Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Nature of more odd Australian plants

Hakea laurina - flower just opening
Following up on the earlier Blog about Grevillea flowers, I thought I would show you a photo of the supremely weird, wonderful and lovely Hakea laurina. For Leo's benefit, the entire "flower" is roughly the size of your beloved golf balls.

This plant starts out with a rounded bud, tightly encased in sheaths of a silky-covered papery substance. The sheaths fall off, as the "flower" opens. That reveals a tightly packed composite head of many hundreds of flowers.

Each flower has the same basic structure as the Grevilleas discussed yesterday. the main point of comparison is the dominant styles (white with green tips) which start out bent like a hairpin, but which, as they mature, open outward to form this "sea urchin like" flower.

In the photo above, the individual flowers on the right have matured, and the styles have all opened out. The ones in the centre are just opening, and the ones on the left are still developing.

Detail of Hakea laurina flowers

This shot (not as sharp as I would like, sorry), does at least show the intimate details of the flower structure. In the centre, you can see some flowers where the stigma has just opened out, leaving the four segments of the original outer casing of the flower still "exposed". Those dark pink patches are where the pollen is formed, before the style opens out, taking the pollen with it. It is not clear in this photo whether these particular flowers have any pollen on them, but that is how the mechanism is meant to work.

You can clearly see many flowers with the style still "in position" inside the flower "tube", before they open out. Some are just opening.

Grevilleas have a seed casing which is leathery, and which opens along one side, to release two seeds. They drop their seeds every year, generally. By contrast, Hakeas have a hard woody seed casing, which splits to release two papery winged seeds. But the seed casings might stay on the bush for many years, in anticipation of a fire, after which the seeds are released, to germinate on the freshly potash-enriched ash soil. Fire survival and fertiliser strategy, all in one.

The Nature of Grevillea Flowers

There are many "typical" forms of Grevillea flowers, and here I have just a few of them. These were taken at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, in Canberra, last week. I only had time for a quick trip around the place on an Electric Scooter, on a day out from hospital, so I just got a few photos. Sorry.

Even worse, I did not get to record the species names. Sorry, but I was being rushed.

Mostly these were flowers on shrubby Grevilleas, some quite small plants, others large shrubs. None of these were trees.

This is a "Toothbrush" form of Grevillea flower, just opening.

These flowers are individual flowers, grouped together in a composite structure (an "inflorescence"). If you look at the prominently visible, individual curved protuberances, each one is the "style" (the female part) of a single flower. It has burst open, after being curled up inside the original curled part of the flower.

At a rough guess, there are probably 50 individual flowers in this head of flowers.

This is a tightly formed "Cats Paw" form of Grevillea flower, from Grevillea alpina, I believe. All of these flowers are still unopened, and very tightly curled up.

It is at this point of time that the long styles (seen above) are tightly in contact with the male part of the flower (where the pollen is formed). When the flowers open, and the styles protrude, they come out dusted with pollen, which is then available to be collected by bees, or rubbed onto the heads of Honeyeaters, which come in search of the nectar which is found deep inside the flowers. At that freshly protruded stage (better seen in the Toothbrush" illustration above) the "style", while still dusted with pollen, is described as a "pollen presenter" - it is a female part of the flower, but it acts initially to present the pollen in a convenient location, to allow the pollen to be spread from flower to flower.

If you look closely (double click on the photo of the "Toothbrush" flower two photos up), look closely at the "styles" about 7 or 8 in from the right. They are very obviously "dusted in pollen". After several days, when the pollen is dispersed, or has dried up, the "style" then becomes mature, goes noticeably sticky on its end, and then acts in its true nature, as the female part of the flower, ready to collect the pollen from any passing bird or bee. This system of pollination is the same for the major members of the Proteaceae family, in Australia, the Waratahs, Hakeas, Banksias and Grevilleas. They are all closely related plants.

At left is a less common flower (inflorescence) form (amongst Grevilleas), where the flowers are displayed along the stem. The flowers are all in pairs, which is typical of all Grevilleas.

So, no matter what the form of the flower cluster, be it "Toothbrush", or "Cats Paw" or whatever, if you look closely into the composite flower structure, you will find pairs of flowers in all Grevilleas.

