A year ago today, I hopped on a plane for Australia and what was to become one of the best years of my life. Now, the dust has settled and I’ve returned to Canada. Aus isn’t far from my mind and although I’m ‘home’ I’m already prepared to return in 2018 for a few more adventures. I couldn’t resist, can you blame me?
In the meantime I’ve decided to keep the website running because I want to provide travelling arborists with a resource for information. As with everything it’s a work in progress, but hopefully it becomes something useful that can benefit our industry and the individuals bold enough to leave everything behind to climb trees in a new, strange place, whether it’s Australia, North America, Europe, or Antartica etc.
 The arborists who go to Antartica are either the bravest, or the dumbest…
One of the biggest dilemmas I faced when leaving Canada for Australia was ‘Do I bring my gear?’ It’s a difficult question to answer. Since I wanted to travel and didn’t have an initial job lined up I decided to leave my gear at home and buy a basic kit when I got to Australia. This served two purposes for me, I could try out new gear (which I did), and I would bring this second kit home, and use that as an alternative climbing kit to rec climb and work with.
Bringing my Australian gear home also allowed me to learn about how much space this basic gear takes up in luggage, and what I could legally get away with taking. To avoid any fines, I didn’t bring any wood, leaf or seed samples. Although it was something I really wanted to do, this is how invasive species spread, and no arborist wants to be the guy that introduced the latest invasive species to north America. Oh also, be careful you don't go overweight with your bags or else that can cost you extra money too.
Some facts to keep in mind:
What’s in the bag?
Things to consider if you bring your gear with you
And last but not least, climb safe! ...I dunno, that's the best I got right now.
But seriously, climb safe!
A good portion of my head space while exploring Australia has been occupied by a few major questions: Why is all of this important? Why do we travel? As usual, I haven't found an easy answer...
One year ago, I left my home expecting to escape myself and was amazed to find that feat impossible. In a new world, in a lonely place, you have nobody to turn to but your own voice, your own mind, your own demons. When I got off that plane, for the first time in years, I couldn’t just play video games, or call friends to escape anxiety. I had to face it. All my fear, frustration, and confusion, both about life, and about the foolish courage that brought me to Australia. Leaving that familiar place meant that what I was running away from, was always going to be there, and that the only way to fix it, would be to own up to it, and struggle to overcome it. Luckily I came to Australia with many goals in mind.
Having a purpose while travelling means that there is something to focus on, a solid target to help avoid aimless wandering. For me, if I didn’t have a purpose I could spend all my time in a coffee shop, on a river bank, or up a tree, whittling away my life watching the world go by. An adventure without purpose can hardly be called an adventure, and wouldn't make for a good story, just ask my good friends JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.
Purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose either. It could be simple enough as a visit to a library, helping an old lady across the street, or finding a special tree sacred to a group of people. It’s these little adventures that lead to incredible side quests, like afternoons in a university pub with two new friends, protecting an ancient forest from logging, or stumbling across a secret performance by an incredible pianist. Cause and effect are beautiful things
By no means is this always an exciting roller coaster ride. No man is an island. Leaving family and friends behind to follow a dream, face a challenge and achieve a goal is no small feat.
I am a bit of a loaner, I enjoy my time by myself, reading, hiking through the woods and exploring the incredible nooks and crannies of creation. Travelling alone also means having few people who to share in the wonders of finding a beautiful dell in a secluded wood, or meeting a strange and incredible character in a far off place. Being alone does not being lonely, but loneliness certainly crops up from time to time. Sure, you can tell others the story, and show them the photos, but the experience of being there can only be honestly shared with those who have lived it.
Our 21st century social media culture has the advantage of keeping in touch with people when travelling around the globe, but in truth much of these connections are illusions at best. Yes, I can communicate with family and friends, but a phone call (or even skype call) is like having a frame with no picture. The presence of a close friend or family memeber is special; being able to share a space (and your precious time!) with them makes the relationship real. You can honestly share hardships, and successes with no fear of being judged. Building new relationships like that real take time, and don't happen often. That's not to say the brief fast friendships made in hostels or on mountaintops, and maintained through social media are any less valuable, what it does mean is that they're different. They can still be valuable if they're honest.
On the flipside, posting photos on facebook, of constantly smiling faces belies the one sided reality of social media. Filtering out the hardships gives the impression that travel is always fun and easy, of which it is not. Life is not always happy moments. Sometimes plans don’t work out, goals are not met, challenges are faced poorly or not at all. And that's all okay! Owning up to these struggles is important to me, otherwise I feel like I’d be painting a false image of such a journey. This may be difficult for people to accept, but I'm far from perfect. Failures not only remind us of that, but they also provide valuable lessons that ideally lead to future success.
