated here, and I somehow even ended up with a sunburn on my face during the final day's rain showers) were used as opportunities to discuss the ecology of various organisms and geological conditions in the park.

Dr. John waxes poetic on the landscape while delivering some deep ecology:

Tutors (Australian for Teaching Assistants) Toby and Nikki cheerfully see us through a lesson on plant biology and its relationship to fire:

The gang grabs for field notebooks on a short break from the hike:

In addition to taking notes and gulping down some water, we all were frequently faced with the decision of whether to pull on or peel off more layers. The temperature could fluctuate based on how high the altitude and the wind was, and various stretches could be more strenuous, throwing perspiration into the calculation for how much clothing to have on. We found ourselves at some spectacular places requiring varying states of dress:

Evenings found us returning to camp, ready to bundle on more layers and have a warming meal produced by Steve and Duncan…two amazing guys under whom I hope to apprentice some day. They drive busses and tow behind it a trailer that unfolds into a solar powered wonder kitchen. Steve enjoys calling the vegetarians in the group (which for the sake of simplicity includes myself) “bad hunters” but both are quick with a smile. Following dishes, we would all march off to a lecture and then back to camp. Interspersed were a contest to produce the creepiest headlamp photos and a theatrically delivered ghost story by our talented lecturer.

A terrific first field trip with several more to come during our time in the Antipodes.

However, it is nice to be back in Brisbane. Andrew (a UCSD student) and I were keen to arrive at our homestay. Our hostess is a lovely woman named Heather who prepared a lovely rendition of tacos while we unpacked and de-scuzzed ourselves from the time in the bush. A proper bed in a private room is going to feel nice (not that the six to a room accommodation at the backpacker's hotel was abominable) Tomorrow, while the rest of our group attends an Australian rules football tournament, I will take some time to get acquainted with the suburbs and hit up a meeting or two, so I don’t end up one of these: