Dramatis persona*

helenhead Helen Chick

I've always wanted a bumper sticker that said "I'm a female, LDS/Mormon, Scout leading, geocaching, piano-playing, bicycling, mathematics educator with a PhD in maths ... and I VOTE"!

I think this makes me a minority group of cardinality 1!

* Since there's only one of me and "personae" is plural (I think), I've gone with dramatis persona.
November 2018
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Telegraph poles

I took a couple of friends for a drive up to the east coast and spotted these telegraph poles on a road near Triabunna. The sky was very atmospheric and there’s something stark and both lonely and connecting about telegraph poles in the country. It’s too late at night to try to find the right words to describe what I mean; but maybe the images capture some of that essence. (Yes, they have been “post-processed”.)

Easter Corroboree

Every three years there is a statewide Easter Scout camp, attended by around 250 kids and sundry leaders and parents. It’s meant to be like a mini-Jamboree, with lots of activities.

Our district (about five different troops) decided to work together in one big sub-camp, which made life a lot easier for me as I didn’t have to worry about catering very much at all (which, given the past month, was a wonderful thing). I was feeling fit enough to be a bit more active helping with the set up, though, and since one of the other leaders in the district is in charge of the Jamboree gear we could set up a huge dining and kitchen area.

The first afternoon of activities involved varying levels of wetness for our kids, with water slides and water skirmish, and fortunately it was a warm and sunny day.

The red sunrise the next morning presaged some rather more ordinary weather, but the worst of it actually held off for most of the day.

This meant that our kids could do a few activities in the morning, including orienteering (the base I ran for most of the weekend) and cooking, before I joined them for some games of laser skirmish (releasing my inner commando … while trying to suppress my natural enthusiasm for such “wide games” so as not overdo it too much since I am still recovering from surgery!).

In the afternoon there were more activities, including abseiling, but just as dinner was getting ready the weather deteriorated with some interesting mist effects and steady drizzle that continued into the night.

I had feared that the damp weather would mean that we’d have wet tents to pack up, but the final morning — while our kids were doing boating activities — was windy and dry enough that we had the luxury — when the kids returned — of being able to pack up completely without having to worry about drying things out back at the hall. Yay!

Hole in the ground, and revisiting waterfalls

When Dad and I did our New Year’s Day trip to a hidden waterfall on Mt Wellington we came across an unusual geological feature. He got in touch with some retired geologists and organised a return visit to see if we could find out more about it. I was curious and, knowing that I had a nose for detecting the faint track’s route, I tagged along (and led the way).

We found the feature: a 2m deep hole in the ground (which may actually be deeper), but which extends horizontally for a larger but difficult-to-determine distance. The geologists’ expert opinion is that it is a consequence of a small fault or slippage, and they were intrigued by it.

There were some other interesting bits of nature to see, and we revisited the hidden waterfall as well as another better known fall (I only had my little camera and no tripod, so I was limited to hand-held short time-exposures).

Although it wasn’t a particularly long or hard walk, my recent surgery has taken a toll on my fitness levels, so I was glad that the pace of my somewhat older companions (including my sprightly but octogenarian Dad) was not too brisk. It was certainly nice to get back out into the bush air, with its aromas of moist humus and the sound of bird song.

12 of 12, March 2018

As promised a year ago, the 12 of 12 for March this year fell on the final day of the annual Scout regatta. It’s an in-tents occasion.

I was under strict instructions not to do anything more strenuous than pressing camera shutter buttons. As a consequence, this is everyone else getting the very heavy George Bass launched so that we could have a second under 15 team competing in the 500m rowing sprint.

I then ambled along the beach to be in prime cheering position (and also in a good position to take a photo of the Monday morning busy-ness of the beach; there are multiple events for different age-groups and water craft running simultaneously).

Way off in the distance — brought closer by a 40x zoom lens — the under 15 rowing sprint got underway. That’s our lighter boat, La Perouse — on the right, with everyone hoping that this time they would manage to hang onto the oars (they lost an oar in yesterday’s long distance event, but still managed to win with only five active rowers).

It’s a bit of a tradition and joke that the kids can hear my encouraging yells of “Go, La Pero-ouse” even when they are so far off-shore; but I don’t really think I’m solely responsible for the fact that they are well out in front.

And they won (and kept all six oars this time).

Despite its heaviness and younger crew, George Bass was not disgraced in the event; and both boats were welcomed ashore with cheers (and, yes, there are lifejackets on board for all rowers).

The strict instructions I’d been given to avoid strenuousness (apart from taking photos and cheering), meant that pack-up time involved figuring out how to give clear instructions to the parents who came down to help, and how to resist the temptation to pick up stray tent pegs (okay, I admit I might have failed once or twice on that … but only once or twice, and only tent pegs … and that is truly remarkable for me).

