Or don’t forget to put your gaiters on, because 8 species of snakes here can kill you, and there’s little hope of an extraction in under 2 hours.
I am covered in tree fern pollen. It is 10:30 am, in the base of a deep gully in a State forest in the Yarra Ranges. The ecologist is looking for a Northofagus* with a camera in it's canopy, next to an Acacia with some delicious bait, I on the other hand am looking for a foothold on a fallen Eucalypt in order to cross a valley stream and catch up to her, all while the Kookaburras laugh from high above in the canopy at my weak attempts to struggle through the understory. The gaiters around my legs are warm, but I take solace in the fact that the Kookaburra won't be enjoying the sight of me getting bitten by a brown snake or any of its friends.
This is my job right now: Drive down rugged loggin roads and head into the thickest bush in Victoria, walk across logs with 50 pounds of climbing gear on my back, find a tree, climb it to collect a camera and bait, pack up and head to the next tree. It’s basically the greatest Easter egg hunt in the world. We work in two teams of two. One ecologist, one arborist. The arbs follow the ecologist while they frolic through the bush with their woefully light packs, and we (or I, as the other arb is much better than I) crash through the bush like lumbering tortoise-gorilla manbeasts, packs, helmets, and all. We’re doing endangered species surveys in logging regions. For the first time in weeks, I’ve started to miss the throngs of tourists that are great at getting in the way of my camera, and are ever present throughout Australia. Yes, I recognize the irony in that statement.
It is 3pm, I am covered in the bark of Eucalyptus regnans and about 10 meters up a tall tall tree. Eucalypts shed bark, you see. Nobody I’ve asked is really sure why, but I’d go out on a limb and say it’s to frustrate arborists. Not only does it come down in 1 to 3m strips that get caught in everything (ropes, helmets and so on), but it also comes off in a fine dust that smells terrific, and coats everything. After wrapping up the camera collection a tad early, my partner Brent offered to take me up a Eucalypt (something ‘small’ around 50m). As this was one of the main reasons for my adventure, I had to abide.
The added advantage is that Brent is a local, in fact, he climbs these trees regularly and was introduced to arboriculture through Mountain ash seed collecting, meaning that 50m is small to him. Meanwhile, as I ascend past huntsman spiders, and organisms that live their whole lives without ever touching the ground, I think of how all the ‘big trees’ I have worked in are laughably small scale, like micro machines are to monster trucks. Upon reaching the canopy we can see for miles, though the thick cover of the forest means, all we can really see for miles are trees. No complaints there.
Shortly after reaching the top of the tree, time is scarce. It's taken us about an hour for the ascent, and both of us are ready for dinner. It's a quick trip down to the truck where we bounce down logging roads for 30 minutes before reaching anything paved. It gave me a good opportunity to really consider how much this country has to offer, and how I've only begun to scratch the surface.
*Nothofagus is one of the incredible evolutionary anomalies preserved unchanged in Australia for millions of years. Originally an Antarctic tree (yes you read that right), it is believed to be a predecessor to modern beach that are found throughout the Americas and Europe.