Possibly the largest of the Grevillea flowers, on the Grevillea robusta, (the tree is known as the "Silky Oak") is a "toothbrush" form of flower, but it flowers in summer, so I could not photograph it now. It is typical of a group of northern Australian Grevilleas, many of which are trees, not shrubs, and which tend to have yellow flowers.

The role of colour in pollination:

There is a theory that flowers which are bird pollinated are advantaged if they are brightly coloured, especially red coloured. (Butterflies appear to like yellow flowers, such as Everlasting Daisies.)

One group of Grevilleas which I missed out on getting a photograph of is the tiny little creamy- white flowered flowered forms. They are apparently insect pollinated. They generally have a sweet honey scent, but with such tiny flowers that birds cannot possibly pollinate them. The general theory is that they are pollinated by moths, which fits with them mostly being coloured white or cream (to aid the night vision of moths).

Certainly being coloured red or yellow is an advantage to those which are bird pollinated. However, there are some which are dull green and nearly invisible to the human eye, and yet the birds find them perfectly well. So, some theories break down, if you investigate them closely enough.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More on Red Beaks

Yesterday I posted about Purple Swamp Hens (Galinules). I commented that the associated bird, the Eurasian Coot was "totally aquatic". Ooops. Today I went to Lake Tuggeranong, to be confronted by a bunch of Coots out grazing. Admittedly, as soon as they saw me, they headed to the water, where, clearly they felt more comfortable. However, I feel obliged to set the record straight. They also graze on dry grass, near water, as in this photo.

In the main cities of South-eastern Australia, there are 3 basically similar birds which are common wherever lakes and parks are found. (I am excluding Ducks, etc.) These are either aquatic birds which gather near picnic grounds, or birds with longish legs which hang around on the grass, looking for scraps from picnickers. Simply put, these birds are most likely to be Swamp Hens, Moor Hens, and Coots. Today I will deal mostly with the Moor Hen (and the others just in comparison). There are other, more exotic birds, called Black-tailed Native Hens, and in Tasmania, another species. But these three species are the most commonly seen, between Brisbane and Melbourne. Other related birds are Crakes and Rails, but they are usually very shy, and seldom seen. None of these birds under discussion is shy - far from it.

The Dusky Moorhen is the third bird in this group, which people often get confused about. This bird has a red beak, with a yellow tip, (as an adult). In general, its beak is like the Swamp Hen's, (but much finer). This bird is quite at home in the water (like a Coot). In size, it is slightly larger than the Coot, and only about half the size of the Swamp Hen. So, the main differences between them are (a) size (Swamp Hen clearly the largest); (b) preference for water over land 1 - Coot, 2 - Moor Hen, and coming a bad last - Swamp Hen.

So, of these 3 birds, if it is swimming freely and cheerfully, it is a Coot or a Moor Hen. (Check photo at left). If so, look for a red beak and head shield (Moor Hen), or silvery white, (Coot). Clearly, the bird on the left is a Coot, the other a Moor Hen.

If it is walking about amongst the reeds, it is likely to be, in order, 1 - Swamp Hen, 2 Moor Hen (distinguish them by size) 3 Coot (they do nest in reeds - look for the silver colour of the beak and head shield).

There is another more subtle clue - the shape of the tail and wings. Coots look as if they have rounded backs and their tails are not prominent. They fade off into the water. That "rounded back" look is apparent, even in the photo of the bird on land. The Moor Hen has a prominent, upward-tilted tail and its wings follow that line. So, its tail comes to a point, held high above the water. That is always helpful, in case you find an immature Moor Hen, which has a dark olive green beak, with maybe a touch of red just showing. Look at the wings and tail. It is immediately distinctive between these two species which swim freely. If its tail is pointed diagonally up, at about 30 degrees. and it shows a flash of white underneath, it is a Dusky Moorhen.

Finally, the Swamp Hen is a very active bird, on land. When it runs (as it does very well) it typically flicks its tail, showing a bold "alarm signal" patch of white feathers under its tail. This is totally distinctive. So even if you just get a poor, rear view of a large swamp bird, but it was flicking its tail, then you know it was a Swamp Hen. This particular bird ran away from me (sorry the photo is blurry), but it took with it a juicy piece of grass to chew on, when it was safely distant from me.