The kids and a couple of adults manhandled Griffin back up off the beach; my job was to make sure we remembered to collect all our boats and accoutrements.

At closing parade we received some trophies; a couple of which we’d won in the past but also a new one which we’d never won before, for our under 15 girls rowing crew (and some of the girls in the team were quite young). 

And here we (nearly) all are at the end of the event (a few kids had already left). Jake decided to make a belated but dramatic entrance.

But the day didn’t end there, because things had to be taken back to the hall and unloaded. My non-strenuous contribution consisted of pointing to where things needed to be put away. 

Creative acts of kindness

People have been wonderfully supportive to me lately, in lots of different ways. I just wanted to share a few special acts of kindness (but in highlighting these particular things I don’t want to neglect or fail to acknowledge and express my gratitude for all sorts of other kindnesses that I haven’t documented here, from hugs to messages to useful advice to flowers and so on, all of which have been appreciated hugely).

My work colleagues put together a “recovery” box with a thoughtful collection of things which will be useful, yummy, entertaining, diverting, or educational, and which were finely matched to my needs and my somewhat quirky interests (or which will extend them, which is also a good thing).

One of my dear friends gave me a big pot and colourful plant for my deck, with the colour of the flowers reflecting a blend of her own favourite colour and the pink of the breast cancer networks/support agencies.

My brother, Colin, and his family all contributed a panel each to this fantastic quilt for when I’m recovering (yes, all six kids — from the 11-year-old triplets up to the adult nephew — sewed a television square, plus Colin did one, and Wendy did two … and it came with a card to show who did which coloured panel). It’s a wonderful labour of love.

[Update from later in March]: And my Mum capitalised on my love of penguins and her own knitting skills to come up with a pink breast cancer penguin.


Keeping calm and dealing with it

When I was part of the leadership team for the women’s group at Church we’d sometimes discuss what we’d do if a problem should arise, and apparently I’d frequently say “we’ll deal with it”, which a friend later “memed” for me as in the picture below.

Most of my friends will now know about the following, but I have decided to include something about it in my blog for some sense of completeness (this blog doesn’t record everything in my life, but it does keep track of a few significant things, and it would feel strange to me to leave this out). So, the last few weeks have involved some disconcerting news and events, culminating in a diagnosis of early breast cancer (thank goodness for screening programs). I started finding out about this at the end of January; by mid-late February — which is when I posted the news to Facebook, and which is when I have placed this post in my blog — I was starting to have some idea of what might happen as a consequence. You now know why the Scouts’ Cape Pillar hike was planned and conducted with unusual haste.

My intention is to deal with this unexpected situation as calmly as possible, but with the occasional bit of humour thrown in. The good thing about early detection is that the prognosis is likely to be good, and treatments are so much better these days. So, I’m facing some serious surgery next week and some yet-to-be-determined treatment afterwards, and I’ve given up my plans to become a Dolly Parton impersonator (the lack of blonde hair was a notable problem). I’m feeling optimistic and sanguine about things, although this was not on my original agenda for the year, and so far I’ve had lots of wonderful support from family and friends. One step at a time; keeping calm and dealing with it.

Cape Pillar revisited and 12 of 12, February 2018

Due to an unexpected twist in my life (which may get explained here when I have decided how I want to do it), a Scout hike that had been a bit up in the air very suddenly had to become real for southern Tasmania’s February long weekend. A frantic planning meeting was held with the two Scouts responsible for organising the trip, and the documentation was submitted and approved in record time.

The Scouts planned to visit Cape Pillar, but the track and campsites had changed since my last visit, necessitating a shorter first day (with hardly any photos), a very long but lightly loaded second day (captured in a few photos), and a new outbound route on the third day which coincided with the 12th of February (and thus is represented here with 12 photos).

Day 1 was just a pretty stroll in very warm conditions while carrying a big pack, concluding with an unexpectedly long and very steep 1km downhill off the main track to our campsite. Miraculously, I then managed probably my best night’s sleep in months, and probably the best ever slumber on the “first night of camp” ever (I find it notoriously difficult to sleep well on first nights). On the morning of day 2, we left our camp set up and took only the essentials for a big 20km day walk out to the end of Cape Pillar.

It was a very windy and overcast day but the views were still amazing.

We weren’t sure if it would be safe enough to go out onto “The Blade” (the highest point of the distant narrow ridge in the photo below); the wind was hitting the cliffs below us and channeling up over the top with such force that when one of the kids tossed a pebble over the edge into the wind it just slowly wobble-fell, like an open sheet of paper.

