Nature's Place

King Of The Castle

I enjoy looking around the garden at night. It is the little piece of earth I have dominion over, dominion as in responsibility for, not right to exploit rapaciously. I am responsible for the harmony of my little piece of Earth, as much as I can be.

And my little piece of earth includes my inner space, where I can be most responsible.

One of those responsibilities is to keep the place free of cane toads so that the native species can propagate and have some chance of populating the place according to their nature. The cane toad was introduced to QLD, Australia to help the sugar cane farmer’s deal with a beetle that was destroying the crop every year, an insect with the informative name of the sugar cane beetle. The toad was introduced because it has a voracious appetite, presumably for sugar cane beetles.

It really is astounding the short-sightedness of the people involved in this introduction. The cane beetle flies when it’s not on the ground and climbs in the cane when it’s not flying. The cane toad can neither fly nor climb; it has to sit there waiting for the beetle to land. But the beetle will only land when it has satisfied its first appetite, for food, sugar cane, if it lands at all. So, at best, the toad only gets the beetle after the damage is done to the crop. And so the toad is useless at its intended job of protecting the cane from the beetles.

The toad has a few other characteristics the consequences of which were foreseeable, but were apparently unforeseen. One is its robust nature, they are very hard to kill. I tried killing one with a spade one time and even after I broke its back it sat there staring at me. That also required such aggression from me I felt ill from it. I have heard of them being hit by a golf club and hopping away from it. You couldn’t do this to a native species.

Another characteristic is their prolific breeding capacity. Apparently one female can lay up to twenty thousand eggs at one time. A friend of a friend reported a plague of frogs not far from here where she lives next to an area of swamp, literally thousands of them in a very small area. One day she was seen dodging them by a local, doing her best not to kill the sweet little creatures, who explained they were toads and she should step on them not around them.

Combined with a robust nature and uber – fertility is their insatiable appetite for anything small and native. They eat everything that moves and fits in their mouth. This leaves little for the native predators and the native predators can’t eat the toad because of the poison glands on its back. No wonder the toad is reviled by any sensible Aussie.

The most astounding thing about the cane toad, after its introduction, is the fact there has been no coordinated attempt to eradicate or even control it. While it decimates the local wildlife. There are reports of it arriving in Kakadu National park, the most vitally alive park in Aus, and leaving it quiet and trackless in their wake as they advance. A fair military analogy would be a tank to a foxhole – at best. Toad is tank. And anything left behind in the foxhole after the tank rolls over it is damn lucky.

It really is a formidable eating and breeding machine killing everything in its path. One way or the other. (RIMG1024.JPG) I caught this one the night before soaking up the water from a dish I leave out for the creatures that may pass this way. (RIMG1008.JPG)

So when I do the rounds at night I am pleased to see the little green tree frog sitting on top of a red house brick I placed at the end of the rainwater tank. There is one frog or another on this red brick around an hour after dusk every night I go out at that time. It gives some command of the terrain, like a lookout tower, or a throne. (RIMG0819.JPG + RIMG0891.JPG + RIMG1216.JPG)

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Sticky Frog

Nearly every night now, since the cane toads started showing up again, I check around the house to see if there is anything for bagging and freezing. Just two in the last few days. One small one and another mature buck, standing strong like a fighter with a big body and narrow neck, head jutting proud towards the sky.

I catch them by shining the torch on them, for some reason that keeps them from running – and they can move fast when they want to. Maybe they are blinded by the light or ‘freezing’ (no pun intended) is a defense mechanism – I know it is for the green tree frogs, and it works with the cats. If it doesn’t move the cat isn’t interested.

As soon as I am close enough I put my hand inside the plastic bag, using it like a glove, and grip the toad firmly so it can’t wriggle free. They are strong. I pull the bag off my arm and down over the toad. Then I tie a knot in the bag and put it in the freezer. They are dumped with the trash on Tues nights. The young buck was a heavy fellow.

I usually tell the toad ‘you’re going home’ with the knowledge, in my own experience, home is nothing – nowhere. All things in existence eventually return home.