Monday, May 29, 2006

On big red beaks

"Purple Swamp Hen"

The other day, Zoe and I took my father out for a drive, and we ended up at the Lake (Lake Burley Griffin). There were a few, very hungry Swamp Hens (Purple Galinules)(Porphyrio porphyrio) around. Dad and I sat in the car, and watched these birds from close quarters, (birdwatching for the aged and the frail), while Zoe got out and took a few photos.

These birds are swamp-edge dwellers, normally, but they have had such a poor season that they have taken to digging up the nearly dry bulbous "crowns" of Kikuyu Grass, to eat. This is on the dry grassed areas surrounding the Lake. Slim pickings, indeed. Normally they pull up moist roots of swamp plants, reeds, etc.

"Swamp Hen Feeding"

They are particularly well adapted to this manner of feeding, with their huge, powerful beaks (with a head-piece extension, which looks like a shield over the top of the head).

They hold the roots they are going to eat, under the foot, held there by the outer toe supporting the root, which is tucked up by the toes being slightly curled to hold it up along the "ankle" of the foot. My description is not good biology, but if you look a the picture, you will get the idea. The root is squeezed between the upper parts of the toes, not "grasped" in the way that a parrot grasps its food. Of course, their extremely long toes are designed primarily for spreading their weight over a large area, as they walk over water weeds, etc. So their feet are not suited to grasping, but are great for spanning a thin bunch of reeds, and floating water plants.

"Eurasian Coot"

Zoe also had a chance to photograph the totally aquatic Eurasian Coot, (Fulica atra) which feeds by diving for water-weeds, which they bring to the surface, then eat, in small portions. On close examination of the photo at left (click for a larger image), you can see that the Coot has lobed toes, not a complete webbed foot (check the left foot), as a Duck has. But they are good swimmers and divers, none-the-less. Of course, their white beaks (with small head shields) are distinctive.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Leo's new Peony Blog

My Peony Pal, Leo, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. That is part of the region known as "The Maritimes", because, compared to the rest of Canada, it has a temperate climate, moderated by the fact that it is virtually an island, really an odd-shaped peninsula, sitting off the south-east corner of Canada. It lies south of the mighty Gulf of St Lawrence. Compared to Australia, of course, it is both wet and cold, with snow on the ground, likely to lie there for weeks on end, if not longer.

Recently Leo has set up a Blog, entitled "Peonies - and the rest". I have created a link to it, in the side bar of my own blog, but I invite you to have a look at Leo's blog a few times over the next few weeks. It is spring time in Nova Scotia now, which means Leo's beloved species Peonies are just coming into flower, so, hopefully there will be a succession of interesting flowers being illustrated there, complete with some of Leo's informative and interesting "chat" about these plants. His plant comments are always well researched.

Despite our climatic differences, the number of plants which we grow in common is quite extensive, so his Blog is likely to be far from being of "academic interest" only

Leo is a true plant enthusiast, so he grows all sorts of unusual species of plants, at el Summit Perennials Nursery Many of them are "Alpine" plants, but he also grows lots of interesting grasses, as well as his beloved Herbaceous Peony species, and Tree Peonies, and the more popular cultivars of Herbaceous Peonies. So, hopefully, there will be a passing parade of new flowers for us to admire over the next few weeks. Just for the record, Leo does not do mail order to Australia, but his web site is full of interest (as well as golf balls - which is explained in a note on the front page).

If Leo has one problem coming up on him, it is that he is a soccer (sorry, "Football") enthusiast, as well as a mad keen cyclist, so Leo has the Tour de France, ahead of him, as well as the World Cup, as well as Peony Season. Its going to be funny watching him try to stretch his loyalties, to take in all the important events, in the next few weeks. One thing though, he does not have his own National Team in the World Cup, unlike we Aussies! (My only Football joke ever, on this Blog, I promise.)

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Nature of Everlasting Memories

When Zoe and I went to the Botanic Gardens yesterday, I was scootering along the Main Path, when Zoe suddenly said: "Oh, look, - Grandma Flowers". And she was right.