These low moments aren’t terrible things. Any great journey or adventure has it’s downfalls, Bilbo gets lost and separated in the mines, Han Solo gets captured by the empire, I can’t find a home for over two months. It is these struggles that can bring about great reward and revelation, Bilbo finds the one ring, Han's capture leads to the destruction of Jabba's crime ring (and Boba Fett's death - admittedly a bittersweet moment for us BF fans), and I end up getting a beauty of a home in the mountains that I never would have found otherwise. There are always silver linings. Unless we honestly recognize the clouds, it’s impossible to see them.
July 14th 2016 - Cairns You Dig it?
I gracefully land on my knees in a canyon as a plume of sand surrounds me and the rest of the team. The 15ft high walls are teeming with life, some of which stings, some of which bites, all of which is incredibly new to me. I am living the dream. The flying dream. You know the one, right? Where you can go anywhere, and do anything, and are limited only by the amount of air in your tank. Well, I’ve never been limited by air before, so I guess this is a little different.
Scuba diving at 18m depths in the great barrier reef allows for endless opportunities for a new diver such as myself. Aside from the challenge of dealing with the physical pressure of being in an environment 2.5 times more intense than the surface, I also need to make sure that I don’t run out of air. The need to breathe is the only sobering reality in what would otherwise be a limitless playground. As much as we humans like to explore out of our natural environment, there are always those important necessities that bring us back to life (and death) no matter how much we think we can live without them: Family, love, oxygen etc. Despite this though, for the 30-40 minutes of available time underwater, nothing compares. Movement in every direction; an abundance of life whatever direction you take.
In Cairns, this seems to be balanced quite well. The idea is that if locals can make money educating travellers about the reef, there is more incentive to protect it. 2000 people a day visiting that world in Cairns alone. 2000 people pumping money into the local economy. It is a gross understatement to say the reef is worth protecting. Of course with 2000 people visiting daily, there is the reality that the wildlife becomes accustomed to a very different pattern. Divers, snorkelers, helicopters, cruising boats, big boats, small boats, and sail boats all have a presence on the reef. Make no mistake, prior to diving there is little silence in the chaos. There is such a presence that the wildlife is familiar with humans, and mostly unafraid. Now this is an easy target to criticize, but what is the alternative source of income for the thousands of locals in the tourist industry. Fishing? Logging? Drilling for non-renewable resources? All of which have their place sure, but when given a choice, what has a lower impact environmentally, and which has longer staying power economically?
I am drawn out of my underwater daydream about ecotourism politics by a figure in the deep. It is the same colour as the ocean - grey - and it passes through the ‘canyon’ aka reef opening above my head. It is about the size of a wolf, which is small in this environment. It is a black tipped reef shark, and is calm, and appears almost disinterested in us humans. It is looking for prey, of which we are not. Over the course of seeing the shark, many of us have gone through our air. When you see exciting things, you breathe faster, cool eh? 70psi left, and therefore time to return to the surface, the cacophony of tourists playing water games, and the noise of air compressors and flying machines.
At 18m depth the light of the sun’s rays is diluted, affecting the colour spectrum. Many things look grey in this environment to swimming primates.
July 17th 2016 - Back to Business in Ringwood
Two days after disembarking the plane, I am going over the necessities of Bearded Dragon Diet, the importance of harvesting Chicken eggs on a semi-daily basis, and some ins and outs on how not to drive a business to the ground in two weeks. Captain Chris is preparing to leave Australia for a vacation in Thailand with his wife Dr. Jess, and small army of children. He is not only trusting me with running the company, but also with feeding their animals, and keeping Aquilla, their Hungarian Vizla entertained. Aquilla and I get along well. My main concern is running the business, and ensuring the reptiles live long enough to see Chris’ return. And not burning his house down while he’s away. I've only done that once though, so I consider it an isolated incident.
Although Captain Chris has gone, things have been going well. My client and personell management skills have certainly been tested. As usual, the question of integrity has arisen. Most clients appreciate the value of professional integrity, until they ask you to compromise it for their situation. This is not a new event, and fortunately, I work for a company that recognizes the value of this integrity and will not push to sacrifice integrity for income. Since I’ve had these battles in the past, these situations are pretty easy to resolve ('No sir, I won't lie in a legal document to help your development project go through faster. That would be a crime'). Integrity aside, this is a good week. I even get to practice my autobody repair skills after a foreign worker scratched up the side of the truck. Can’t trust those foreigners, I tell ya.
