Book Reviews, Literaleigh, The Nature Lover's Log, Writing

Playing catch-up in shorts

I’ve been slack, very slack with this blog of late. Because like a true Geminii I get bored easily and am tempted by the next glittering thing. The next glittering writing project/genre/challenge and the next platform on social media. But here I am back with a renewed fondness for my blog because, let’s face it, I’m verbose. Restraining my word count is not my strong point. So really Twitter, Facebook and recently Instagram just don’t fill my rambling need.

And I admit I lost faith in my blog for a time I’ve been reading other excellent writing blogs and did a course on social media for writers and realised I’m doing it all wrong.

I should have a brand, a focus for my blog. I should target my potential fiction readers.  But like my restless Geminii personality my blog is a hotch-potch of nature photography and taxonomy, book reviews, writing (in all genres and ages) travel and general musings.

Who is going to follow that? Who has my eclectic blend of interests?

Probably nobody.

But that’s who I am. And even if I write to nobody but myself at least I’ll be writing a variety of things that’ll keep me interested. If one week somebody visits my blog who is interested in the Asian House Gecko and the next week another person reads my poetry challenge efforts and the next week a dystopian enthusiast reads my book review on, Wool then, to me, that’s thrilling. Not practical. Not good marketing. Just fun.

So what to do now? How do I play catch-up?

Well I’m writing a series of shorts. Not so succinct they are Twitter or Instagram size, but short enough to summarise my endeavours and observations over the last 8 months. Including:

 Reading shorts – Mini-reviews of the books I have read recently with a focus on my, Use for Writers (as there are plenty of reviews out there which have good synopses and inciteful opinions) – on my Book Reviews blog.

book shorts blue (2)

Creativity/Musing shorts – What I’ve learnt, where I’m heading on my writing journey and how I stepped outside my comfort zone in the last 8 months – on my Literaleigh blog

literaleigh-shorts-orange-2-e1493861180233.jpg

Nature shorts – this is the one I am looking forward to most. I’ve taken many photos and want to share some observations – on Nature Lovers Log.

nature shorts colour

 

 

Literaleigh, The Nature Lover's Log

In defence of Banksia men

During my recent wanderings through the bush I’ve come face to face with many banksia men. I heard murmurings  in the scrub that many were dissatisfied with decades of ill will from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie readers.  A few of the banksia elders urged me to show the world their real nature. I agreed but approached the assignment with trepidation, after all, these guys had a scary reputation.

 All the bad Banksia men were sitting in their boats laughing and clapping their hands and looking up at a high cliff. There, on top of the cliff, stood the baddest of all the bad Banksia men. In one hand he held poor little Snugglepot and in the other a great stone. At his feet was a deep, deep hole.

Lots of bad. Very bad. With their slitty eyes and they sly grins bad Banksia men are the stuff of nightmares.

So with camera in hand and heart aflutter I set out to infiltrate the ranks of the Banksia men. My findings may surprise you.

I found that young banksias (banksia boys?) all start out beautiful but quite uniform.

banksia boy collage

As they grow older they develop their own varied and fascinating personalities. Rarely are they  bold and raucous like the bad Banksia men. Many are, in fact, quite shy and can be found hiding quietly in the leaf litter. Gonzo here, was nervous about getting his picture taken and insisted I wait till he smoothed his whiskers.

IMG_5095 crop banksia man

There are the extroverts amongst them, however, these are fun-loving and cheeky, rather than cruel. This cheerful banksia lad showed me the ultimate act of kindness by laughing at one of my jokes (Sorry about the bad photo quality – he was jiggling with mirth).

laughing banksia man

Admittedly some of the elderly are a little grumpy but I guess you would be too if you were woken from an afternoon nap by a camera flash…

grumpy banksia man

..but later when he woke up fully this Banksia man was a personable old fella. He told me he’d overheard a mother tell her little girl that he was wicked and evil. This upset him. He said he’d never harmed a single creature.

banksia man awake

I found you could no more label banksia men as one thing or another – bad, good, cute, ugly, than you could a crowd of people. Each was an individual with their own style and temperament.