We had come to an area where Everlasting Daisies were growing everywhere. My Mother, Zoe's Grandma, was an inveterate collector of dried flowers, for use in dried flower arrangements, and the Everlasting Daisies were her absolute favourites. The Garage was full of unused specimens, the house was full of little wall vases always with a few Everlastings in them.

Zoe remembers staying there on weekends, as a kid, and "helping" Grandma with her flower arrangements, which usually meant Zoe poking holes with her little fingers in the seemingly magic "Oasis" material which flower arrangers use. This stuff has a spongy texture, and, when dry it is nearly weightlessness. Of course, what Zoe didn't understand at the time, was that Oasis has its limits, and after enough poking with little fingers, it crumbles to a messy dust.

Still, Zoe loves these flowers, and to her they will always be "Grandma Flowers". So, they are a kind of Everlasting Memory for her. And I am pleased. My Mother, Nonie Wilson died on 18 March 2006, just a few days short of her 90th birthday. So this blog is for Zoe and for her.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Nature of Clear Air

Just a brief blog to show you how clear the air in Canberra can be.

You will recall that I photographed the Baroomba Rocks, from near Tidbinbilla, a few days ago. I said they were visible from Canberra, on a good day. (well, I think I said that, but I certainly should have done so, if I did not.)

Behold, Thursday was one of those days, with stunningly clear air. With the help of a long lens, you can see what I mean.

The lake in the foreground is the ornamental lake, called Lake Burley Griffin, in the middle of Canberra (well, with bush around it, but it does divide the city). Anyway, in the far distance is the Tidbinbilla Range, which was nearly all burnt out 3 years ago. But against that severe background, may be seen the outcrop of rocks known as Baroomba Rocks. Without getting my maps out, I confidently affirm that these rocks are at least 40 kms away.

Here is a second, slightly more artistic shot, but I wanted the other one too, to give you the wider view.

It is on such days that one can rejoice in Canberra as the Bush Capital. This photo was taken from just below Black Mountain, and across the lake from the Governor-General's Residence.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Nature of Eagles

This photo is here to prove that one cannot always take good photos of eagles, even with a fairly long lens. This bird spotted me, (and they have far, far better eyes than we do, so that is not surprising) and it decided that I was acting suspiciously, so it simply half-closed its wings, and went into a "semi-dive" mode, and drifted across the sky and away from me, at about 35 Km per hour (without even a single flap of its wings), until it felt comfortably distant from me again, a which point it resumed singing the chorus from "Oklahoma" about making "lazy circles in the sky".

For those of you who do not know, this is a Wedge-tailed Eagle, perhaps the Australian bird with the best Latin Name ever: Aquila audax, which means "bold eagle" (not bAld, bOld, as in daring). The word audacious comes from the same origin.

This photo was taken last weekend, on the same day as I went with Zoe to Tidbinbilla. This was taken near Tharwa, in fact at "Lambrigg" which is where William Farrer did his pioneering research into breeding rust-resistent strains of wheat, which led to the development of the Australian Wheat industry. What John Howard and the mob of conservative free-loading privateers have done since, with the AWB, is not his fault, folks.

Miss Eagle is celebrating her ability to soar over the ridges of Upper Ferntree Gully, tomorrow. Have a nice day, Girl. Fly Free.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Nature of Emus

There are no Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) in Robertson, and there are no truly wild Emus in Canberra, but there were Emus there when the first settlers arrived. That fact is documented in a book by my father, Steve Wilson, called "Birds of the ACT - two centuries of change" (published by the Canberra Ornithologists Group).

When Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve was first established, sometime in the 1970s, Emus were re-introduced to the area, to recognise the fact that they were originally in the area. There were occasional reports of wild Emus in the high plains country, very high in the Alps, during the 1980s. Anyway, some of the Emus of the Tidbinbilla area survived the devastating bushfires of January 2003, and are still roaming the sheep paddocks below the main area of the Reserve.

Emus are said to be extremely primitive birds, and along with the Cassowary, Ostriches, Rheas and the diminutive New Zealand Kiwi they are grouped together in a Order of birds called Ratites. All are flightless birds, with coarse feathers. They do not have a deep bone on their sternum where normal birds have their strong wing-beating muscles attached. (- for contrast, have a look at the chest bone of the next Chicken you consume).

