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Sunday, 28 August 2016

Breaking radio silence

So, apparently just like Facebook, my blog does memory posts. Please rest assured it is not Christmas 2012!

I wrote a post yesterday but my gadget has swallowed it, so this will be a brief one instead. 

Here are some highlights: I've left A Rocha, and am a bit sad, but mostly OK about that. I had a mostly amazing time, and the last week of report writing and presentation and saying goodbye and wrap up was pretty intense. There was a very deliberate farewell process which was pretty good. Then I had one night with Bruce and Patty who I had met through A Rocha work, and then it was down into the States.

I skipped through Washington straight to Portland as I was meeting a Kiwi lady, Maria, there. We had fun in Oregon, and then trained to Seattle together which was also cool. We did Powell's bookstore, a Seattle institution, and had a great Mexican dinner as well. Washington was very cool. If you're ever in Seattle I'd recommend the Chihuly Glass and Garden exhibit! I've done an American Football game and now understand that a lot better, and have seen some sights. Do go to the Bill and Miranda Gates exhibit and the Starbucks coffee roasting place. 

I spent a few nights on the Washington Peninsula with a friend and his wife, and then went to Klamath Falls. I was able to borrow a bike, so did a lot of cycling, and also spent the day at Crater Lake, Google it, it's worth it.

Now I'm in San Francisco and cycled the Golden Gate bridge today, so that was cool. I have a couple more days here and then Hawaii and then home.

I'm glad to be on my way home,  there's lots about NZ I miss and I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my people. 

I'll write again soonish.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A few positives

So, I'm aware the last post was a bit tragic, and I didn't want to leave that in cyberspace for too long without a follow up. Thanks for the various comments and messages, I am doing better, though still sad, and have some positive stories now.

Monday I had the opportunity to spend the day at Regent College which is a theological college in Vancouver. Martin (and others I know) has attended and speaks very positively of his time there, and I had looked into what I might be able to do there around this time but hadn't found anything that worked. So I was pretty pleased to discover a 'Summer Sampler' opportunity to attend (for a small fee) the first lecture of a week course for three papers they run as block courses over summer. Another intern, Mallory came with me, though we only attended one lecture together. It was a really good day. The first lecture on Genesis was the one that I enjoyed most from a content perspective, and I'm going to find some more material by the lecturer, John Walton to read or listen to. The second class though was the best from a 'connections' perspective. Wouldn't you know, in a class of maybe 60 people there were three other Kiwis. But wait, there's more. One is the son of good friends of my parents, another is good friends with the daughter of the missionary couple I was with for my first two weeks in Thailand, and the third, Jennie is a priest from Wellington and we also have some mutual acquaintances. What are the odds?! Then in the evening lecture I had the opportunity to get to know Jennie better as we were paired up for some discussion time. We've exchanged contact details and I hope to interact with them more. The day also included a chapel service, a pretty tasty lunch, and a spare hour where I could wander around the campus (the school is within the much bigger University of British Columbia, UBC) and get a bit of a feel for the place. So that was a great day, though it was long, we left A Rocha before 7am and got home about 10:30.

My other positive to report is quite different, but equally worth reporting. Aiden is about 15, and part of one of the families who lives here onsite. He is one of the keen board gamers, and when we do a games night (often on a Thursday) he's one of the ring-leaders. A while back he and I played a game of two-player Risk, where the aim is simply to wipe out the other person. (In games with more players there are other goals like taking over certain continents.) I beat him quite convincingly, and I found out later this was an achievement, he's an able gamer with a reputation of being hard to beat. Of course we couldn't stop at one game and a week or two later we had our second game, and this time he was the clear winner, I was royally beaten. So, there was always going to be a decider, it just had to be scheduled. And it was tonight. And I won. And I'm pretty pleased!! It was a hard fought game and it wasn't clear for quite a while who had the upper hand. In case you missed it, I'm pretty pleased :-) Of course he wants to play it again, but with our various plans and schedules I don't think there'll be another opportunity before I go. So, that will just have to be where it rests. With me as the winner. Shame that.

