Bittersweet

I’m feeling so strange and conflicted. On the one hand, I am absolutely ready to be done. I’m burnt out, exhausted and ready to move on to the next thing. I am ready for the next adventure. I have done pretty much everything I wanted to do here in Brisbane. I’m ready to eat different foods, see different scenery and be done with Uni for a while. On the other hand, it’s painful and it’s scary to say goodbye. I love Brisbane. I love it here. It’s become my home. I have my routines, my favorite place to stop for sushi, I’ve figured out how to get pretty much anywhere on public transport, I know where you can get $3 drinks on a Wednesday night. I’m so sad at the thought that I might never ever in my life see this beautiful place ever again. Although I know that if I want to come back, all it takes is time and money. (Really, any problem can be solved with enough time and money…) I am bored, feeling stagnant, burnt out, ready for something new. And yet… I’m happy with where I am right now and I’m not sure if I want to go just yet. There’s this strange dichotomy in my mind: I feel like I just got here, and simultaneously, like I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve lived in Brisbane for 10 minutes and simultaneously 20 years. I am so glad my parents are coming over at the end of the program rather than during this break. Maybe it’s selfish, but those extra 20 days in Oz are going to be as precious as diamonds to me.   I will do my best to savor these last weeks in the land down under. I have 3 more full days in Brisbane, then 7 in Cairns, 14 on the North Island of New Zealand with my class, then 16 traveling all over the eastern half of the continent with my parents. A little over a month left in this beautiful, foreign-yet-familiar world. So all at once, I mourn and I rejoice, I smile and I cry, and I count down the moments left.

Carnarvon and Reflections

Our last Australian field trip has come and gone. Carnarvon was absolutely beautiful. The hikes were so cool. The first day my group did the long hike, 14k. The first half of the day we were with our American professor, Meghan. It was a really great opportunity to get to know her better. That morning we hiked to a cave in the rock wall named the Amphitheater. It was practically a religious experience. We hiked in in silence and just absorbed how ancient this place was. It was sort of an oasis, surrounded on all side by bare sandstone but with enough light and plenty of water for a little garden to grow. Being in there made me feel small, but connected to a larger whole. It was fantastic. We then hiked to the “Art Gallery” a place where Aboriginal people carved and painted the rock face many years ago. It was beautiful, and it made me think. I wondered what it was like when the art was being created. Were the people joyful? Solemn? What did this art mean for them, and what would they think of me looking at it? After a while we hiked back to the center of the gorge and had lunch while soaking our feet in the creek. We then swapped over with another group and spent the afternoon with our Australian professor John Hall. John took us to two side canyons in the gorge. One was host to a species of giant fern. What was interesting about this fern was its next closest habitat is hundreds of kilometers away, on Fraser Island. The gorge acts as a refuge, remaining cool and wet enough that this species can still survive. A little further down the trek we went to the Moss Garden. John had us close our eyes and conga line into the garden in order for our first impression to not be a visual one. It was cool and damp, quiet except for the rush of a waterfall. When we opened our eyes we saw lush green had overtaken the pale sandstone. This place was the very bottom of a huge water filter, where water trickles out of the bottom of the rock formation. This allows enough moisture for moss to grow on the rock. It was a beautiful place.

The next day we got up very early  and headed out to Boolimba Bluff. We climbed nearly a thousand stairs to reach the top of the gorge. The view was spectacular, and it made the climb worth it. We did some field work, then headed back down. A nap, some homework time, and then we headed to the waterhole for a swim. That was so much fun. That afternoon we did more field work and Josie talked about fire management in the dry sclerophyll forest. The next day we observed kangaroo behavior, went for a swim and then hiked out to another side gorge. We sat by a stream and reflected for a while, and then John told us to get the Indiana Jones theme playing in our heads. We hiked into a very narrow canyon, climbing on the walls and scrambling over rocks. It was totally a blast, and really beautiful. That night we had “Carnarvon’s Got Talent”. We had magic tricks, skits, impressions, and I showed the group a kata and then got attacked by a zombie. Josie sang a beautiful heartbreaking song about the Vietnam war that almost made me cry. John, of course, recited a poem. Every night I slept under the stars. Every evening I camped out by the bank of the stream to catch a glimpse of the platypodes that live there. It was a surreal and beautiful experience. 