There are the straight up and down, clean-shaven sorta guys (slightly nerdy).

clean shaven straight guy banksia 2

There are the backwoods men with their bald heads and flowing beards. Like Bob here. He did like to spin a yarn but he was all ears when I told him about my mission to seek the truth about banksia men.

backwoods bob

Of course you get your  flamboyant types who are very at home in front of the camera. They love showing off their body decorations and eccentric hairstyles. They are not particularly worried about the ‘bad’ label but did think the styling of bad Banksia men was apalling.

flamboyant banksia man crop

I also met a few happy-go-lucky, scruffy types who didn’t care a nut about what people thought of them.

IMG_4131

In all my time amongst the different tribes of banksia men I didn’t find one who wanted to kidnap, loot,scratch or spit. So please, parents, when you go walking through the bush don’t allow your prejudices to colour your views. If you look hard enough among the banksia trees you will find more good and generous types than bad and devious.

banksia clipart sepia

So what of the other enemies in the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories. Do they deserve a reprieve?

Certainly, I could do a piece on the poor, maligned, Mr Snake. Snakes, like banksia men, are not all bad. Yes, it is easy to shudder at the sight of their slithery, scaled bodies but, every one, poisonous, non-poisonous and constrictors alike, serve a purpose in the bush community.

Red belly black long_edited-1

Mr Kookaburra even admits. “It would be very awkward for me if there were no snakes to eat.”

What of the other main enemy in the May Gibbs stories?  The ugliest, strangest creature of all.

“They have many skins which they take off many times. When all the skins are off (they) look like a pale frog..

This horrible enemy traps Ragged Blossom and Cuddlepie in a jar and, just for fun, shakes them about so their poor little heads knock against the glass.

“Just because we are little they think we can’t feel,” said Cuddlepie

I’m afraid I have to agree with the wise, laughing bird on this particular baddy.

“These Humans,” said Mr Kookaburra “are as bad as bad,..”

You’ll get no argument from me, Mr Kookaburra. Destructive, thoughtless and selfish, humans are beyond redemption.

banksia clipart sepia

 

Footnote : I owe a great deal to May Gibbs. Her stories were not of strange foreign places like the England of the Famous Five or the India of The Jungle Book. She wrote of my childhood landscape – the coastal Australian bush. I knew the gum blossoms and nuts, lizards and kookaburras and, of course, bad Banksia men. The characters May Gibbs created were my friends and… enemies, if I imagined them to be. To me the bush was already a wonderful playground. The stories of the gumnut babies made it magical as well. One of my proudest moments and earliest memories was of a neighbour and I winning a fancy dress competition dressed as Snugglepot and Cuddlepie ( it’s not what you think – we had pink leotards on). I so wish I had a picture, or some remnant of those outfits. I do, at least, have my treasured original copy of, The Complete Adventure of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, with the inscription:

To Leigh with love from Mum and Dad on your 8th birthday.

Distractordog likes gumnut baddies
Distractordog likes the smell of the gumnut babies but…

 

 

 

Distractordog and banksia men
…even after reading this post she kept her distance from the bad Banksia men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nature Lover's Log

An unwelcome gecko

IMG_1878-thumbnail-webImagine my thrill when I found a gecko on the roof of my downstairs under-renovation bathroom. I’d never seen one in the Illawarra. I love geckos. I was quite attached to one that used to keep me company in my dorm room in Wagga when I was at Uni. Another gecko encounter has gone into family legend. We were staying on a farm in Northern NSW and my husband spotted a leaf-tailed gecko on the laundry wall. He lifted our, then 3yr -old daughter up to view it. Curiouser and curiouser she leaned closer and closer then lifted her hand to touch it. Understandably affronted by this action the gecko leapt at her and brushed against her hand. She screamed and claimed the gecko had bitten her (no mark) and it was all Dad’s fault (of course). That night she did get bitten – all over ,by dozens of mosquitos. She had a severe allergic reaction to the bites which resulted in a rush to hospital, adrenalin, and, very nearly a tracheostomy (Just our average happy holiday – there has been devastating floods, broken bones and gastrointestinal illness in other episodes). To this day Daughter Unruly associates her traumatic illness with Dad and the poor blameless gecko. So it’s become a bit of a family joke to ‘blame the gecko.’