Last positive to report, I have started to write my toad report, but realised I didn't have a picture I was happy to use. And I thought I'd missed my opportunity, but the other night they were out in force again, hopefully the final wave before they finish migrating. So I got a photo with which I'm very pleased. And since I don't expect most of you to read my report, here it is.

That's enough for now, I'll write again soon.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The post I don't want to write

Not a happy post. Feel free to skip it.

It looks like my kitty is gone for good. He's been officially missing for more than three weeks now, but it didn't really hit me until after Dad left. I've been completely gutted for the last week or more, and even now am in tears. In the seemingly mostly superficial world of the internet, I'm still undecided as to whether I should post this. The whole saga with Shadow, from relocating him and the associated expense and hassle, to him going missing early and being caught, kept inside for a month to get used to his new home, and then doing a runner again has been one of the hardest things to deal with about this trip. It's caused me to question my decisions, and I'm sad and angry. Of course there's no one to be angry at, everyone involved, including me, made the best decisions at the time based on the situation, and the available info and advice. So I'm left with this thing that's colouring everything. I feel like I don't want to be enjoying this trip any more. And I feel like a fraud whenever someone asks me how I am and I give a stock standard response. But what are the options? If I put this out there I feel like I'm inviting sympathy or advice, and I'm not sure I really want either. I just want to wallow. I'm sure there's lots of theory about grief, but I don't really want to hear it. Maybe at some point I will. I had Tango for 20 years, and I only got Shadow three years ago this month. It's not fair. My only hope is that he'll turn up at home, but that feels pretty slim, and certainly not one to hold on to. So much for hope and endurance.

Ok, so I'm just going to post this. Please don't feel you need to respond. I won't take a lack of comment as a lack of care.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Full on birthday

Well, Dad has been here for just a few days, but we've surely packed a lot in. No surprise there to those who know either of us, but put us together and the effect is multiplied!!

On Friday, after a leisurely breakfast with a very kind couple I know through A Rocha, Ed and Bettina, we did a day trip to see the Othello Tunnels (a track through some historic railway tunnels along a gorgeous canyon (pic 1)), Hells Gate (where the Fraser River goes through the narrowest gorge on its entire route (pic 2 shows the airtram we went on to get down to the water)) and the Bridal Veil Falls (pic already on Facebook). We also happened across a small town Canada Day event in Hope, complete with a classic car show which felt very fitting. We had thought to check out Canada Day fireworks, but decided to be (slightly) gentle on ourselves and not try and do that too!

Saturday we did an A Rocha day. Dad got to see my toadlets (wth a few other interested people), help me set and pull some traps to catch (and interrupt the lifecycle of) some American Bullfrog tadpoles and have lunch with the community.  We followed that up with a trip (that included a ferry ride) up the Sunshine Coast to have dinner with a lovely couple I met through A Rocha. Bruce and Patty were very hospitable, it was just great to spend the evening with them and some of thieir family, and we managed to get a pic (3) of Bruce and me with their home in between us.

Sunday we went to a Calvery Chapel in the morning, then spent the rest of the day up Grouse Mountain doing an eco walk, watching a Lumberjack show, checking out the Grizzly Bears with a ranger talk and seeing a Birds in Motion presentation. Check out the pic (4) of the owl coming in to land! Then we went up the chair-lift to the peak of the mountain. It was a fantastic view of Vancouver and elsewhere, a glorious day with barely any wind, AND there were chipmunks!! As if that wasn't enough for the day, we stopped at the Lynn Canyon Valley Suspension Bridge (5). At least we got home before midnight that day.

Today has had a slight Birthday theme with a day trip to Vancouver Island and birthday cards, presents, cake and wishes from around the world. Thanks everyone, it's been lovely, and the 20 min fireworks display on the USA border just finished it off.