From my point of view, I consider that Emus and other Ratites are in fact highly evolved birds, which have abandoned the power of flight. They do have wings, just remnant wings which are totally useless for flight. To me, it makes sense to regard these as obsolescent organs, remnants of formerly useful structures, which they no longer need.

The left wing of this Emu is clearly visible in the photo at left, just in front of the leg. It is hanging down below the line of the body.

Female Emus lay their eggs in autumn and winter, and the male then sits on the eggs, and broods the young, and raises them. This apparent "family group" might be a female (the larger bird) and a male, in the middle with two chicks from two years ago. Alternatively, it might be a male. with three chicks. I cannot tell, but I favour the first explanation, as the middle bird is showing some of the adult blue colouring on its neck. The only problem is that Emus are not sentimental birds, and do not tend to hang around in "family groups". Partly this is explaimed by the need of the female to be able to reproduce by laying large clutches (up to 15 eggs) of huge eggs, which is a great reproductive burden. To do this, she needs to be in peak physical condition.

So the Nature of Emus is something of a mystery.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Nature of Wild Fire and Drought

The edges of Canberra and much of the Snowy Mountains (in both Victoria and New South Wales) were subjected to a huge and devastating Wild Fire in January 2003. For Canberra it was a specific day, January 18th, but the fire had been burning for several weeks in a contained area west of Canberra before then. Then, another branch of the fire spread south, through the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, and burnt up into the Snowy Mountains. At the same time, equally devastating fires were burning similar country in the Victorian Alps.

The foothills of the mountains were planted with Pinus radiata, which were totally destroyed, and hopefully will not be allowed to regrow.

There is a mythology in Australia, that it always rains after a big bushfire. I am here to tell you that it is not true.

After a fire, native trees recover according to their own methods of survival, which have developed according to patterns of evolution, over geological periods of time. Generally Eucalypts experience a total burrning of their oil-filled leaves, during a fire, but new growth occurs from dormant buds under the thick, protective bark of the tree. Generally! The tallest of the wet mountain Eucalypts, the "Mountain Ash", have lost this genetic survival strategy. They tend to die in fires. That is possibly because when a fire takes hold in their territory, of tall timber, and dense forest, the intensity of the fire is such that even the sap-wood of these huge trees is dried out and killed. Anyway, Mountain Ash generally rely on seedling regrowth after the fires.

The news is better for most other Eucalypt trees. They experience a sudden burst of new growth, and the forest quickly greens up again. Normally! This is where the presence of rain is important after a fire. Since the 2003 fires, the entire alpine region has continued in drought, so the burst of regrowth which followed the fires, dried out, and many trees died entirely. Those trees which did survive, have struggled on, severely damaged. And they are still waiting for rain.

The Baroomba Rocks at Tidbinbilla are a small cluster of huge granite boulders, each several times the size of a normal house. Big rocks, or a small mountain, you decide.

The thing is how bare they are now. These rocks are clearly visible from Canberra, some 40 Km away. The main reason is how bald they now are. There were forest trees all around them, and the rocks were moss-covered. Now the trees are barely alive, and the rock faces are bare. So, from Canberra, these rocks stand out as a pyramid shaped mountain, in front of the much larger Tidbinbilla Range in the background.

These rocks bear tribute to the need for rain in South-east Australia.

Today 62 % of NSW is declared in drought condition. And this very week, the Federal Government, (and I am ashamed to say - the NSW Government is supporting this idea) is proposing to sell the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme to private interests. God help this country run by Free Market Idealogues. One day we will remember that there is such a thing as an over-riding National Interest.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Nature of Patience

How can I complain if the Outreach Nurse doesn't arrive to take my blood samples till 11:30am? Well, I might feel like complaining that I have lost half the day. But what if the nurse on whom I was waiting, was busy helping someone who desperately needed admission to the Oncology Ward?

It makes my complains seem trivial, doesn't it?

I am still awaiting being released from the "system", and getting edgier and edgier. But Tough, Denis!