I skyped with my parents this morning and they asked what I’ll miss most about Brisbane. We’re leaving so soon. My first answer was “Not Translink.” But when I thought about it seriously, I decided what I’ll miss most after this program is the people. It’s been amazing getting to know the 40 or so personalities that I’ve been travelling with. Everyone is unique, everyone has a different perspective. It’s been really interesting watching people fall together like puzzle pieces, and every once and a while things get shaken up and fall back together in a different way. If I were an anthropologist, studying a group of young people going abroad for three months would be a fascinating project. It’s been a privilege to get to know every student, every professor, every tutor, every family member. If I had the power to stop time, to freeze things exactly as they are, the moment we were all laughing together under the pavilion in Carnarvon would be worthy of consideration.  

Politics

I’d like to preface this by asking for respect. I’d also like to ask that anyone reading this post realize my ballot is currently winging it’s way to Herkimer County, so even if you do change my mind, it won’t help anything (and thus it’s probably better not to try). 

I voted this week! For the very first time ever I voted in a presidential election.  It’s an exciting milestone to reach. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to vote, but since voting is compulsory in Australia, our professors made it compulsory for the students in our group. (It was pointed out to me that this rule would be difficult to enforce, but I voted anyway) I wasn’t sure if I was going to vote because I really wasn’t pleased with either candidate. If someone only knew me in 2008, then timewarped to 2012, they’d probably be surprised to hear that. I was a very staunch Obama supporter then. I picked him out really early, way back in the Democratic primaries. I liked the way he presented himself, I liked his policies and I thought he would make a good president. I was hopeful, and wanted change, and all those other things that have now become cliches attached to our president. I followed the election progression with interest, I debated policy with my classmates, I cheered when I found out he was going to be our president. I told everyone, way back at that early stage, that I would definitely vote for his re-election in 2012. Being from a small mostly republican town, I was told I was full of shit. But, I wasn’t. The guy I wanted from the beginning was the President of the United States of America.

Fast forward to present day, and my approach to politics has been completely different. When people bring it up, it’s all I can do to stop myself from stuffing my fingers in my ears and singing “lalalalalalaIcan’thearyou”. I’m not sure what has changed. Maybe its how hurtful the conversation about politics has become. Before, I feel like I used to be able to have friendly discussions, but now it’s all out war. Everything seems radicalized, moved to the far extremes of the spectrum. Politics no longer seems interesting, it seems caustic. I feel like discussing politics is just asking for anger and discord. I feel like people can no longer agree to disagree. And though I know most of my friends are like-minded, I can’t bring myself to bring it up. Maybe it’s just more real now. It’s only now that I’ve actually got (and have wielded) the power to vote, that the desire to be a political ostrich has come about.Maybe it’s because I’m ten thousand miles away on a huge island. Maybe I just don’t want to be judged. I told anyone who would listen that I was going to “throw my vote away on some third party candidate” but I knew that I wouldn’t. Ultimately, I voted for the candidate whose values I felt most aligned with my own. That’s the best I could do, and I imagine it’s the best anyone can do. I’m still hopeful that the politics of the US can change. I hope that the vicious throat jumping can be put aside and civilized adults can act like civilized adults again. Maybe that’s asking for too much. I hope not. 

Last Night on Heron

Last night we went for a night snorkel. It was fun and kind of spooky to be swimming out to a shipwreck at night. As I was laying in bed, I could still feel the fins on my feet, the snorkel in my mouth and the gentle bob of the waves. It was then that I knew a part of me will never leave this island.