Tonight while checking around I saw one of the big green frogs sitting in my trucks back wheel. I don’t want it to settle in the truck so I went over to move it. I don’t disturb the natural creatures if I can help it so when I picked it up I was surprised it was so sticky. Like a cold kind of rubber that wouldn’t slip on my skin. It held on to my hand so I gripped it gently as I brought it to the bath I have set up for the frogs. (RIMG1406.JPG is on a plant next to the water bowl)

The bath is just a glass bowl about 9 inches diameter set below a hole in the overflow rainwater tank. And since it has been raining a lot recently it is full and dripping fresh clear rainwater for the frogs to enjoy. When I left it the frog was still soaking it up. My pleasure.

They can climb anywhere around here and I enjoy it when I come across one unexpectedly while doing my rounds at night. A real pleasure. (RIMG1204.JPG) This one was by the water pump near the old tank.

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On The Wild Side

Today I went into the nature reserve for a walk. The entrance is about one kilometer from where I live. I looked again at the two big pine trees. They really stand out where they are, there’s nothing else like them in the immediate area. They stand alone together towering above all the other smaller trees and bush. (RIMG0761.JPG)

Standing there for the second time I noticed a few things I didn’t see the first time. For instance, the stag fern are primarily on only one of the trees, the one with the most branches, in fact the healthier looking one. And under the other tree there was a lot of huge mushrooms, some as big as 7 or 8 inches in diameter and about the same tall. I have never seen them before. And they are nowhere else in such concentrations in the bush here. (RIMG0903.JPG)

These pine trees have the look and feel of an ancient species and I suspect the stag fern may be too because of the obvious relationship. The only other stag fern in the reserve are scattered in ones and are relatively very few. Maybe being from the same geologic era gives them an affinity. Perhaps there is some symbiosis in the relationship. Maybe this pine tree is the stag fern nursery, from where the fern populates the forest? Clearly the stag fern favours the pine wood to grow on. Here’s a real beauty. (RIMG0884)

I went from there up a trail which led to a road where a few houses are and after a while I noticed an old track behind a gate with no fence to the side of it. So I went in to have a look. As is often the case with these old tracks it quickly became overgrown the further in I went, but I kept going since they usually go somewhere. I only found such dense growth I would need a machete to cut my way through. Maybe I’ll do that sometime.

On the way back I took a little detour, exploring, and I came upon a very old structure. It was only a base of a building made of a pebble and concrete mix and with walls in places only 12 inches high and no roof or glass about. But with here and there a metal bolt sticking up from the ‘wall’. There was no sign at all to suggest what it may once have been. I didn’t know what to make of it at all.

On the way out of this place I found a square concrete water tank that hadn’t been used for some time. A curious thing, on two corners up top there were what looked like the knobs from the top of an old iron bed end embedded in the concrete.

I left this place and took the old quarry trail back down into the reserve and came to an intersection of four trails. To the right was Optus trail and I went down that for a while. A short way in I came across a bush wallaby, dark reddish brown fur about three feet tall when it stood straight. It didn’t notice me for a while so I was able just to watch it as it went about its business, probably looking for food of some kind.

As soon as I made a noise or move it stopped dead still and looked in my direction. I suspect their eyesight is not very good because it took for me to move again for it to register my presence and run off into the bush. I didn’t go down this trail very far as it was going off in the opposite direction to my place and I was already getting tired, especially my knees and hips. It’s a while since I did so much walking as I’ve been doing the last week.

I turned back to the intersection and recognized a trail I had been on recently but there was another trail that would also take me where I wanted to go, at least not in the opposite direction. I went down this trail for a while before I came to another big old pine tree. Scattered around the base of this tree there were recently fallen branches, blown down in recent winds I bet, with stag fern attached and still in good condition.