After doing a stint of house sitting for a handful of friends in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs I realize something crucial: I miss the dandenongs. Although a 30 min commute to and from work, the tranquility of the fireplace, and the laugh of the kookaburra have a much higher value than the $50 of gasoline (petrol if you’re an aussie) saved weekly living in the 'burbs. This says something very loud and clear to me, satisfaction is worth more than money (to a point).
 No, it wasn’t arson. And even if it was, I've been exonerated.
I leave the humid busy street and descend a dimly lit flight of stairs into a brightly lit noodle house. It’s clear I hit restaurant gold when everyone is looking at me with curiosity and mild contempt. The mostly clean floors and delicious smell wafting out of the kitchen confirm these suspicions as I take a seat. The menu has no English (odd for Hong Kong), but the pictures show me what I’m getting anyway: Wontons, dumpling soup, and ginger congee with a side of beer and green tea. What should have taken 15 minutes to consume disappears in 10. I pay the 13 dollars before returning to the busy streets of Kowloon. I make my way to the night market where I invariably will pay astronomical prices for Chinese goods, except that I’m in Hong Kong and astronomical prices are still modest and beyond reasonable for what we pay in the west. Especially since we’re buying products made in the same factories. This is the one place in the world where buying Chinese made products is buying local.
The trip itself is a whirlwind between a visit to Hong Kong University for research on an article I’m writing, to catching up with my Godmother over delicious roast pigeon, to finding a perfectly desolate Korean bar on Hong Kong island where I spent hours writing. Finding peace on an island as densely populated as Hong Kong is a treasure. Like the abandoned WW2 era bunker that was sitting derelict ten minutes into the jungle from where I was staying. Instead of being transformed into a money making venture, it was slowly being reclaimed by the forest, a testament to a different time. In north America these sorts of buildings are cleaned, refurbished and often turned into a tourist attraction complete with reenactors (I’m thinking of you Halifax citadel).
Subterranean Homes, Salt Flats and Sand
One day after returning from the tropical heat of Hong Kong has me, and my friend's Nichita, Janet and Isaac in an Adelaide parking lot practicing our tetris mastery skills while packing a camper van. The van is to be our home for the next ten days and 2000km of bitumen roads. No wild offroading adventures this time around. The trip, will take us through three different ecosystems, which, unless your a nature nerd, would be difficult to distinguish. Fortunately, I love all the plants. Little do my cohorts know the biology lesson they've unwillingly signed on for. Driving out of Adelaide it finally began to sink in that I was in the midst of an adventure that I never thought I'd get to experience.
Passing another desert falcon I realize how parts of the outback environment are strangely familiar in their remoteness. If I was back home, driving through parts of Northern Ontario, the vastness of the wilderness is still prevalent, despite the difference in water.... But here instead of endless forests of pine, Australia has spinifex, mulga, and a whole host of desert wildflowers. So, although I am driving through a martian landscape. I am driving through a martian landscape that is experiencing it’s 5 days of flowering per year. Perfect timing as always.
There's so much I can say about this road trip, but the truth is, much of what happened there was so impactful, writing about it publicly almost diminishes its value. I have written thousands of words about it in my journals, and several drafts for the blog, but there's few ways I can make that experience funny without diluting it's truth. This realization hi me when I arrived at UIuru. It is a place that is Holy to the Anagu people of Central Australia, and although I don't share their belief, I definitely recognize the spiritual world, and must treat their culture with respect. The way they understand their history, geography, and faith is inseparable. To tell the stories of their past, you must be present at the place they happened. It gives each story much more weight. It makes being there much more valuable than seeing it in a book. As for it being in the 'desert' the area itself is far from deserted. Tourists flock here like crows to an unattended sandwhich. Except that the sandwhich is holy to somebody and the crows don't really understand. An entire economy has popped up around this place, which, as with the Great Barrier Reef, has it's benefits and drawbacks.
The fact of the matter is, I went in a different person that when I came out. I knew I would, that's what the desert does to people. It changes them. So instead of slipping a couple jokes into a rant about the environment/government/the illuminati I've decided to post photos from 10 days of reflection and let them speak for themselves. As captivating as some of them are, the truth is, they are wholly understated. Working to get to these places by hiking, driving, or even flying makes them more real, and gives them a value that is impossible to communicate through a simple image.
Arriving at UIuru is the culmination of years of work, planning, and prayer. Driving in to the place has made it a very real experience, much different than the option of flying. Seeing the monolith come over the crest of the horizon in the late afternoon sun, I am hit with the realization that achieving this goal means I'll have to find new ones. Little do I know that for the next two months I will be directionless in a way I've never known.
