This week passed by in a total blur. I posted my last piece a bit early because, upon returning from Daintree, Ashley and I had Saturday off. We were able to spend some time in Yungaburra, which is an incredibly friendly small town. It’s a bit quaint; there are very few places to eat, but they are all good. The few shops are run by incredibly kind, interesting, and wonderful people, who immediately managed to make us feel welcome. After a very stressful and frustrating week, they made us feel like we were home and safe, and it was a truly wonderful feeling. We spent a nice time at Groovealicious, the local coffee shop (which has excellent WiFi, thus the early post) before popping next door to Meg’s. Meg runs a fantastic shop, which is an amazing combination of her art (she does lithographic prints), vintage clothing, and other lovely things. She is funny and kind, and it was very exciting to meet someone with whom I share a name. We then popped in to Rockingbird, which is run and owned by the amazing Bernadette. Rockingbird is a beautiful vintage and vintage-inspired store with incredible things. I literally could have stayed there all day (and managed to stay an hour, just chatting with Bernadette about crafting, women, and a sense of community; she’s truly lovely, and she really made us feel at home). I finally managed to feel relaxed, and to feel like I had people to turn to in the broader community when I needed someone.
Sunday was back to the regular routine, and our students began to work very hard on getting their field write-ups done for the socio-econ class. This provided me with days of editing, which I greatly enjoyed. It’s clear that they are in the process of learning here, and while they are occasionally struggling, overall, they are very happy and getting to the point of being very successful in their research.
Upon completing two of the three of their major field exercises, they (and we!) launched into the last of the field exercises, this time for their rainforest ecology class. This field exercise was by far the most interesting to me, in spite of my anthropological background. They were sent out two nights in a row to collect cane toads, which are an invasive species here. They are primarily considered a problem because they outcompete endemic species, and are therefore changing the landscape of Australia. I think the idea of invasive and endemic species in and of itself is very interesting (because it’s all very culturally constructed), but additionally, catching cane toads provided a lot of entertainment. Wearing gloves is essential, because the toads excrete a hallucinogenic compound on their skin (it’s poisonous and potentially lethal to animals), and picking up the toads is always funny to watch. Some were quite docile, and allowed us to pick them up with ease (as in my case), while others were clearly not excited about this idea and hopped frantically while we chased after them (as in Ashley’s case).
Upon catching the toads, they were euthanized and set up for dissection. The students are looking into parasite load (particularly lungworms), diet (examining the stomach contents) and general population structure (looking at weight, sex, etc). They are then hoping to glean some data that speaks to the population at three different sites. It’s all very exciting to them, and to me.
Other exciting things this week included seeing our first amethystine python, which was magnificent. It had likely eaten a bandicoot fairly recently, and we were able to see the large bulge in its digestive tract; it even moved the food along while we were watching! It was truly incredible.
We finished up the week with our usual volunteerism; this time around, I worked on the site again, helping our students to get rid of lantana. Lantana is a decorative species that smells vaguely like tomato plants and has very nice flowers. Unfortunately, it too is invasive, non-endemic, and takes over in disturbed areas. The beauty of volunteerism here is that it allows one to get out some of one’s frustrations. Hacking away plants and tearing them out certainly gives a fruitful outlet for one’s frustrations and anger, and I really enjoy it. Our students headed out for their homestays on Friday afternoon, so I was able to have a quiet weekend just catching up on sleep and enjoying some time with just the other interns (which means we play games like fools and watch a lot of movies, if our other time off is any indication).
I’m closing in on feeling like I’m settling here. I don’t know if I will ever feel settled; something new always seems to pop up and disturb that feeling, but I’ve felt very content this week, and I am looking forward to more weeks like this.