I looked up to see where it all came from and I noticed there was a fig tree growing out of a stag fern growing on a branch of the pine tree. Amazing eh? (RIMG0795.JPG) It looked like a fig tree to me, they are known as opportunists. This might look like a tenuous opportunity at best but I suspect the fig has a few tricks up its sleeve. I’ve seen one, about two feet tall, in a similar situation ten feet off the ground and already it had a root system that had made its way down a branch and had tendrils hanging just a few feet off the ground. It was intent on surviving, no question.

I picked up one little branch with a stag fern on it about four inches in diameter, and took it with me on down the trail. I recognized this trail from a few years ago when I passed through this area. But then it was so wet the trail was impassable. I don’t know how I found this place then though, it is so out of the way.

A little further on I came to a creek running across the trail and as I got close I could hear what sounded like the gunfire on the news bulletins of the fight for Bagdad. Crack, crack, crack, crack. It was some kind of frog I couldn’t see, but I have seen and heard so many since coming back to Australia they are unmistakable in the situation, wet, swampy, tall reeds and they went quiet when I got up close.

This was the creek I couldn’t cross those few years ago. I noticed some insole leather as I came up to the creek, just the ball of the foot. And when I got to the creek I saw the other shoe stuck in the mud and mostly under water now. I thought someone didn’t make it, not with their shoes anyway.

The mud is like the emotion that sticks and pulls you down when you are attached to something that doesn’t fit the situation. You either let go the attachment, the shoe, or get stuck in the mud, of emotion. Then I came across the rest of the other shoe, looks like someone tried to hold on to at least one of them. (RIMG0908 + 909)

I could hear the roar of the ocean beating on the shore not far ahead so I knew where I was now. As I was walking and looking where I put my feet, at least peripherally, I saw a bright green caterpillar squirming in the worn compacted part of the trail. I stopped to have a closer look since caterpillars don’t usually move so vigorously and out in the open like that where they are in full view of any predator.

I bring my reading glasses with me these days when I go walking in the bush so I can see clearly anything I want to see close up. When I got close to this creature I could see the cause of its vigorous wriggling. There were ants on it, little black ants. And unless you are fast, armoured and big, or some combination of these characteristics, you are doomed if the ants get a hold of you. I’ve seen it before with other more capable creatures than the caterpillar.

Occasionally I am moved to release a creature I find trapped by another creatures snare, such as a flying insect from a spiders web, but I wasn’t moved to do anything here. The ants have to eat and the caterpillar was doomed. Simple as that. I walked on.

A little further on I came out at the beach and it was good to see the waves breaking on the sand. The sea is wild along this stretch of coast with nothing to interrupt the tide as it worked its way up and down the seven mile long beach. Part of the wildness comes from the shifting sands that are always changing the currents and rips at the shore.

I turned back down the trail to go home and on the way, just as I was about to put my foot down, I noticed out of the lower edge of my sight a small fast moving light green insect disappear under my shoe. I walked the next step and stopped to turn and have a look at what it was. When I got down to it I could see it was a small green spider and it was very still. It didn’t look crushed as it would have been if I had actually stepped on it, so I blew on it and to my surprise it darted away. Lucky little fellow.

I made my way home after that without more adventure. I was very tired when I got home and just sat for a while. Sitting back in the recliner, so relaxing. Feeling the sensation of rest.

Then I did some mowing. As long as it rains there’s mowing to be done. And it always rains, it’s just a matter of time.

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Just Keeping the Grass Down

Since moving here to the Crabbes Creek area seven months ago I have been disposing of any cane toads that show up. It’s December now so that would have been the end of summer here in Aus. In the first few weeks I collected about 100 toads. I catch them one at a time and put them in a bag then put them in the freezer; it’s the least violent means of killing them I know of.

The numbers dwindled dramatically over the winter and there have only been a few so far this spring. The upside of this specicide is the lovely green frogs are back in breeding numbers and I am delighted to hear their throaty calls bellowing (or is it croaking) down the drainpipes at dusk and other times, especially when rain is about to fall.

I also get plagues of beetles, not the singing kind, and I have to have a light on outside to attract them away from the house at night. I have seen Christmas beetles; they have all different colours on their back, like a Christmas tree. And opal beetles, bigger than the Christmas ones, with a white opalescent wing carapace. It really is a lovely area, and a lovely place I live.