So gecko’s make me smile – except the one I found in the bathroom last week. This is an Asian house gecko. On further google investigation I found it to be an invasive specimen out-competing our native geckos and other small reptiles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGdKd11_8GE

Asian house gecko
Found on the bathroom ceiling in our Illawarra home (approx. 11cm long)

 

The Asian house gecko or common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) betters the cane toad for its successful spread throughout Northeast Australia. But in even worse news – I don’t live in Queensland or even Northern NSW I live more than 750 km south of Brisbane – in Wollongong.

Is this year’s warm extended summer to blame or is this indicative of a trend of sub-tropical species moving south due to climate change?

I have recorded my sighting and photo on a website called Climatewatch. This site allows individuals to record the location of species sightings so their distribution can be mapped. With the axing of many climate scientists from government bodies sites like this may became more valuable than ever to help us monitor trends in climate zones.

The Asian house gecko has a tapering tail and is pinky-brown to dark grey in colour. They can be identified by the small spines along lower back and edges of tail. http://www.ozanimals.com/Reptile/Asian-House-Gecko/Hemidactylus/frenatus.html They also make a loud chick chick noise. https://www.soundrangers.com/index.cfm/product/63065_827/gecko-asian-house-gecko-call-01.cfmI may have heard this at night but dismissed it as a bird.

Two nights before the gecko sighting I saw small cylindrical droppings just outside the laundry/bathroom door and assumed it was a mouse. I bought some humane mouse traps but had no luck catching any vermin. I now wish I had inspected those dropping more closely as they were possibly gecko droppings. A clue to identifying gecko poos is the presence of small white blobs on one end.

I would be interested to hear if any other of my fellow New South Walians (never thought Welshmen was appropriate term) has seen or heard the Asian house gecko.

I have asked the Queensland Museum to confirm identification but as yet have not heard.

The Nature Lover's Log

An adventure in spider identification

IMG_1878-thumbnail-web

Without looking at the bottom of this post – Can you identify the spider in the pictures below?

My Seven Days of Wonder photo challenge re-ignited a passion for natural classification and identification. As a child my quirky pastime was classifying eucalypts, later, when I took up scuba diving marine invertebrates became my passion. Classification not only makes us feel clever because we can put a name to a particular living thing but it also puts that living thing in an evolutionary region which often explains their physiology, behaviors and adaptations.

Besides that, it’s a lot of fun. I like puzzles. I like nature and I like testing my observational skills.

My previous forays into classification were before the era of Google. Now I imagined, classification would be dead simple. Just put a description into google images and voila problem solved. Anybody could be a taxonomist now. No expertise required.

I searched Australian spiders with the terms like white hairy spider, spider with red band or folding spider. I couldn’t find an image that matched my picture. I scoured identification charts – which, as it turns out are of mainly venomous spiders. It appears most people only want to identify those that could potentially kill them (or at least make them very sick).

I didn’t have the luxury of looking at the underside of the critter and as it turned out I was a little misled by the circumstances of its discovery. This arachnid was found by my husband in a rusty handle of a wheelbarrow which had been lying on the ground. So I wrongly supposed this was a ground spider like a wolf spider or a funnel web. Although I knew it wasn’t the latter. That is one deadly spider I am very familiar with having grown up on the Central Coast of NSW where they are common. When my father dug out under our house to build a rumpus room we found dozens. The neighbours had a rockery and fish pond which we, affectionately, but not jokingly, called The Funnel Web Farm.

So what do you do when you are stumped? Dial a friend, of course.