We met a few “hut walkers” (people doing the Three Capes Track but staying in fancy-schmancy huts (I say, with the superior air of one who carried tent, stove, and sleep-mat)), and they reassured us that the wind was not too bad out on The Blade. So, with caution, we proceeded to the summit to enjoy its airy views.

On our return journey we were starting to feel a bit footsore, as the track has been “hardened” to cope with the greater number of tourists and includes what, at 2km, must be one of Tasmania’s longest board walks, amusingly decorated with a stone snake’s tail at its start and a stone snake’s head at the other end. We also saw an echidna, blithely foraging for ants on the side of the path. We were glad to get back to camp, rest our weary feet and have some dinner.

Day 3, the 12th, dawned sunnily through the trees. The first photo below shows my tent pitched on the wooden camping platforms that reduce the impact on the environment, while the second shows my trusty 30-year-old Trangia, complete with its original yellow plastic accessories bag (which has disintegrated enough that I am probably justified in throwing it out).

Having packed up we set off, and some 500m later finally reached the actual Wugharee Falls for which the campsite is named. The lack of water flow is rather evident here, as it had also been back at camp, where the creek—though trickling enough that we were confident enough to drink the water—wasn’t full enough to make a continuous above-ground flow.

From here the track winds up through a lovely mix of gum/eucalyptus trees and cutting grass. This particular part of the track tends to be used only by the camping walkers, and so is a softer-on-the-feet narrow winding path that is sometimes almost invisible in the landscape. In the second photo below you may be able to see the orange arrow of a track-marker, with the track a gentle indentation winding up to it in the foreground.

Eventually the track climbs very steeply through some leech-ridden rainforest, before rejoining the main track on the upper slopes of Mt Fortescue. I had anticipated that Mt Fortescue was going to provide an unpleasant experience—a long steady uphill—but what I hadn’t expected was how beautiful the bush would be. I hadn’t realised that there was such a big and beautiful tract of genuine temperate rainforest at this location.

At the summit of Mt Fortescue and as we descended again there were great views back down to Cape Pillar …

… and north to Cape Hauy and Hippolyte Rock.

The kids decided not to head out to Cape Hauy; they were already heading towards the 40km mark all up and, despite the incoming cloud, they were more enthusiastic about the idea of finishing up with a swim at Fortescue Bay.

Of course, it was slightly colder than they anticipated, but I can assure you, from experience, that once you got in it was really very refreshing and a nice way to finish the trip.

Note: Although the photos suggest that the Scouts were with us, they did most of the walk on their own and looked after themselves, with myself and the other adult (one of the parents) catching up with them from time to time. The only time we were together for any extended time was at the end of Cape Pillar and on The Blade where some extra supervision near the massive cliffs was just a sensible precaution.

Adamsons Falls

A different niece; a different destination.

The Australia Day holiday gave me an opportunity for a day walk with my eldest well-and-truly adult niece. We’d originally thought about climbing Adamsons Peak (apostrophe in “Adamsons” not included due to official nomenclature board policy), but timing, weather and some other factors, such as a strong disdain for extended upwardnesses, meant that we/I changed our minds and we went to Adamsons Falls instead, where there were upwardnesses, but not of the extended type.

The early part of the track appears to follow an old logging haulage way: it is wide, gently sloping, and bordered by massive tree-stumps with the tell-tale traditional loggers’ notches where they’d embed planks to make a platform for sawing from (photographs unhelpfully not included, sorry). There were also a couple of massive fallen trees, with exposed and rotted root systems that were abstract and gothic (photographs helpfully included, so you can see what I mean by “abstract and gothic”).

The track then climbs gradually and then more steeply and awkwardly, passing just about all of my favourite rainforest species: celery top pines, mosses, lichens, blechnum ferns, leatherwood, and sassafras, with its characteristic sarsaparilla aroma (aroma not included here due to technical difficulties, and I didn’t include a photo either … so have a cute tree stump instead).

Eventually we reached the gully where we could hear tell-tale sounds of a waterfall, and, after some more awkward and slightly precarious scrambling, we arrived at the main level of the falls … to discover that the “tell-tale sounds” had rather exaggerated the amount of water actually tumbling down the face of the 50m high cliff (“tell-tale sounds” and actual water also not included here, the latter in the interests of keeping your keyboard dry).

For the geologists out there, note that the top of the falls appear to be sandstone (with fossils, judging from rocks at the base), with Tasmania’s famous Jurassic dolerite dyke comprising the lower half of the falls (no, rock samples have not been included here; don’t be ridiculous).

There is a pool at the bottom of the main drop, and we had lunch here (lunch not included, as we ate it all), before exploring and taking a few photos and time exposures.

