Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Only a few small injuries

I'm staying about half an hour from the main campus of the University of Queensland, with a nice young couple and their border collie, in an old “Queenslander” house built in the 1920’s. I have a strong suspicion that the people inhabiting Queensland in the 1920’s averaged seven or eight feet tall. The ceilings are extremely high, and although the doors are normal size, there is a panel over each of them that could easily have been added to fill in the door frame when the door was cut down from giant size. It’s not such a far-fetched idea, when you take into account the fact that the door handles are almost exactly at my eye level.

The University itself is lovely, with several lakes on campus which make it feel more like home, though they abound with foreign waterfowl. Large white ibises wander about, as common, and as pesky, as pigeons, and a very funny bird called the masked lapwing, with a yellow face that looks exactly like a monkey’s, can be seen on occasion. Huge pelicans cruise around in gangs. They look rather vicious, and I have dubbed them the mafia of the Australian waters. If you’re a fish, you don’t cross those guys.

As far as fish go, tetraodontids and diodontids (that is, pufferfish, toadfish, and porcupinefish) are as common as sneezing, and you can hardly wade in the mudflats without sending one or two scurrying away. I would very much like to smuggle one back as company for Agnes. From what I hear, the best way to smuggle animals is in the brassiere, but I am very reluctant to try that with a porcupine pufferfish.

In addition to bony fish, I’ve seen almost a half dozen different rays, all with a wingspread about as wide as I am tall. On the same dives that revealed the rays, I saw a couple of wobbegong sharks with camouflage so good I didn’t notice them until the divemaster pointed them out. The description of wobbegongs in my wildlife guide includes the warning: “Despite sleepy appearance, should never be disturbed or handled as they are capable of inflicting deep wounds and will hang on tenaciously to a victim.”

However, though I am surrounded by all sorts of sharp and venomous things on a regular basis, I have so far sustained only a few small injuries: multiple scratches from breaking my way through the bush (in order to count species diversity for the terrestrial ecology bit of the course), a few cuts on the feet from climbing over oyster beds, dermatitis from touching the abundant toxic black slimy sponge (my reaction was very, very mild, despite the guide’s warning: “highly toxic to touch, producing severe dermatitis”), a number of bites from mozzies and sand fleas, and--best of all--a cuttlefish bite!

That bite is definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far. My only regret is that it won’t leave a scar.

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