Here is a photo of a Bottlebrush - Callistemon sp. (species unrecorded by me) which I took at the Botanic Gardens (ANBG) in Canberra, several weeks ago. Leo told me that it is one of the few Australian flowers which he wished he could grow, but in wet, cold and soggy, Nova Scotia. that is a bit of an ask. My advice to him was that he ought concentrate on the wonderful plants he can grow there (as per my postings of several days ago). But such is the Nature of Gardeners, we strive to grow things which are beyond what is reasonable to try and grow in our own patches. Fortunately, for most Australian blog-readers, Callistemons are amongst the easiest of Australian plants to grow, and as the photo shows, some of the showiest.

This photo has served to cheer me up, you might be pleased to learn.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Nature of Kangaroos

Here are a few quiet "family" shots of some Eastern Grey Kangaroos (Macropus giganteus). I am posting these today because Zoe took the photos on the weekend, and because Anni wrote about a large "mob" of Kangaroos in her blog yesterday.

Anni wondered what they do all day. In a word, they rest. Most of the "mob" will be females, and all the mature ones will all be pregnant, or carrying a "Joey", or have a "Joey" at foot, as in the second photo. Some may be in all three stages of motherhood at once.

The other thing about such a "mob" of Kangaroos is that they feed in the early evening and early morning, when the grass is most likely to have some dew on it, allowing them to drink and feed at the same time. During the day, the "mob" usually rest under a stand of trees, where they can get some shelter from the sun.

Zoe was quite pleased to get a photo of the male taking his weight on his tail, just about to propel himself across the ground at ultra-slow speed, using the tail as a "prop" while sliding his huge back feet forward.

She was even more pleased to get a photo of a grown Joey having a bit off a feed from Mum, even though she is nearly as large as Mum is.

CSIRO biologists have studied the amazing fertility of Kangaroos, and one fact they have discovered is that the female (a "doe") can simultaneously produce milk at different stages (from different teats) to suit the developmental needs of an "independent" Joey, like this one, and a smaller one which is almost certainly a permament resident of the pouch.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Beyond the Usual

My long-term email friend, Leo, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. Not only is it a long way from Australia, it is also a long way from most of the rest of Canada. I sense that Leo is happy enough with this last part of the story.

Recently, I had cause to warn Leo of the imminent arrival in Canada of our Leader. You see, since the recent election in that Country, rabid-right wing "Leaders" have been lining up to recognise the new Leader over there - Mr Stephen Harper, the recently elected (minority) Prime Minister in Canada. A Head of State visit to Canada has not been on Mr Howard's agenda in the last 10 years.

I have warned Leo to not drink the water in the next few days, if Howard's flight path from Ottawa to Ireland should take him anywhere close to Nova Scotia. Best of luck, Leo, surviving the media onslaught which might (possibly) be associatied with our Leader's "FuhrerFest" in Ottawa. I am sure he will be bringing a special message from The Shrub to Mr Harper, and the oil-based consortium who are his cronies in Government. It is intriguing that this particular "cronie" has offered to work for only Ca$1:00 per year - supposedly to demonstrate how "honest" he is. To me, it almost self-evident proof of the contrary.

If you think this is a laughing matter, have a look at Miss Eagle's post of 17 May: Incorrect labelling? Not a Product of Australia? It is a perfect example of how the Oleo-Political Cartel view smaller, complacent, compliant members of the "Co-alition of the Willing".


My pal, Leo, runs a small(ish) and very individual nursery in far, far, away Nova Scotia, Canada. It is known as el Summit Perennials, and his slogan is "Beyond the Usual". Leo has recently sent me several photos of rare plants which he has recently flowered, and of which he is justifiably proud. I hope he does not mind me sharing them with my small but dedicated band of Australian-based bloggers (and Leo himself).

The first is a bluish/mauve coloured Glaucidium. (Glaucidium palmatum). It is vaguely related to the Paeonia genus, but has distinctive leaves, and flowers with four petals (whereas species Peonies generally have five or six petals). Leo describes it as a , a woodlander from Japan with peony-like flowers and maple-like leaves". Leo, living in Nova Scotia, can grow such delicate plants as "woodlanders from Japan", whereas in our climate, (even the normally wet and soggy Robertson), it is most-likely these delicate leaves would shrivel-up in a single day of hot north-westerly winds. Still, I can enjoy the delicate flowers in digital format.