Must go to bed now, I drop Dad off at the airport tomorrow evening and there's lots to do between now and then!

I'll write again soon

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Have you ever called an amphibian 'cute'?

I've written this article for the A Rocha newsletter, so thought I'd share it here too.  Especially as my publishing schedule has gone out the window. In the morning I'm heading away for a few days on a working retreat, (which sounds like should be less working and more retreat) and likely won't have net access. However it's likely I'll have time to review some pending blog posts, so they should be shiney and ready to publish on my return (she says hopefully).


It’s the longest day of the year, 21st of June, and I'm on my first visit to “North Pond”.  This large pond is a known breeding site for Western Toads, a species of conservation concern in North America.   The sunlight is sparkling off the water and it's a warm, calm afternoon.  Andrew Baylis, the Conservation Science Co-ordinator, is showing me around, and we are both wearing waders so we can stay (mostly) dry as we slosh through the pond to survey the shore.  Mostly the water is only ankle-deep, but at times it's up to our knees, and I’m glad of the waders, even with the occasional leak.

The Western Toad tadpoles metamorphose into toadlets about the size of your thumbnail, and migrate in their thousands from the pond, around the shoreline, and into the surrounding forest.  In previous years the migration (which can last a week or two) has been seen starting in mid-July.  However last year the toadlets were observed on the last day of June, and the numbers were much lower than usual.  So, this year the plan is to start the surveys earlier than we expect to see them, in mid-June.  We’re hoping the numbers are much higher this year.

So, here we are.  We check out one side of the pond and, no surprise, we see birds, insects, (unfortunately) a few invasive species, but no sign of any toadlets.

We head to the other side of the pond, and we see a few vibrant green tree frogs, quite charming, but not our target species.  Then (by now you know it’s coming) Andrew spots a toadlet.  Hey, there’s one, it’s good to know what they look like when we start to see them migrating.  Then, I spot one.  Hang on, there’s another, and another.  Hey there’s a whole lot, the pond is rippling, the vegetation is vibrating.  It’s the migration, and we’re here to see it.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands of little toadlets on the move, what a buzz!  I never thought I’d call a toad ‘cute’, but they most certainly are!  Not at all the baddie portrayed in the fairy tales.

We take some notes about their migration, and a photo or two.  As we make further visits I’ll be mapping the route they take for this year’s report.  Then we head out, watching every step to avoid the little creatures.  The survey timetable has moved up, but that’s ok, I’m delighted to be here to see it.  And to tell the story.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Hope and endurance

There's been lots of good input since I've been here, and I'd like to talk some big picture stuff. This might be a deep one, I hope you stick with me.

See, as well as all the practical conservation, education and agriculture in which we are all engaged, there's lots of thinkee stuff too. While I've been here we've had a visit from Andy and Sarah Atkins, Andy is the recently appointed new CEO of A Rocha UK, and we've also hosted Peter and Miranda Harris, the founders of A Rocha who ran the first field centre in Portugal for (I think) over 15 years. There's also regular prayer, devotion and worship times, and 'intern teaching' times each week, and we interns have each been assigned a 'mentor' to talk one on one at least once a fortnight. There's been a number of Sundays, with church worship and sermons, and also lots of informal discussions. To top it off I've read the second book by Peter Harris (having read the first one before I came here thanks to Nick Mayne for the loan) which continues their and A Rocha's story.

There's far too much from all that for one blog, so I'll limit myself to my current key takeaways, Hope and Endurance.