I am lucky to have one of my writerly friends who is just as enthusiastic but more expert on everything creepy crawly and she not only relies on google but has those ancient but wondrous reference sources called books. So I asked Pat http://triciasimmons.vpweb.com.au/ if she could help me out. After a few days she came back with an answer – by the way Pat only had the first picture – the one on the left to go by.

She suggested it was, a Garden Orb Weaver Spider.

She sent me a picture of a rather more chunky brownish spider. But importantly she also relayed a sentence from a book which said ‘Males have more spindly legs’.

I thought Pat was right but I wanted to be sure. I could now look at google with a specific search on the Male Garden Orb. I didn’t actually find a spider that looked exactly like ours but some similar. I learned that sometimes words are more important than pictures when it comes to identification. Apart from the ‘spindly leg’ sentence the following words on spider sites sealed the identification or Eriophora transmarina (Garden Orb Weaver Spider).

  • Garden Orbs Spiders play dead when threatened (Second picture. I’d called it folding previously – hence no hits)
  • Garden Orbs vary can vary greatly in shape, colouration and size. Apparently they can change with each moult to camouflage with their surrounds. Colours ranging from whitish(mine) orange, brown and black. From patterened with stripes to no pattern (there is a faintly distinguishable pattern on my second picture)
  • A garden Orb hides in leaf litter or bark during the day (It wasn’t a stretch for mine to hide in a wheelbarrow handle – probably more waterproof)
  • Garden Orb Weavers can be identified by the intricate rounded web – of course this was no help at all because I hadn’t seen the web but it made me feel a lot better about failing to identify this tricky shape/colour shifter.

I found only one site that referred obliquely to the Garden Orbs ability to flash red when in danger. The site showed a picture of a spider which had the same red band as mine around the middle. If this was only a temporary feature, no wonder I didn’t see it in many photos. If anybody can confirm this capability I would love to hear from you. Is there any other spiders that flash warning colours? How fascinating.

This has been a true adventure. With red herrings, sleuthing accomplices and an elusive adversary which tried its best to elude easy classification. I’m glad it wasn’t easy. I am thankful that Google images doesn’t always reveal the answers immediately. I like a bit of detective work.

 

 

 

 

The Nature Lover's Log

SDOW done and posted

These last few days it’s been wonderful seeing the posts of others as they load their seven photos for the Seven Days of Wonder, nature photo challenge. I have marvelled at different views of my home region – the Illawarra. But have also seen vistas from of the deserts of Dubai and the beaches of the Gold Coast. Have been challenged trying to identify spiders and even a snake. Have seen artistic SLR photography and equally as interesting phone shots. Have discussed the correct names of bushes and birds.

My proposal for Seven Days of Wonder was always an experiment. A shot in the dark. I didn’t know if anybody would take it up. There was always a possibility that my facebook and writerly friends would think I am crazed greenie with a strange idea (I suspect some do but at least they didn’t say so). So I was pleased when the photos started trickling into my facebook feed. However, I got no takers from twitter or blogs. I blame myself entirely. I set up the challenge on impulse without thinking how to interact with a wider audience. I don’t regret that, as I have learnt a lot about the logistics of the challenge without failing on the big stage.I have to go away and really think about what I want to achieve now if I am to continue issuing the SDOW challenges. My biggest problem is, not the concept (I am still passionate about that), but how to go forward regarding social media.

Should I set up a public facebook site?

What are the implications for administrating a page where anybody can post?

Is their copyright issues?

How do I get children involved?

How do I encourage people to contribute their own expertise and experience using comments.

Do I even want it to become bigger? (I have enjoyed being able to study all the posts)

I really don’t want SDOW to become a photography challenge as there is plenty of those. I want it to be an observational and educational challenge. There is a lot to consider and technical issues to negotiate. Even with the small scale of this first challenge I encountered issues with sharing settings that didn’t allow friends of friends to view the posts. Ah ! nothing is ever simple but then I didn’t expect it to be.

Thank you to those who supported my crazy idea. Above I’ve posted a selection of Illawarra photos (mine and others) taken during the challenge.