Leaving Uluru and Kjata-Tjuta behind, our team heads to Kings Canyon. I found it much more peaceful and interesting than our previous location. Although Uluru was beautiful, and a goal to be reached, it was crawling with tourists who did not understand, or respect, the importance and beauty of the place. Kings Canyon is much more understated, wild, and open. Janet, Isaac and I take 6 hours to do the 4 hour rim walk because we can't resist taking photos at every turn. Even the wildlife comes out for us.
As for Alice Springs, it's an awesome town in the middle of nowhere. With rivers of sand (literally) and with the only desert botanic garden in Australia it's a great opportunity to see how to get ornamental trees growing in a place where there's no rainfall. The people were incredibly welcoming, and thanks to them and a friend back home I ended up getting to experience a genuine experience at the Araluen Cultural Center, rubbing elbows with some of the areas artsy elite, while learning Aboriginal history from the people who own it, and live it.
For a town in the middle of a dry desert, it is rich with life and culture. As a boarded the plane back to Melbourne, the town of 26, 000 disappeared into nothing among the vast amounts of wilderness surrounding it. After nearly 1000kms of driving in 9 days, and a lot of space, I had a new perspective. I guess that sometimes you really can get something from nothing.
Hi Everyone! Surprise, I'm still alive!
For the ‘thousands’ of you who read this website, I’m sure a handful have probably been asking where I’ve been these last few months. Truth is, I’ve spent the last little while finally digging my claws into the country and culture I’ve come to experience. After spending a good deal hiking through the rainforest in my backyard in April and May I decided it was time to do some travelling, all while taking my job at Greenscene a little more seriously. From July 1st through to the 12th of September, I visited four states in Aus, two countries, looked after three homes, and ran one business (fortunately not into the ground).
To keep things interesting I’ve trimmed the fat, and kept the stories short. It’s important to note that the exciting moments in any adventure are punctuated by long moments of work, planning, anxiety, and anticipation. Those don’t necessarily make for great stories, unless of course they’re written by someone who's better at writing than I am (i.e. most people). Despite the incredible amount of learning that has been involved lately, I don’t know how many people are really interested in autobody work, dealing with difficult clients and maintaining professional integrity. So, I’ve put all that stuff in the new ‘For Arbs’ section.
Now as for travel, the last few months have consisted of visits to the ocean, a derelict WW2 bunker, and one vast, vast, vast desert. Vast. Buckle in for two or three mediocre blog posts about some great locations.
BUT FIRST! An homage to my homeland:
Some Canadian Nostalgia
Although I’m not one to jump on the nationalism bandwagon (in many ways I detest it), I have to say that as our National holiday passed at the beginning of some two months of relative craziness, I came to a realization of many parts of Canadian culture I’ve missed. Besides the forest, the smell of white pine, and our pristine northern lakes, there are a fair few Canadian staples that are absent down under.
This one gets the Aussies laughing every time. Whenever I mention my all time favorite food, and the staple Canadian pub food, others can’t seem to wrap their heads around it. Inevitably the poo jokes come out because of the way I pronounce it with my southern Ontario accent. POOTINE AHAHAHA. Cue scatological humour from my Aussie workmates: Why do you Canadians love POO so much? And so on… To be honest, it amazes me that nobody here has figured that fries, cheese curds and gravy go together. Like, seriously Austrialia? How is this such a revolutionary concept. As of late they’ve started to add gravy, but at this rate, I imagine it’ll be the 22nd century by the time they add ingredient number three (that's cheese curds for those of you who have lost count). Of course, cheese curds are a rarity here, so that complicates matters...
On the other hand, the Aussies have a delicious pub treat that we don’t have back home, called Parma. Parma is short for chicken parmasean and in it’s simplest form is deep fried chicken schnitzel with tomato sauce and melted cheese. I believe the goal is to cover the piece of chicken entirely so that it's impossible to know whether or not it's just a mound of cheese being served. Delicious, and the variety of flavour incarnations it comes is rivalled only by my beloved poutine.
"Goin’ out fer a rip, eh? Right on! Just giv’r bud. Heck ya, that’s fer shurr! Well we’re not here to make puppies, right?"
I never realized how much I said these things (not all at once, usually) until I was the only person saying them. There have been a few instances of miscommunication that have resulted in hilarity and in one case, (almost) near death. Although the stories are pretty interesting, they’re a little much to be published here. Let’s just say there’s a few outback towns I can never go back to.
Fair warning, the links in the title contain profanity.
Not going to lie, I miss hearing it, and reading it on every single product and sign. Adding french just makes everything more sophisticated. Our breakfast cereal, toilet paper, and highway signs are somehow classier thanks to this wonderful language (that less than half of the country can speak).