From the main drop, another series of cascades continue downwards, and I took a few more photos (which turned out not quite so well as I had hoped, but I have included them anyway since I have failed to include so many other things).

While we were at the falls, a breeze came up and blew through the leatherwood trees, causing them to drop the petals from their flowers in a gentle snow-like shower. The white petals drifted in the amphitheatre of the falls, and fell on the ground and in the pools like a natural confetti (too much description included in the absence of any movie footage of the phenomena). It was quite beautiful.

And on the way back, this lizard stayed still enough for a photo … only I didn’t and so he is slightly blurry. Sorry. Apology included.

It was a very enjoyable trip, with our time at the falls being very peaceful. Although the water flow was disappointing, I suspect if there had been more water the track might have been more slippery. On my last visit, over 30 years ago, it was very muddy indeed (a representative sample of mud from that time has not been included, because keeping mud this long would be totally weird).


A niece’s first overnight hike

The summer holidays seemed like a good time to introduce my 14-year-old niece, B, to overnight hiking. There’s an ideal spot down on the Tasman Peninsula which we sometimes use with Scouts: great scenery, mostly level track with enough hilly bits to help you learn to cope with them, not too long, and with fresh water at the camping site. Thus it was that the invitation was issued and we set off from Fortescue Bay to head around the coastline to Bivouac Bay.

After walking the length of the beach and around a headland — with B starting to learn what it means to carry a loaded backpack — we dropped into Canoe Bay where we stopped for lunch. Here we had great views of Cape Hauy and the impressive dolerite rock stacks and cliffs that make it so famous.

After we’d had lunch we explored the shore, and I made a little rock cairn. I’ve seen photos of other people’s precariously balanced stone structures, and decided to try for one that was a little top-heavy without being too ambitious.

Having had a good break, we then made our way around the sheltered bay, watching the vegetation change as we passed through the damper shady forest and into the more open, dry forest as we headed up and over the final hill, stopping for a rest or two along the way.

Around mid-afternoon — and after encountering three one-metre-long snakes along the way (as eager to get out of our way as we were to avoid them) — we arrived at Bivouac Bay, with its sheltered campsite (which I failed to photograph) and its narrow rocky bay. Some recent marine and/or weather circumstances meant that a whole bunch of big platter-sized jelly-mould jellyfish had washed up on the rocks, which was rather interesting.

It was nice to cool our feet, and watch a small flock of seagulls come in close to us for a bathing frenzy, dipping their whole bodies from side to side in an enthusiastic quest for cleanliness.

After exploring the beach, we returned to the campsite just back from the shore to set up the tent, only to find that a pair of cunning crows (well, ravens, technically, I believe) had opened the zip at the top of B’s pack, and broken into some of her supplies. Fortunately we arrived before too much damage was done, and nothing was lost. I’ve experienced thieving possums and birdlife before in other places, but hadn’t realised there were criminal animals (crinimal aminals?) at this particular location. [Actually, that’s not entirely true. Over 30 years ago, on a trip with a long-time friend, some possums stole a wooden spoon that we’d left out. We never did find it.]

Before dinner we left our gear (safely hidden from cunning crows), and headed further along the track and up onto the cliffs near Dolomieu Point.

The views to the north were fantastic in the afternoon summer sun, showing the 100m high cliffs, and we also had good views south to Cape Hauy.

We found the cache which had been one of my reasons for wanting to head up there (the scenery was, of course, the main reason), and then returned to camp for dinner, some more exploring, and some games of Yahtzee before bed.

The next day we walked out, finishing the journey with a swim in the clear water at Fortescue Bay (the jellyfish of yesterday had disappeared overnight). Unfortunately, I failed to take any photos of any of day 2, but the good news is that B had a good time, as did I, and she now knows she can carry a pack on a hike, and may have picked up a few other Aunty Helen bushwalking tricks.

Bruny Island Lighthouse

A friend of mine and her family had been holidaying on Bruny Island and I went across on their last day. We went to the rugged south end of the island, and visited the famous 180-year-old lighthouse.

During summer, tours are conducted and we joined a small group to head up the slightly vertiginous spiral stairs to the top. 

It had been blowing a gale at ground level, almost capable of knocking you off your feet, but it seemed calmer when we went out onto the platform at the top and took in the views of the lighthouse keepers’ houses and the wild coastline. 

When the lighthouse was decommissioned (it has been superseded by a nearby much less-imposing station, which can just be seen on the ridge in the photo above), most of its fittings were actually able to be retained, and it’s really cool to be able to look up into the set of Fresnel lenses that were used to intensify the beam and ensure it could shine so far out to sea.

The glass on one of the stairway windows, however, is in rather worse repair.