SDOW has achieved one of my selfish motivations and reignited my passion for backyard biology. It has spurred me on to create another blog stream which I am going to call the Nature Lovers Log. This won’t be entirely at odds with my creativity/writerly blog as much of my inspiration (and others far greater than me) comes from nature. Come to think of it, most of my writer friends are also lovers of the outdoors and/or gardens and animals. Maybe there is a connection there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nature Lover's Log

Seven Days of Wonder: Share it.

 

collage-2015-12-06

Here’s a challenge. Join me in Seven Days of Wonder with a little nature photography. This the proposal – At the beginning at the Summer Solstice (Tues 22nd December in Australia).*

  1. Take one photo every day for seven days with the last day being the 28th Dec.
  2. Photos for Seven Days of Wonder have to be of natural wonders. Tiny or large. Animals or plants (cultivated ones included). Birds or insects. Rocks or oceans. Sky or dirt. Nothing man-made (except backgrounds), No pets, No selfies, No people
  3. The 7 photos are posted at the one time on your own site/feeds (facebook, blog, twitter) anytime in the following week with title Seven Days of Wonder and tag #sdow.
  4. Comments on the final posts should contribute to our overall knowledge and wonder of the photos taken. For instance for the posted picture above – Tom could comment that the photo in the right corner was a Saunder’s Case moth which lives all its caterpillar life in its bag of silk, and plant material. Kim could relate some lines of poetry about lavender or its medicinal uses.

*If anybody is reading this in the Northern Hemisphere. Then your #sdow can start on the Winter Solstice (either the 21st or 22nd of December 2015.)

It is not about taking brilliant photos -but great if you do. It’s about noticing and learning. Some of you may be holidaying to exotic locations and post spectacular photos with an SLR but others may concentrate on one corner of your backyard. Some may live in the city and take a picture of a dandelion struggling through the pavement on your phone or an ibis in the park. Wherever you are and whatever you do I have a vision of us all learning amazing things about the world around us by looking at and commenting on each other’s photos.

 

The Nature Lover's Log

Seven Days of Wonder: Why?

collage-2015-12-06

I have an idea for a campaign. It may go nowhere. It may begin and end with me. It’s been niggling at me for days. And every time I try to ignore it somebody posts something or says something that pushes it to the forefront of my mind.

If you want to read the short version of my proposal or want to share on facebook then go to my next blog post.

Here it is – I propose that beginning at the Summer Solstice (Tuesday 22nd December in Australia.)*

  1. Take one photo every day for seven days with the last day being the 28th Dec.
  2. Photos for Seven Days of Wonder have to be of natural wonders. Tiny or large. Animals or plants (cultivated ones included). Birds or insects. Rocks or oceans. Sky or dirt. Nothing man-made (except backgrounds), No pets, No selfies, No people
  3. The 7 photos are posted at the one time on your own site/feeds (facebook, blog, twitter) anytime in the following week with title Seven Days of Wonder and tag #sdow.
  4. Comments on posts should contribute to our overall knowledge and wonder of the photos taken eg If Kelly takes a picture of a spider as one of her pictures. Joe’s comments may add the name of that spider, Tom could quote a line from a poem about spiders. Emily could say what the habitat of that spider is.

*If anybody is reading this in the Northern Hemisphere. Then your #sdow can start on the Winter Solstice (either the 21st or 22nd of December 2015).

I know this is the busiest time of year for many but I think that’s what makes it even more important to stop and smell the roses, or, my own version, if your like – watch the tadpoles. The worst of the Christmas rush will be over before you actually have to post your photos. It’s not about taking brilliant photos – but great if you do. Its about noticing and learning. Some of you may be holidaying to exotic locations and post spectacular photos from an SLR camera. Others may concentrate on one corner of their backyard. Some may live in the city and take a picture of a dandelion struggling through the pavement with their phone or an ibis in the park. Wherever you are and whatever you do I have a vision of us all learning amazing things about the natural world by looking at and commenting on each other’s photos.