Been busy keeping the grass down where I live, on an acre+. With all the rain and sunshine, and a push mower to do it. It has to be done when the weather allows. And it looks like we are in for a normal rainy summer. Normal around here I am told. Yesterday I was on the roof clearing the gutters – I live on rainwater, and forgot my hat. Had to go to bed in the afternoon with mild sunstroke – can’t forget to respect the power of the sun.

The truck has been in the mechs. and needs prep for sale too. I might have to go on the dole soon and hang on to a little rainy day money. Not much work to be had around here and not moved to move. Or I’ll see if I can get some easy work for the truck, it pays better and I’d be able to buy some things I need to write the book.

A cat came with the house, abandoned by the last tenants. She was very upset, depressed, having a bit of a breakdown when I first met her. But she’s at home again and a big talker – there were kids here before us which is one explanation for her talking a lot- always meowing to me in varying tones and situations.

It also explains her depression; she got too close to humans. I fed her and got her a flea collar and just loved her a little and she settled down. She adopted me and I adopted her, to look after the best I can. She’s doing ok now. (RIMG0935.JPG)

There is another cat comes by in the evenings, he has the look of a much mistreated cat, probably another abandonment – there’s a lot around these parts, (especially dogs – worrying the calves). He is sometimes a sad little thing and sometimes a vicious little thing. He allows me within a few metres now. He’s a cat. She’s a cat. Cool cats.

The problem with this fellow is he is dominant and Djinn, Karen’s cat, is still here and he gets bullied by the tom. So I’ve run the tom off. I look after my charges.

Having looked in recent years at something of what passes for spiritual teaching/ers I am amazed anybody listens to them. But it seems people will settle for anything as long as it’s not too real in a mowing the grass sort of way. As long as it rains there’s always grass to be mowed.

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I’ve been living where I am in N.E. NSW for seven months now and it was only yesterday I discovered the entrance to a wild place, a nature reserve few people go to because we are so out of the way here. The neighbours didn’t tell me about it because they don’t realise the significance of the place, the accessibility to the real nature. It’s like that sometimes, what I enjoy most is right under my nose only I don’t notice it till I just go there one day.

I love exploring the natural places, and if people have been there before me I am interested in what sign they have left behind them. This reserve is a huge place, full of character – paperbark swamp, forests of all sorts of eucalypt, banksia and pine and other trees and bushes, creeks and fields of reeds, grasses and fern. Coastal wetlands, I think it’s called. Its name is Billinudgel Nature Reserve. It extends from Wooyung in the north to Ocean Shores in the south and inland a few kilometres to the old Highway One and the foothills of a small range of ‘mountains’.

I went for a walk there today and the first thing I noticed was the cicadas. They are deafening when I am in an area where they have gathered, and they do tend to congregate in certain areas. Something I have noticed while walking where the Cicada’s sing, I always feel the cold of tiny droplets of moisture when passing under the sound. I wonder what that is? Are they peeing on me? Or are they mating up in the trees. Or are they just sloppy eaters and drinkers at the table? I don’t know.

It wasn’t long before I came upon an unusual place, a clearing to one side of the track that had the remains of some kind of corral with the ubiquitous corrugated iron that served the Aussie so well for so long, and still does. (RIMG1334.JPG) Maybe there was once goats or something kept there. And, remarkably, power once came to this place. So there must have been some concerted activity going on. (RIMG0765.JPG)

The unusual thing here was the two huge pine trees. They were the biggest trees around and nothing had grown under their shade and fallen needles for a long long time, there was such a thick cushion of pine needles on the ground. It looked as if nobody had been here for fifty years or more, the corral was so worn and broken down by the weather.

