Monday, 29 June 2020

Are we there yet?

Now that restrictions on social interaction are gradually easing there’s a real risk that people will go a bit crazy trying to make up for the months of isolation. A month or so more is not such a long time to invest for the future and then ….. whacko!  Be patient, please!

...... I said that a couple of weeks ago and look what's happened, Slowly slowly it will dawn on people that this is not happening somewhere else - it's right here and the few impatient, thoughtless  people are causing major disruption for the majority. What don't people get?

In an age and country where immunisations/vaccinations are the common thing, we have forgotten about epidemics that have laid us low in the past. Between the 1930s and 1950s around 2000 people died in Australia as a result of successive polio epidemics and more than 40,000 were paralysed – and that was before travel as we know it today. Imagine what that number would be today without vaccines for things like polio.  Like COVID-19, polio was highly infectious often presenting with fever and flu-like symptoms and there is no cure. The governments of the day recommended that people avoid others, wash their hands frequently, stop shaking hands or touching each other. Schools, beaches, swimming pools, shops, cinemas, and churches were closed for months on end. Sound familiar?The effects of those epidemics still reverberate for many people who contracted the disease back then. 

Mankind has been plagued by infectious, deadly diseases dating back most likely before recorded history. Even deceptively simple things like fungal plant parasites are not all beneficial (most are I am pleased to say and absolutely essential to the plant world) but in modern 1st world countries like ours these are mostly controlled. But there is one, Ergot, which, for people who eat grains infected with the parasite, can lead to gangrene, psychotic delusions and convulsions. In the Middle Ages there was one such epidemic in Europe which killed over 40,000 people  – St Anthony's Fire (the beastie the precursor to LSD?!).  On the whole however fungi are gems – think penicillin, truffles and more.

I’m just saying …. be careful please!

Forced to stop!

A block of time and unable to go anywhere - what perfect time to get travel-ready for future adventures! 

I've been walking up and down the carpark - that's 5 levels! On the way I lost 5 kg but sadly found one of them. Not to be daunted I'm still working on it for a whole lot of reasons. Primarily because I have to for my health but importantly I need to be fit enough to do some serious walking next year. Yes, give the girl some dream time and it's dangerous - exciting, fanciful travel plans start materialising. Where to this time?  Well this year we're heading off in the caravan for an extended expedition through remote parts of Oz that will take us from digging for opalised fossils in Lightning Ridge, NSW to hopefully WA to do bird and marine mammal surveys - perhaps even swimming with humpback whales! And we will be travelling the roads less traveled including the Great Central road through the ?? the centre. But looming as an almighty challenge is April next year when we're booked to do a six-day central desert survey trekking, i.e. walking! through the Simpson Desert with camels. Did I mention needing to get fit - this might just be the straw that broke the camels back, no pun intended!

In the meantime .....

Local history - a snap shot!

Wandering around our immediate neighbourhood is a trip through history - old and new. Strolling along leafy walks by the river to cross Princes bridge into the CBD, down Flinders street and back across Queens Bridge and home. A great circuit. 

With its iconic ornate lights atop the City of Melbourne’s coat of arms emblazoned with Vires Acquirit Eundo - ‘We gather strength as we go' (Virgil), Princes Bridge was completed in 1888. It was built on the site of one of the oldest river crossings in the city. 

City Hatters began trading as a hat shop, beneath the clocks at Flinders Street station in 1910.  Originally it was the Station Master’s office when Flinders Street station was built (finished in 1909).

Hearn’s Hobbies - another Melbourne landmark.  Shortly after WWII, it was opened by the Hearns brothers—three pilots. They starting out with a small collection of model kits and a dream to share their passion with others. 

This old building at the bottom of what was once the old, granite-paved milk ramp, was the mid city newsagent and dabbled in all sorts of things. At one time the  ‘Liberated bookstore’ (self explanatory!) but more recently it did watch and shoe repairs. Now rather sadly it’s boarded up.