Although I have been involved with A Rocha Aoteoroa New Zealand (ARANZ) for around seven years, and been a Christian for much longer than that, I really haven't got the message of hope in the same way as I have since I got here. In the world in which we live, with the problems (if not disasters) of ecological degradation, climate change, rapid species extinctions and seemingly widespread apathy it's really easy to suffer from hopelessness and despair. On top of these challenges, in recent weeks this community has lost two members, each after a lengthy battle with cancer. This has been heartbreaking to witness, even from the sidelines, as I never had the privilege of meeting either one.  And yet the people here, while in deep grief, still talk of the hope we have in Christ. This echoes the hope we have in this battle to uphold and restore the creation God gave us as our home. I have often felt overwhelmed by the problems in the conservation world, and how little effect it feels like we can have. And yet the message of the Bible is one of redemption, not just of humanity, but of the whole world, and everything in it. It's about restoring Shalom, that is the right relationshio of all things. In the past I've certainly been guilty of reading the Bible through an anthropocentric lens, but when you start to take that off, there's so much of creation throughout. Colossians 1v15-20 talks about the reconciliation of 'all things' to himself. Not just all people. All things.

So, no matter what troubles I have personally, or my concerns for creation and the seemingly impossible task to which I'm adding my efforts, I can rest in knowing God is in control.  And my role is to live as part of the people of God, practicing (as best I can) grace, forgiveness, love and hope, and living my life knowing that everything I have is a gift from God. We are called to be stewards of His creation, we'll be giving it back one day, and I want to be able to say I was a good and faithful servant.

The second message is one of Endurance. This came out particularly in the talk from Peter and Miranda, they spoke about various projects, and the obstacles that had to be overcome.  There's also a lot of this in the books I've read. In this world of short political cycles and funding applications, this really struck home with me, especially on the back of the thoughts I've been having about hope. How can you have endurance without hope? The two really go hand in hand. While our God is a God of miracles, they are the exception, not the rule. Mostly He is a God of process, and uses relationship to work in the lives of His children. Sometimes this feels like it takes an age to see any results, and the concept of a 'benevolent dictator' has a certain appeal. However God only ever invites us to join in His plans, there is no decree. This means, as we are to operate the model he demonstrated, we too need to be relational in our dealings with others. And the benefits of this are wonderful. Through all the grief currently here, the relationships are so solid. I have met so many people through the various events and activities, and all are involved because of a core love of God and His Creation.

So I have been inspired already since I've been here, and I'm not even halfway yet. I feel so grateful that I am able to be here, doing this and learning so much.

To finish, here are a couple of pictures of the people here.

Andrew (my supervisor) and Caitlin (fellow conservation science intern, she's doing swallows) in fetching hi-vis, deploying some water quality monitoring equipment.

Jesse (intern co-ordinator) and his daught Skye (who turns three next month) relaxing in the hammock.

Heather (in the tank-top, not a fellow intern, though there is one named Heather - confusing. This one is a summer student) and Ruth (head of the education program) at the Ocean's Day stand showing kids how to do the 'salmon challenge' I mentioned last week.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Toads, frogs and miscellaneous activities.

As promised, I can tell you a bit more about the projects to which I've been assigned while I'm here. A Rocha Brooksdale is located on a piece of land which has a waterway running through it called the Little Campbell River, and the key projects here all relate in some way to this and the surrounding watershed. Rather than try and explain about it here too much, I'll just refer you to the website which says it far better (and more accurately!) than I could.

Western Toads are a native species of, well, toads (apparently they don't hop like frogs do) which has a breeding site on the watershed. For the last few years surveys have been done to confirm the site, and try and see if there are any others. So far the one site is all there is. Western Toads are very site specific in their breeding habitat, so it's important to have accurate information about the breeding, so steps can be taken if necessary to protect the site. The pond is entirely privately owned by multiple people, and currently has no protections on it, so in addition to surveying the tadpoles and toadlets (they're just miniature toads and really cute!) I'll be hoping to engage some of the landowners and maybe involve them in some way in the care of the site. I'm not sure yet what that will look like, but since I can be pretty engaging when I want to be, hopefully I can have some success in that aspect of the project. I'll keep you posted.