Why what is the point? To explain this I want to explain what has prodded me to come up with this campaign. Some of the references are rather oblique but stay with me.

    • Jamie Oliver’s Ted Talk: At one point in this presentation he plays a video of a group of infants kids from US who cannot recognise common vegetables. Even the ubiquitous tomato is mistakenly identified. This shocked me. But I was impressed with Jamie Oliver’s passion in trying to change this sad state of affairs by education. The theory is recognising whole foods will make kids appreciate them. Make them curious to want to try them. My passion is nature. And I feel the same as Jamie does about food. If people can name things and know them a little better our appreciation and willingness to protect them will increase.
    • My realisation that my own sense of wonder had waned: As a child I collected gumnuts and eucalypt leaves and sticky-taped them on an index card system. I wanted to be an expert on gum trees, to be able to identify every tree in the bush around our place. I loved eucalypts and cried when one was chopped down by our neighbours. I know that girl is still inside me somewhere but this girl doesn’t reliably know even one species of gum tree. When I scuba dived in my 20’s and 30’s I regained that sense of wonder for a while when I fell in love with the underwater environment. I took underwater photos of marine life and afterwards would identify and classify the various creatures I’d encountered. This was before the age of the internet so I used my collection of marine life books. I finally gathered enough knowledge to run underwater environment courses with my instructor husband. I had pushed that to the back of my mind until a new facebook friend posted a picture of a nudibranch from a scuba dive she had done several years ago. I had a special interest in these colourful slug-like creatures and I had forgotten about it until that picture was posted. It made me sad that that part of my life was a distant memory.
    • Concern about our blinkered existence. Are we so busy looking at screens and absorbing pop culture that we have become ignorant of the world around us. I wonder if I did a little test like Jamie Oliver but instead of vegetables I took in picture of birds. How many children would be able to tell the difference between a peewee (magpie lark), a currawong and a magpie. I suspect not many. And yet if we were paying attention many of us would see these birds every day and we would know they have very different habits and calls. Much has been written about the narcissism of individuals in the selfie generation but are we as a whole race becoming so narcissistic that we don’t recognise other living beings (apart from our own domestic pets).
    • The process of writing my middle grade novel. The people in my fantasy world are much more in tune with nature and the cycle of the seasons, the moons and reading the skies. This was my prompt for choosing the summer solstice to start #sdow. This is the day when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and daylight hours are the longest. But how many of us think about that? Here in Australia our seasons are scheduled for our convenience ie Summer starts at the beginning of December and ends on the last day of February. The true season beginnings and the midpoints of the seasons – the equinoxes and solstices are not taught in schools and pass by unnoticed. We rely on our devices to tell us the weather. Many of us cannot see into the distant skies because man-made structures block our views. We do not see storms approaching or the full sweep of sunsets and sunrise. We barely notice the moon’s cycle. Many of our homes, offices and transport are air-conditioned and heated. Heat, cold and rain are only minor inconveniences. Many of us do not understand the true struggle and the adaptations of the flora and fauna who are subject to the elements or even the struggle of farmers, outdoor workers or peoples in less comfortable living conditions. My aim is to have seven days of wonder to coincide with each of the two solstices and the two equinoxes. I hope our photos will help us get a sense of the changing of the seasons and bring us more in touch with the elements.
    • Memories of tadpoles. One summer day when I was about seven I noticed a few of the tadpoles I had in the blue plastic container under the verandah had grown legs and their tails were stumpy. I was determined that I would see the very moment when the tadpole jumped from the container and became a frog. It frustrated me that my tadpoles were dwindling in number and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I sat by that container for hours and hours (at least that is my memory) Finally I was rewarded. I saw a tadpole crawl onto the rock and flop out onto the ground. That may seem a waste of a day to some but I still feel privileged to have witnessed that moment of transition. We can’t all afford to sit for hours but if #sdow forces us to slow down just a little and notice something that we have never or rarely noticed or appreciated, that will be worthwhile.