Maple Syrup and related products
This is where the maple rubber hits the maple road. Australia has maple products, but not in the amount and variety of goods as it should be. We are spoiled in Ontario and I will never take it for granted again. They have a lot of ‘table syrup’ but that stuff is an abomination. And where's the maple bacon, maple smoked ham, and maple milk? Sadly not in Australia.
Regardless, I strongly believe that if the Hebrews would have known about maple syrup, the promised land would no doubt have become known as the land of Milk and Maple Syrup.
Enough of this nostalgia, on to adventure tales! Stay tuned for part 2...
Or What to expect when removing a tree in Melbourne or some creepy crawlies and the canopial clown car.
Although this title sounds like some wacky 80’s (Australian) sitcom, it’s no laughing matter. Well, maybe a bit of a laughing matter. I’ve spoken before about my escapades in the forest, yet most of my time lately has been composed of doing urban tree work (climbing to prune and remove trees, consulting, and planting). Sometimes it’s the same (moderately dangerous) run-of-the-mill climbing trees with chainsaws type of work I’m used to back home, but with an Australian twist. The tree species are different. Like I’ve said before, some of these species were enough to draw me here, like the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans). Others, I never expected, and have led to some interesting experiences. Enter the Paperbark Tree (Meleleuca ericifolia).
Some of you may know Meleleuca from it’s other name, Tea Tree, as it’s famous for Tea Tree Oil, the skin care product pimply faced teenagers are crawling over each other to apply to their bacteira infested faces (gross but true). Tea tree oil is antibiotic, and thus, is great for dealing with wounds, and skin care issues. Now, Tea tree oil may be good at killing bacteria, but the trees themselves cultivate microlife and mature trees are little ecosystems unto themselves. The tree grows in a naturally multi-stemmed form, making for tight unions, leading to major soil buildup, and the bark peels off in these very thick mats of paper (thus the name), both of these factors make great habitats for invertebrates and the things that eat them.
 Bushcraft note – The bark is great tinder. Not as good as Birch bark though.
This is important as it builds the foundation for a story about animals in trees. On a cloudy June day, our crew of three arrives at site. Our job is to remove one of those very Tea Trees. As usual, it is large, multi-stemmed, and over a shed, a fence and tree house. It is a little over 1m at the base.
As I begin my ascent up the tree, digging my spurs in through the thick soft, papery bark, I climb past the usual Huntsman. These are the largest spiders in Australia, very docile, and very fast. With legs included they are as large as a dinner plate, the first look of them is, well, intimidating. In fact, they’re quite docile and can be handled by anyone who is relaxed enough. The arborists here call them ninja stars because if you through them, they stick out there legs while they spin through the air. Upon contact with anything, they grab on tight. It’s delightful to throw them at unsuspecting groundsman.
Climbing past the huntsman, I come across a mouse spider (Missulena spp), our second friend. They’re called this because of their size, or so I assume. As with the huntsman this spider is very docile and okay with being handled. Unfortunately they aren’t as fun as the huntsmans though, and don’t take kindly to being thrown, so as per usual Kyle protocol, I pick it up and guide it out of the tree. I like spiders. Especially ones that can’t kill me.
Shortly before reaching the canopy I remove a collection of bark from a union above me. Remember, how I said these unions gather debris and that the tree is an ecosystem unto itself? As I pull the handful of bark out, I am showered by an insect I was happily unfamiliar with before coming to Australia: the cockroach. Yes, there are many species of roaches in Australia. Fortunately in Canada there is only one type of roach I’m familiar with, and although smelly, they aren’t often found in trees, and are generally non-motile. The Australian variety however were very unimpressed with my disturbance of their lair. I knock them off, and before freaking out (which is what my every bone in my body wanted to do) I decided to face what has been a long standing fear since my first viewing of Men in Black (remember the roach guy?). They don’t bite, they don’t hiss (at least these ones) and they don’t smell. All these ones do is creep folks out. Coming across them in the tree is just a normal part of working in Aus, so they’re far from an issue. Though, if they were in my house, I’m sure I’d have something different to say.
About ten minutes after beginning my climb, and the standard Tea Tree mini zoological adventure I reach the canopy and see what is unmistakably a nest. I call down to the boss, asking for some insight in this new habitat.
‘Yeah, that’s a possum’s nest’ Captain Chris says. He’s the owner of the company and a seasoned Aussie arborist. He knows these trees and the possums that call this urban forest home.
‘Do I need to worry about it? Are they in there?’ I ask looking at the mess of small broken branches. It looks like a skeleton of a squirrel nest. Except, squirrels don’t live in Australia. A good thing, because squirrels are fast, and mothers have a very in-your-face attitude towards arborists.
‘Nah mate, if they were in there, they’d have come out already. Usually they climb to the top of the tree, and watch as you remove the tree, until theres nothing left and the pee on you before jumping out.