I also take this opportunity to share this beauty with you (Paeonia tomentosa). Leo says he mistook it (at first) for another nearly-unpronounceable Russian species (P. mlokosewitschii) (synonym P. wittmaniana ssp wittmaniana). Leaves fuzzy on back, but pointy and greener than mloko. Both these plants (or all three, if you like to collect "names" are woodland plants, as I understand it, but P. tomentosa comes from the Causcasus Mountains (but without my reference books here, please don't quote me).

Leo has done well to get this plant to flower after four years of waiting from seed. Leo is more patient and careful of his seedlings than I am, I confess. Mine tend to get buried in weeds. I promise to be more careful in future. Especially when one sees such rewards.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Nature of Leadership

Australia is swaying about like a rudderless dingy. A ship of state adrift without a Leader.

Surely not? We have a Prime Minister, John Howard who is strutting the world stage, transplanting seedlings in America. And yet, when the question of his Leadership arises (yet again), he platitudinises that he will stay the Leader as long as his Party wants him.

That pathetic statement has the same logical structure as the oft-attributed joke by the Cartoonists: "I am the leader of my people - I will follow them anywhere".

I am reminded of the parallel in Nature with the male of the species of the Australian Wood Duck. This bird is also known by the title "Maned Goose". It is famous for its posturing, when it senses a threat (real or imagined). And yet, if a family group of adults and ducklings is approached by a real threat - a dog or a person - the female will actually hiss and even bite the attacker, while the male hides.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Nature of Freedom

I am learning that Freedom is beautiful, but transient. This makes it a metaphor for life itself, I guess.

I was released from Hospital several days ago, but yesterday afternoon saw me strapped to a bed there, again, undergoing a 5th round of "platelets" transfusion. I was not very thrilled with that idea, even if it is potentially life-saving treatment. Does that make me ungrateful? Probably not, merely human.

I am so weak, that even walking about 60 metres from the car to the front door, made me puffed, yesterday. I confess that I managed 200 metres on flat ground today, and sat for a while, then managed the same distance back again. Progress - of a kind. For someone who likes to take regular exercise - one might say, take it for granted - this is really quite shocking.

My white cell count is rocketing up the charts, which is good. It needs to increase just a bit, and then hold it for two consecutive days, then my white cell count will be good enough to quit the "blood doping" GCSF medication. When that happens, my platelet count should then start to regularise itself (as the blood doping stuff fights the platelets, apparently).

Here are two photos which Zoe took today, at the end of our 200 metre stroll today - am optimistic male Black Swan (a Cob) which came up looking for a feed.

When it was denied a free feed, it took out a bit of Swan Rage on a female of the species. Testosterone fury is universal, I am afraid, Ladies.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Kangaloon Aquifer. What is happening?

Before we get political, here's a medical update.

Dad is now on day 10 after "stem cell" re implantation. He has had a few days of feeling low, but not desperately ill.
However, the blood count stats have now turned the corner. White cells were at zero, but are now statistically meaningful: 0.1;0.2;0.4;0.5.
So he thinks it safe to proclaim himself the "come-back kid.
One main side effect... His grey and white hair (now only stubble, as he cut his hair before treatment started) keeps falling out. Being the proud owner of a Minature Schnauzer, this means that he and the lovely Lena will not be winning any Dog/Owner look alike competitions in the near future. Tragic!
xxx Zoe.

The Kangaloon Aquifer. What is happening?

Regular readers will know of my concern about the proposal by Mr Iemma to pump dry the Kangaloon Aquifer.
Peta Seaton M.L.A convened a well attended public meeting in Robertson. A consultative group was to be set up.
Unfortunately, I have been out of contact recently. But my local friends have been keeping thier eyes and ears open. They seem to have heard little or nothing. <p>

I fear that Peta Seaton is sitting on the issue, hoping to use it against the Iemma government, in next year's election. That would be understandable. However, it is a risky strategy. <p>

Given the physical simplicity of drilling a few more bores (in addition to the "test" bores already drilled), connecting a pump to each bore, and a length of pipe from each bore to the nearest creek - draining the aquifer could easily begin long before the election. <p>

This issue is too serious to be subsumed beneath political convenience (or advantage) for individual local members.

