Alright, so this is not entirely what I had intended the first post to be – I had figured something introductory, explaining where I am and why, and maybe some stuff about me or something. But as it took me about six weeks to come up with a blog title alone, perhaps the best thing would just be to jump in. Actually, maybe consider this the second post, and I’ll try to write a more explanatory introductory post later.
I write this from near Adelaide, in South Australia, at the McFarlanes family farm, which reminds me much of Long Pond (which, for those of you who don’t know, is the Massachusetts lake/summer home to gaggles of Chapins and kin, and the place I dream about when my life gets too crazy). Like Long Pond, it’s a family center that has been around for a while and is filled with the odds and ends of many different people whose lives are based elsewhere, but all come back here. Present are the ancient cans of bug spray and sunscreen, the row of old hats on a wall, the books collected from several generations of interests. Present too is the kitchen that is retro now only by virtue of having actually been outfitted in an entirely different era, and antiques that are antiques only by having sat there for so long. And outside there is a dock, though this is a sturdy one on the banks of the milky Murray River instead of a sawhorsey one on the pond itself. However, this is Southern Australia and not the East coast, and as is usually the case, Australia reminds you. There is a sheep paddock behind me as I write, and birds in front that make noises that sound like anything but birds (monkeys sometimes, this morning, strangely, cows). The landscape down here is all sky and flat yellow hills (redder than usual for this time of year, as there is a terrible drought), punctuated every now and then by the peculiar twisting of a eucalyptus tree, often standing alone in an otherwise empty expanse. As much of Australia does, I find, it feels both strangely familiar and utterly strange – there are tumbleweeds and you almost think you are in the American West, and then there is that peculiar curve to the trees that you can see nowhere else.
Earlier today I went for a walk, having been warned by Caroline to stay on the road, advice I took mostly because staying on the road seemed as good a path as any. I took a hat, too, with a string that tied under the chin and which I quickly rejected as far too dorky, and set out on my merry black-clad, camera-toting way. It took me about fifty steps before the chin strap on the hat went on in the face of the wind, and a hundred more to realize that I should have erred on the side of the borrowed boots that were too big instead of the charmingly scuffed, slightly too small ones that I had taken instead. But off I went, lumbering a bit in the wind, chin strap firmly in place, and singing to myself the descant from ‘Silent Night’ like you do when wandering the terrain of Southern Australian farms with a chin strap on and blisters forming.
I was rounding the bend of the road when I suddenly noticed something by the side of the road, which my extremely-logical-in-all-circumstances-mind identified as a Sea Cucumber, which for those keeping track is a medium-sized sea creature that looks like, um, a cucumber (man, I really needed to explain that one, didn’t I?). Except for it had what looked like the treads of a tire across its back, so naturally, it was a Sea Cucumber crossed with a tire. And it was moving, too. It was about a foot of the road, and two feet away from me, and almost as soon as I had thought ‘why is a Sea Cucumber with tire treads on the side of the road?’ it revealed itself to have a head like a snake that it was putting to use by hissing at me threateningly. After a moment of legitimate human-as-mammal fear, I succumbed to human-as-tourist, and got out my camera to look closer – it had legs and a short tapering tail, and was about a foot long. It seemed to have no real intention of attacking me in any way, and I put aside my desire to poke at it with a stick to see what it would do (a gravestone reading ‘here lies Anika, who poked an unkown hissing creature with a stick in the deadliest country in the world’ would be just too embarrassing) so after a minute or two of staring into each other’s small dark eyes, I moved along the road and it, presumably, moved along as well.
I kept walking, although now I was a little spooked at the reminder that there are scary things lurking in the bush, so the rest of the walk was mostly spent looking at the ground for other hidden things that probably wanted to kill me. I wondered what that thing was – it seemed snake-ish, with its triangular head and beady eyes, but the skin was much harder, and it was much wider and bigger than a snake. Also, it had legs, and a stubbier tail – maybe this was something evolved from snakes? Same root, maybe? In any case, it was frightening looking, and I had never seen anything like it in the states, that’s for sure. I decided that it must be one of those particularly Australian creatures, with a name like Waggabee, that probably contained more venom in one tooth than most other country’s snakes combined. And I was patricularly proud to have encountered this vicious mystery thing in the wild and survived, with photo, no less. So I stood proud when I got back to the house and described my encounter with the Sea Cucumber/Tire/Vicious Evolved Snake Waggabee, and asked what it was. “Oh!” said Caroline, “you’ve met a lizard!”
Yes, this hissing creature is known here in Australia as a…lizard. And just to make things a little worse, it’s technically called a ‘Sleepy Lizard’. So yes, long scaly things with snake heads that hiss at you here get names that seem more fitting for a beanie baby. Welcome to Australia.