‘Oh, awesome. So, there’s none in this nest?’
‘Nope, long gone’
I somehow don’t believe him, but happily continue on removing the tree over the shed and tree house. Of course, this is the last pearl of wisdom the boss leaves me with before hitting the road to take care of quoting jobs around the city.
I begin taking pieces of the limbs surrounding the nest thinking nothing of it. A handsaw here, a chainsaw there. An awful racket everywhere.
Eventually we near the end of the day, the winter rain has not dampened our spirits, but thanks to the weather we’re ready to wrap up. Plus taking any more of the tree may lead to balance issues over night. Just a couple precarious limbs to remove on the tree before wrapping it up. I attach the rigging line to the next branch, and have a thought. Now, I’m not a gambling man but this seemed like a bet worth making. I call out to Uber Chris my trusty partner on the ground.
‘Hey Uber, what do you think, possums in here or not?’
‘No vay, they’d have come out viz all ze activity.’ He says in his unique german-Australian accent.
‘Alright, I bet you a coffee there’s one in there’ I was going with my gut, as the small nest was so thick there was no chance of seeing inside.
I notch the limb and make my back cut as the piece swings effortlessly over the shed and onto the ground. I have lost my bet. No movement, no animals. And then, Uber Chris exclaims from the ground.
‘Oh my gosh! There iz a possum in heah!’
Just then a ringtail possum (Pseudocherius peregrinus) the size of a Corgi explodes out of the nest. Chris jumps back to give it space, and in the commotion, the creature looks up at me vindictively as if to say ‘Well where am I gonna live now?!’ Sorry buddy.
 He doesn’t know them personally, but figuratively.
 Warning tree nerd speak: Removing too much of a tree can lead to stability issues as the trunk is exposed to different exertional forces that didn’t exist previously. Best case scenario is to entirely brush out a tree by the end of the day. Second best is to leave enough of the canopy that the tree can still buffet winds.
 Well, except for my safety, and long term financial well being…
 We call him Uber Chris in homage to his homeland.
Then a second, then a third (!) jumps out of a space that seemingly couldn’t have fit a squirrel only moments ago. I am amazed. I go from totally cool and collected chainsaw-wielding-arborist to screaming Justin Bieber fan in an instant. Take a photo take a photo!!! OMG!!! Meanwhile, the little ones soldier on and begin their work scouting the neighbourhood for a new flat. Perhaps they’ve been contemplating moving for sometime, discussing it regularly at house meetings and over dinner during possum holidays but never had the impetus to actually begin looking for a new place, they were too comfortable in this tea tree, lazy even. Perhaps this was the kick in the butt they needed.
Back in the human world, work has gone out the window, I am just amazed at the capacity of these creatures to fit into such a small space (plus they're adorable). It’s been a while since I’ve thought of a clown car, but this brought memories flooding back. After cleaning up my cuts and removing the rigging line I descend out of the tree, excited, but with the usual duties of cleaning the ground and packing the truck, a forty five minute job in the rain, though I’ve got the episode with our possum friends to entertain my thoughts.
After wrapping it all up, before jumping into the truck soggy and tired, I remind my partner the best part of the whole ordeal ‘Oh waitaminute Uber Chris! That means you owe me a coffee now, doesn’t it? Far out!’
 He’s still popular right?
 ‘Do we really need to go anywhere? We’re so close to the cockroach store!’ ‘Honey we’ve discussed this, I want to get out and meet the neighbours! This urban forest is so big, and there’s garbage cans we haven’t eaten at yet’
and one good reason to put up with them
Emerging victorious from blackberry hell, Jemma the ecologist and myself yell out in joy to our fellow team members who are calmly waiting by their truck after a comparatively easy site. My arms are covered in scratches, the hairs that I haven't lost have all gotten a little more grey. It has been...an experience.
‘it wasn’t a walk in the park, but we pushed our way through’ Jemma says ignoring the fact that we were both moments away from resigning ourselves to defeat in the form of gentle tears and the fetal position.
‘Looks like Kyle pushed the way through with his head’ Russ, the English arborist says, pointing out the trickle of blood coming out from under my helmet. Blood that I hadn’t noticed. Turns out, a leech decided to clamp down on my forehead, right under my helmet. Just another occupational hazard.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the projects I’ve undertaken while in Australia is Endangered Species surveys. This is done specifically for one species in particular, the Leadbeater’s Possum, a quaint little marsupial more akin to North American chipmunks than the cat sized possums found throughout Australia. It is also the State emblem of Victoria. So, needless to say, the government wants to preserve it. After all, it’s kind of like what it would be like if the beaver was going extinct in Canada. We couldn’t ignore it.*
There are multiple challenges that come along with setting up cameras in the bush. It’s not just Kookaburras, and Lyre Birds singing in the forest. There are horrible nasty things that make me question my sanity for taking a job protecting these adorable little creatures. I’ve managed to highlight the five living challenges that make bush bashing for possum spotting so frustrating…
*insert beaver joke here
Blackberries and Ironmaidens: They offer comparable levels of psychological trauma
Delicious fruits they may be, but blackberries also have their sinister side. Never have I hated an invasive species more than I do now. In the truest sense of the word, they invade the land, covering everything in thorny brambles that make walking almost impossible.