I looked up into the branches of these two trees and attached to the lower branches dotted around one of the trees were stag ferns. Some huge, some only just starting out and many in between. And they were all in good health. I had never seen so many stag ferns in one place, on one of two trees. (RIMG0761.JPG)

After having a good look around this place I went on down the track until I came to an old trail going off to the left that had been closed off with some boulders placed across its entrance. There was a motorcycle tyre track here, just the one. I went down this trail and it was wild and I was alone here. The further I went the wilder it got until I had to duck and weave and make good use of my walking stick to keep from being scraped by the bushes and the overhanging branches, and to keep the spiders off me and maintain balance. (RIMG1359.JPG)

I use a stick like a third leg or an extended arm when I’m in the bush. It can serve as a lure to any waiting predators such as snakes or spiders, and some attack when suddenly disturbed. It also serves to warn anything in my path to get out of it. It’s often useful for steadying the camera on too. Often the trails I find, or make, are very uneven and little used so they have spider webs across them so I’ll use the stick to dislodge them on one side. It’s not like in Europe where the trails are mostly used enough for them to be easy. I do enjoy going where few or none have gone before.

Occasionally I came upon old sign of people, a rusty piece of metal from the remains of a dumped car, or an old beer bottle. But nature didn’t mind one bit, it just absorbs everything that men have left behind.

It doesn’t matter what men do to the Earth, it will all eventually disappear back into nature. This photo reminds me that mans rapacious human nature will be overcome, gently, inexorably. And sometimes violently. And his true God nature will emerge from the destruction. (RIMG0782JPG) A bit biblical eh?

The trail continued to narrow from disuse and eventually I was scrambling over small fallen trees as the trail snaked downhill towards the coast. The further downhill I got the wetter it got so the moss was that much greener than at the start. Eventually the trail petered out at the edge of a clearing. It was only clear of trees and bushes, otherwise it was a forest of reeds and fern.

I thought the trail I was on must go somewhere. People don’t usually make trails that go nowhere. So I went into this field and tried to discern some sign of the origional trail around its edge, but it was a fruitless effort. If the trail had once gone somewhere it was lost now.

It’s possible the trail only ever went as far as this field of fern and reeds. There were red admirals chasing each other around the place, and some large black butterflies sailing on the breeze, and a few small white ones chasing each other so closely one was an echo to the other. It was really lovely in the shimmering light and heat of the mid day.

While I was looking for sign of the origional trail I disturbed a bush wallaby from its afternoon slumber in the shade of a nearby tree. The wild creatures rest in the heat of the day here, it can get very hot and humid in this swamp-like terrain. I watched it hop away in the opposite direction and thought maybe that’s the way the trail went, ‘I’ll follow the wallaby’.

Often in the bush the only trails to be found are wallaby or kangaroo and they usually lead somewhere, like to water or food or just from place to place. But this one led me on a merry chase, as soon as I got out into the field I found wallaby trails going in all directions. It looked like a meeting place for wallaby’s. Pretty soon I gave up looking for the trail and made my way back to the trail I had left and backtracked to the main track.

That’s the way it is in living, isn’t it. We set out on the main track, maybe, and see an interesting looking trail going off somewhere and we go exploring. We see the signs of those who came before us, the old bones of another life, and keep going regardless. Maybe we come to a place that looks inviting or even beautiful and we go in to have a look around.

Absorbed in the looking for a while we forget where the trail we came from is, where we have come from, and we look for it again only to find we are lost and it now goes off in all directions. This is where we might be lucky enough to find the faint sign of the origional trail that brought us to the field. The faint intuition, it’s this way! And we make our way home from there.

Anyway, I got back to the main track and instead of going home I went further on to see what I would come to. And I came to another small trail going off to the left. So off I went, just to see where the trail goes. Not far down this trail I met a Goanna. It was about three and a half feet long with claws as long as my fingers and it was climbing a tree to get out of harms way, my way. As it climbed, its forked tongue flickering, I moved. And as I moved it scrambled upwards causing a cascade of dead leaves and branches very close by.

It’s always enlightening to meet a natural creature. They don’t have any burden of past in them and it shows in their simple being.

I was getting tired from my exertions and came home after that.

copyright  Mark Berkery


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