‘Banana Alley vaults’ - the name stems from bananas being stored and ripened here before being sold. First occupied in 1893, the vaults were originally used by produce agents and fruiterers to store their goods before market, off loaded presumable at what was then Queens Wharf. That wharf became inaccessible when Spencer Street Bridge was built in 1930. Now they house an assortment of clients - Martial arts, coffee shop, hairdresser, gym, the infamous Subway ‘sauna’.

And always the flowers draw my eye

This morning there was the added delight of raindrops balanced or suspended, encrusting leaf, petal and more with glittering rhinestones. Zoom in for nature’s fascinating artwork. Reality is seems water soluble - we were damp!

Strolling around the neighbourhood - a time of discovery

We did venture away from the mothership a few times to roam. From cityscapes to ‘bush’ of Westgate Park (even if it is man made mostly). It has an intersting history, but to flowers and fungi and raindrops. 

We went walking in the Park a month or so ago and had a wonderful time finding so many lovely things.  It was my first proper venture outside since iso. I’ve broken the pix into 2 groups because there were too many and I loved them all. I'll leave you to browse. 

A time to slow down ....

While we have been languishing in isolation etc, like the kids I have also been doing some home schooling.  Apart from fungi and microbes, this particular afternoon it was more biology 101.  I saw a ‘bee’ hovering over our flowers and thought that it might have been a native bee - I have been trying to attract them with safe places to nest etc. This one didn’t look like a honey bee, but I discovered that it was a Hoverfly. It was hovering! Bees hover also but there are differences between bees and flies that make them easier to separate - if you can get close enough! I put a pic of both a honey bee and a hoverfly below to show you.

Other differences are that hoverflies don’t collect pollen to feed their young but they can be useful flower pollinators and help control things like aphids in the garden. Please come visit my garden - all of you!

And well we might potter in our garden, the UN General Assembly declared 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). The dedicated year is a good opportunity to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development etc. Would that I had the skills - and we were home long enough in a stretch! to start a wee urban farm with a bee hive but .....

This is a Hoverfly. They have huge round eyes whereas the bees’ are more slit-like And Hoverflies have short antennae but their 2 wings are longer than their bodies. 

You can’t see the bee’s eyes because he has his head buried in the flower so you’ll just have to trust me. But you can see that his wings (they have 4) are shorter than his body. 

Bees have very furry bodies but the Hoverflies are smoother except just look at that little ruff of hairs around it’s neck. 

Bees hover too but don’t be fooled. 

Fungi and other wonders of nature

The gentle,and not so gentle, autumn rain brought the fungi to fruit - and that sent me to find one of my old biology books and I have been relearning about prokaryotes and eukaryotes, bacteria and viruses. I know - weird, but it's been fascinating. Right now I'm reading about the emergence of plants.  But to fungi ...

We've joined a couple of online workshops to learn a bit more and I've been poking about in our wee garden where I found fungi! The explosion of growth also sent me out creeping through the damp undergrowth in Westgate Park.  And I saw two fungi I had never seen before; they're quite stunning - the Red Cage and delightful Earth Star. I'll post some pix for you to browse ...... 

While we are focussed on the micro world, do you know about our microbiome? No, don’t go away, this is interesting really and its actually positive which is a refreshing change. Here’s another rivetting episode in the 'did you know' series! 

So .... the human body is made up of an estimated 37 trillion cells – skin, liver, brain, gut etc etc. But the microbes – micro-organism such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi – living in and on our bodies are thought to outnumber that at ~100 trillion! But relax they are beneficial, many are essential to our survival doing things are bodies can’t.  Our micro-biome - all those little guys - is an enormous invisible ecosystem that acts like a giant ‘shadow’ organ helping us to digest plant matter, make vitamins, regulate our immune system, form new blood cells, modulate brain signals and so on and on. Hmmm and you thought you did all that yourself!  Some leading scientists argue that animals (us) and plants are not autonomous entries but holobionts. Dynamic biomolecular networks of many different tiny species working in a symbiotic relationship for mutual benefit - a discrete ecological unit.  Even some corals in the Great Barrier Reef are dependent on fungi for their survival and certain species of orchids cannot reproduce without fungi. That puts a new complexion on evolution - today’s good news story.