Logs are highways in the rainforest environment. Long logs spanning gaps and awkward terrain are a godsend. Not without their risks, they are often much more efficient than pushing a path through blackberry, or leeches, or wire grass etc etc.. A downside is that the abundant slime on them tends to make the logs quite slick after rainfall. When faced with falling off one of these logs on a recent trip (as sometimes happens) I was faced with a choice, right, or left...a decision we'll come back to later.
Falling off a log into blackberries can sometimes mean falling into a patch of blackberries five feet high. Which sounds delicious until you consider the fact that all blackberry vines are covered in small thorns that stick in your skin and wrap around your leg. And the juicy blackberries were in season two weeks ago. A machete is preferable to move through this mess, and when they aren't available, well, just push through the vines and hope you don't get cut too much.
In some areas, they are so thick it is impossible to see the ground, and upon stepping forward the traveler is brought to the horrible realization that they've set foot in a hole that is covered in vines. This leads to falling in the hole, and being literally surrounded by thorns and vines. This is unfortunately common.
Avoiding these becomes the highest priority while searching for the cameras. It's often faster to travel in the low wet gullies. Lush green areas, which although beautiful, are an ideal environment for leeches...
Before coming to Australia, I had never been bitten by a leech. Despite years of guiding in northern Ontario, and having a particular affinity for backcountry swamps, I had managed to avoid becoming prey to these little bloodsuckers. I even courageously tried to let one bite me to demonstrate for a group of Germans back in 2011, but I lost my nerve as the thought of being bitten terrified me.
Oh how my guiding friends back home would laugh to see how the leeches flock to my blood. In Canada I am a magnet for mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies. To them, I am preferable to any other humans, and it seems, this is also the case for leeches. Countless times I have found them in my hair, under my socks (how they get through three layers of clothing and shoes I have no idea), and under my helmet (see above). The leeches here don’t swim though, like in Canada, instead, they crawl. Like inchworms. It’s almost cute before you realize they’re out to take your lifeforce.
Removing them is a challenge as well, since they inject a blood thinner to suck blood more easily, and removing them early means bleeding for hours. That leech under my helmet? Well, after it was crushed, it bled all day, advertising my delicious juices to all the other leeches in the forest. Yum.
3. Stinging Nettle
Remember the log highways? The logs that are slick after a rain. Well, on the same trip mentioned above, upon walking across a log towards my final camera destination, I slip. It is time for that split second decision: fall on the left, or fall on the right. I have brambles on my right, or what looks like mint on my left. An easy decision.
I reach out for the mint as I fall off the log in order to slow my fall.
Except, it’s not mint. It’s a species of stinging nettle that we don’t have in Canada. I immediately recognize the stinging nettle not by it’s leaves, but instead by it’s most obvious property, the wonderful jolt my body gives me when it’s reminding me I’ve done something incredibly foolish. And although my fall has come to an end, I am left with the reminder of this wonderful encounter for the rest of the day.
All this on the day I left my gloves in the truck, because ‘I won’t need them’ The bright side to this though is that stinging nettle is good for joint pain, and rheumatism. The searing pain is just potent medicine. At least, that's what I have to keep telling myself every time I use my hand for the following two days.
4. Wire Grass
The name says it all. Wire grass (Astrida sp) is very similar to barbed wire, or razor wire. In one direction it is smooth and the opposite it is a serrated hacksaw blade. The cuts don't go deep, but they leave some gnarly scars.
In classic Australian fashion, the native wire grass is found in all the places the invasive blackberries are not. To top it off, wire grass grows thick, and usually grows over low lying shrubs, meaning that hiking to camera locations can mean walking under or through a patch of wire grass. Some of these blades find their way tangled against the throat, or arms, acting like a garrote. It helps to pretend that I'm in a spy film as I try to wrestle out of the grip of this persistent plant.
Other names for wiregrass are speargrass and needlegrass. 'Nuff said
Why put up with all this nonsense?
