12/21/2006

Festooned With Epiphytes



We've flown up to the North Island, where we are experiencing post-partum Antarctic depression in a rented beach house in a place called Opotiki. Just over a low row of dunes, massive surf crashes onto an endless, driftwood strewn beach devoid of humanity. Kelp gulls cruise above the churning salty waves and dusty black oystercatchers patrol the sand, screaming in outrage when they feel you approach too close to their nests. Our friend Helen, who is spending her first season in Antarctica cooking for 1100 people at McMurdo Station, built this house with her ex-boyfriend Grant, before fleeing to the ice. He turns out to be a great guy, she's a great woman, and they spent four happy years together living in a shack amongst avocado trees while building the beach house; there must be a sad story in there somewhere that neither of them have told me yet. In any event, things are still cozy enough between them that she hooked us up to stay in her delightful former beach bungalow, a simple and tasteful three bedroom modern a stone's throw from the beach.

Grant the jungle guide

Endemic palm which makes its tree-rings on the outside, one per year

Moist and Green and Squelchy



Our goal is to decompress and also film some lush, wet landscapes of the sort that one dreams of when trapped in the piercingly dry, frosty and plantless wilds of Antarctica. With this in mind we spent the day tramping around Grant's avocado orchard and then driving up Motu Rd. into a rainforest reserve clogged with dripping green fern trees and jungle palms, their trunks matted and clotted with thick layers of epiphytic waterlogged mosses, vines and growths of every description. As anyone who knows me well can attest, these are the sorts of environments that I spend all my hard-earned ducats and leisure time flying off to experience "between jobs," so getting paid to tramp about in these claustrophobic green cathedrals of the New Zealand forest is essentially a dream come true. I recorded rain gusting down onto the leaves, bellbirds singing their watery, flute-like song, packs of grey warblers marauding through the bush, waterfalls, and the raging torrent of the Tiwaiti stream coursing through the Urutawa forest. I saw life birds number 2576, 2577 and 2578 today, all in the course of completing my duties. For those of you rubes who are totally out of it, "life bird" means "first sighting ever of that species by me in my lifetime," meaning as of today, since I first caught the ornithological cancer in December of 1976, I've seen 2578 species of birds, worldwide. But who's counting? (For the record, today's birds were Tomtit, Tui, and Weka, all endemic to New Zealand, where many of the birds retain their original Maori names). I realize I may lose some of you if antarcticiana morphs into a birding blog, but at the moment we are struggling to understand our place in the world, now that we have left the ice and are back in it.

I've been practicing my pornographic photography techniques

The director, "hungryman" and "hairyman," in the heart of darkness

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