A) If pumping commences, I will blame Matt Brown M.L.A, member for Kiama (ALP) for choosing loyalty to Government over concern for the environment.

B) But I shill also blame Peta Seaton M.L.A for sitting on her hands while work proceeded under her nose.

C) that would be a lose: lose: lose scenario.
Matt Brown might lose his seat.
Peta Seaton will not lose her seat, but will lose any credibility she might have on environmental issues.
But the environment will be the biggest loser.


I accept responsibility for political content of this blog entry.
Denis Wilson,
Robertson NSW.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"Relay for Life"

The "Relay for life" event in the Southern Highlands got off to a great start this morning.

I rang John Hughes, to wish his "Team Merlot Therapy" all the best. I got passed around to lots of members of team, Greg, Leanne, and Matt amongst them. All CTC people, and good Robertsonians.

I then rang Harriet Goodall to congratulate her on the great roll-up of people.
And yes, Harriet, put me down for next year.

The "Juicy Mountain" band are going a gig there today - a first for the boys - playing while the sun is shining. But I'm sure they'll shine too!

Zoe Here.
I just wanted to send a shout out to everyone involved in Relay for Life. What an amazing effort (especially you Harriet!). I wish I was there with you.
Walk hard guys!

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Nature of Delirium

Dad wrote this yesterday.... xZ.

How particular is our blood? Mine is very fussy about whose blood it will share it's veins with.
Yesterday I recieved a bag of platelets (clotting agents). As soon as they hooked me up, my body went into shock. My temperature spiked up to 39.9 degrees Celsius.
My body went into rigor - with a combination of teeth-chattering shivers, locked jaw, and shallow gaspy breathing.
My mind went delirious. Four hours later I regained consciousness.
Had I fainted? Where did that truck come from? (The one which seemed had run me over).
Obviously during this process the nurses were flat out, dropping my temperature, calming the spasms. Shame I do not remember it, really, just the statistical record, and the hung-over feeling of having missed a significant "life event".

Today my platelets count was still dangerously low, and another transfusion was ordered. This time, however, I was pre-dosed with an anti-histamine "Phanergan". No problems at all.

Our bodies are amazingly sensitive. We ought continuously be in awe and wonder of them. I am learning to love my body, from a new perspective.

4th May 2006

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Catholics and condoms"

Hi Everyone.
Dad has given me the next instalment to pass on. He wrote this yesterday (Tuesday). He had a reasonable day, so much so that he spent the day being angry about a radio program he heard on the weekend (see below).
He had a bad night last night though, they ended up sedating him. And we've just found out that he has developed Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in his left arm where he has had a Pick-Line in for the last two weeks. The doctors don't seem terribly worried (not very reassuring), but they are going to relocate the Pick-Line soon. I will keep you posted. From Zoe.

Last sunday evening, Jon Cleary's religious chat show (ABC local radio 10pm - 1am) discussed Catholics and condoms. What a futile discussion it turned out to be.
Instead of debating the realities of the Aids epidemic, especially in Africa, we were subjected to the naive opinions of "nice middle-class catholic women". One lady in particular, kept repeating that if one partner had a disease, then in the context of loving marriage, it is not unreasonable to expect "abstinence", untill the condition is cured.
Hello? in the context of her life, ok, but....

Jon gently interposed that while there are treatments for Aids, there is as yet no cure.
Reality check - please.

There is no cure for Aids. If there is one developed, the poorest people in the world will not be able to afford it.

Aids is being observed, monitored by the west from a distance. It is actually helping to suppress a population explosion amongst the worlds poorest people. This suits the wealthy nations and the world bank, I.M.F, etc.

In Africa, neither the Christian nor Muslim religious authorities feel comfortable discussing sexual relations. Part of the reason is the status of women, is generally so low that "a man's right" (to have to sex) with whom. and in whatever manner he chooses is beyond questioning.

Condoms? Consensual sex? Abstinence? Aids? Last sunday nights discussion did not even scratch the surface of the topic. Education for women is surely the starting point.