I have had a simply amazing experience. This is definitely my favorite field trip so far. To actually see the Great Barrier Reef is a dream come true. Honestly, every time I’ve gone for a snorkel there’s been a moment when I had to remind myself that I’m actually here. It’s not a dream, it’s not a TV show, I’m actually in the ocean with turtles, sharks, cleaning wrasses, parrot fish, giant starfish and coral as far as the eye can see. I have seen and learned so much. Twice this week I’ve woken up at dawn to the terns chattering, pulled on my wetsuit and slipped into the ocean. Let me tell you, there is almost no better way to start the day. I’ve spent every spare moment snorkeling. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. Sleep has so much less value to me. I can sleep in Brisbane. I can sleep in Geneva and Ilion. I can’t see these amazing organisms there. This has also been my most productive field trip. For whatever reason, the more things pile up the more drive I have to get them done. The vast amount of work ahead of me is daunting, but it makes ticking things off my to-do list that much more satisfying. I am not ready to leave Heron Island. I don’t want to go back to buses and classes and grades and papers and presentations. I don’t even really want to go on to our terrestrial field trip. I honestly think I could happily live out my days here. Maybe it’s good that we’re leaving tomorrow, before the magic has worn off and I’ve gotten sick of this. (Though right now I doubt that could happen). Despite my protests to the contrary, the ferry back to the mainland leaves late tomorrow morning and I have to be on it. Thank God for memories, for pictures and stories and dreams. I’m leaving Heron Island tomorrow morning, but a part of me will be here as long as I live.   

Heron Island

Tuesday night we trooped onto a bus to get to Heron Island. Heron is a little island on the Great Barrier Reef. And it is little. The only things on the island are the UQ Research Station where we’re staying and the resort where our American professors and their families are staying. The bus ride took all night (and we got very little sleep). We left Brisbane at 11:30 pm and arrived in Gladstone around 8 am after a brekkie at Macker’s. (McDonald’s breakfast). We then sat in a grassy field next to the ferry until it was time to leave at 11. (That was pretty nice actually. Some guys tossed around a rugby ball, I finished a book I was reading, we worked on our tans a bit.) Then it was time for the ferry. We had been told by Tom, our Australian Marine Bio professor, that this ferry made even experienced boaters sick. We laughed it off; Ozzies love to tell Americans all the ways that Australia is fit to kill (or injure, or cause discomfort). He was right though. A show of hands that night said 13 of the 32 of us lost their mcmuffins on the way over. I, thankfully, didn’t puke. It took every ounce of will I had, and I was white as a sheet, shaky and sweaty, but I kept down my breakfast. Once we arrived, we had an introduction, got into our rooms and then it was off to explore the reef flat. It was really cool to see the corals and other critters. We had burritos for dinner (I thought Mexican was an interesting choice after our “eventful” ride over) and I fell asleep around 9:00.

I woke up with the sun around 6, thought about going to back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got changed. I walked over to the jetty, where Tom said he’d be if there were any interested early risers. I was the only student who turned up, so I was the only student who saw Gus, the big (3 meter long) grouper that visits the harbor occasionally. There wasn’t too many other exciting things, but that was cool and I won some brownie points. After breakfast we suited up for our first snorkel. After signing out wetsuits, fins, masks and snorkels, we went down to the beach and waded in. I had some trouble at first. I would put my face down in the water and hold my breath. When I reminded myself that I could breathe through the snorkel, I would take a huge shuddering gasp (not the advised method).  This lead to a weird panic-attack feeling. I gave up on snorkeling for a minute and focused on swimming. Then I tried looking down while floating, and that was ok. I figured out that what really freaked me out was hearing my own breath rattle around in the snorkel. Once I identified that, it was easy to ignore, and snorkeling was a lot of fun. We saw tons of fish, most of them really pretty. We also saw a Linckia laevigata which was just gorgeous and huge and cool. Once I really felt like I was getting the hang of snorkeling, it was of course time to get out of the water. We had some free time, then at low tide went out onto the reef flat again. At this point, we worked with our assigned groups on our assigned project areas. I’m with another girl and two guys (Tom tried to get a guy and a girl from each college) and we work well together. Our project area is gastropods (aka snails), so not the most exciting project in the world. We decided to pick three habitats (reef flat, sand flat, rocky shore) and compare the richness of species we find in each. So the afternoon was spent counting all the gastropods we could find in various square meters on the reef flat and sand flat. Dinner was steak and potatoes, and then a lecture on the various types of fish we have seen and will see. After attempting to get some work done (a succeeding a little) I sat down to write this blog. Once this is posted, I’m off to bed early. Big day tomorrow, Team Gastropod is one of the teams going on a boat snorkel on the reef proper. Can’t wait!