This is all for the Leadbeater's Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri)*. Originally thought to be extinct, they were rediscovered in 1959. Since then they've had a precarious relationship with humans. Between the rampant bushfires that have been occurring more frequently in the last 10 years, and logging in their native habitat, the possums don't really have many places to call home. If it weren't for humans forcibly evicting them from their homes, they may be more abundant. Their decline has less to do with ecology and more to do with economy.
So by braving the above horrors, we have the chance at protecting the Leadbeater's from an even greater horror: extinction. It sounds pretty over the top, but it's the truth. Every site that we capture a photo of a possum means 12 hectares of protected land. It's not much, but it's something.
*Full disclosure, it's also for a paycheck, though helping these little critters is excellent icing on the cake
Where we live is a crucial part of identity and how we perceive our environment. This became a potent reality for me while on the road for my first month in Australia. There were more than a few nights where, upon waking, I had no idea where I’d be ending my day. This was as liberating as it was intimidating. I could go anywhere, and in many cases I took advantage of this freedom. What I didn’t expect was that a significant portion of time and mental space would be invested in ensuring I would have a place to lay my head at the end of the day. Whether a hostel, campsite, or tree, I needed to know there would be a safe place. In another very real way, it gave me a new appreciation for all the people who don’t have the luxury of choosing to have a bed: the mentally ill, the refugees, the travelers, the immigrants. I merely experienced a few hours of this, and although at times I was exhilarated, other times I found it exhausting and exasperating (can you tell I’ve been reading my thesaurus?) spending time I could be travelling, searching for a place to settle, only if for a night.
Rooms in Australia aren’t cheap. In fact, I’ve found they’re about twice the price for half the space I’d get back in Ontario (including in Toronto’s overpriced market). And for all who know me, paying twice the price to live in a noisy city simply because I’m in close proximity to coffee shops and banks, is rarely worth it.
But, in the interest of being a little bit settled I braced myself for the challenge of finding a place to live. Of course, certain personality traits of mine, mainly a dislike of densely packed urban environments, my disorganization and (un)timeliness, don't do well for interviews with new potential housemates. So, needless to say, I passed on finding a home and resigned myself to hostels for the time being…and then, surprisingly, thanks to my new employer, I was connected to the beauty cottage seen above.
he benefits of such a small home are numerous. Not only does it take an hour to clean top to bottom, but everything is available within arms reach, including kitchen and bathroom. Once all the windows are open, it almost feels as if you're outside. On top of it all, the fireplace is better than TV for a pyro such as myself. Oh, and there is a TV too, if the nature outside ever gets boring...though it hasn't happened yet.
I was apprehensive about how far it was from everything, I’ve adjusted to the fact that I must walk 30 minutes to coffee, or drive to access the city. It's remoteness is ideal in one sense, and a challenge in another. When I get frustrated by the isolation, I think back to Henry David Thoreau and his book Walden.
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.
I've just said goodbye to many new friends after nearly a week of tree anatomy and mingling with some of the keenest and most interesting minds in urban forestry and arboriculture. The conference was attended by professionals from Australia, Sweden, Canada, America, Hong Kong etc. It's a long list of countries and people who are interested in this industry. I'd call them tree huggers, but most are tree planters, managers, cutters, pruners, removers and c;limbers. Tree hugging is far too narrow a designation. The adventures at the conference have led me to compile a list of possible ‘side quests’ to explore in anticipation of the next year down undah:
The major idea that I’ve got walking away from the conference is that this country is so big, the techniques so varied, and my time so short that I’ve resolved there’s only two approaches:
*this doesn't mean skipping out on naps though. Especially the ones on nice warm days in the park. Those are their own adventure...
After my little Ballarat adventure I opted for a return to Melbourne in anticipation of the upcoming conference. Being one of my main reasons for coming to this part of the country, I was pretty excited. This in addition to finalizing a job and confirming my presence with a company for work. On the positive end of things I’ll be able to partake in a variety of different work, from climbing, to consulting to research. If things go well, I may even get some instruction in though we’ll make sure I can do in the blistering hot Australian sun.
Wednesday night encompassed an open air concert as part of the Sydney Meyer Concert Series put on by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Yes, Sydney has an opera house, but most people only get to appreciate the outside of the building. This open air concert was an opportunity to appreciate a quality group that would normally play inside an opera house. I’d like to think the symphony realized I was coming and that the only way to get me to come was to play the show outside, and, to make it a free one. Fortunately for them though, myself and 6000 others were interested in the event and managed to show up and stay awake through the whole thing, despite the fact that the music (or tunage in 20th century terms) was as relaxing as a back massage next to a waterfall on a spring day. How’s that for imagery?
Anyway, the conference begins tomorrow, I’m tired and excited. Hope it goes well. Signing off.