The other project is frogs. American Bullfrogs to be precise. Unfortunately this species is not native on this side of the continent, and was introduced with plans to farm them for their legs. The market didn't take off, and they were released into the wild where they have established (apparently they're in the topp 100 invasive species in the world and really problematic in lots of countries) and are a serious problem, both predating on and outcompeting native species. So, the aim of this project for me is to establish the relative abundance of the bullfrog in several different ponds on the watershed. This information is useful as the species can then be tracked, and the impact better understood.

So, in practice these projects mean a lot of pond time for me. Some of it on the edge, and some of it in the water. Fortunately we have very attractive waders to wear to (at least when they are waterproof) keep me dry. I've included a before, during and after (note the mud on the knee) photo. Like I said, *very* attractive!! What you can't see in the photo is the type of pond we're in. Some have lovely gravel on the bottem which makes the pond pretty easy to walk through, a little uneven at times and a few obstacles, but overall reasonably ok. Others however have pond weed and lilies, and worst of all seriously muddy bottoms which suck your boot down with each step, and require some serious work to get around. A good workout, and using some new muscles! A couple of hours of doing that is pretty hard work (though fence post pounding is still harder!) I'm sure I'll get better. Mostly I'll be working with a lady named Ashley (she's the other one in the photo), and we're already getting along famously. The nicest thing she said to me on our first day out was how much she enjoyed being with another chatty person for the morning. Isn't that lovely :-)

I'll be involved in other projects too. We are doing fencing as part of the habitat restoration and protection aspect of the work here. As in New Zealand, riparian strips alongside waterways are really important for stream health, and keeping livestock off those areas is one of the key ways to achieve this. There are other projects involving Barn Swallows and I've helped check nests (with the help of a camera on a stick thingee) to see if there are eggs or chicks. There's more hummingbird banding to come, and I also got to attend a town planning type meeting as there is a proposal to establish a truck park and associated services right across the road from A Rocha, and right in the watershed that we are trying to protect and enhance. The meeting was interesting, and felt quite similar to ones I've been to in NZ that are along the same lines.

In addition to all that, I cooked for the first time for 20 people. Successfully! My goodness it's a bit harder than cooking for five or 10. To be fair I did choose a fairly labour intensive quiche (Alison Holst's self-crusting one that is a favourite of mine, go here for the recipe ), and I did have a very able helper, one of the other interns, Kathy, who was just wonderful. I knew it would be hard work, but next time I'm cooking for even more, and so I wanted to save my easier recipes for future use. Also, at the moment we have plenty of eggs, but soon they will be going to the recipients of the sustainable agriculture part of the work A Rocha does, (there is a little more info here if you're interested ) so it seemed a good time to do the quiche. I even did three versions, normal, vegetarian and gluten free. Let me tell you, I was satisfied, but a bit tired after.

Yesterday was officially our weekend, but there was an Oceans Day event at a local beach (the same one I cycled to last week), and I helped out at the A Rocha stand for a few hours. It was fun to talk to some of the locals, though I did have to practice speaking slowly a couple of times! II'm having a bit extra time off when Dad is here, so it will all come out in the wash.

I've been to three different churches since I've been here, and decided where I'll go from now on, so that's good. I am planning and scheming for Dad's visit at the end of the month, and weekends in between are filling up fast. They do Bard on the Beach in Vancouver over the summer, a number of Shakespeare plays at a venue, suprise, on a beach. I'll be seeing The Merry Wives of Windsor with Nic and Andy in a couple of weeks, so that'll be fun. I've been enjoying getting out on the bike on the weekends, and really appreciate the Google Maps terrain feature that tells you where the hills are if you select the cycling option. Roads here are pretty much straight, they don't follow ridges like they often do in Auckland, so you can't tell from a map if you'll be going up and down and up and down (and sometimes up and down!) along the same road. I have been *down* a hill that the sign told be had a 13% gradient, let me tell you I asked a local and took a different route home!

I've appreciated emails this week, and also been able to Skype parents, Wayne, Nic, Heather, Martin and my favourite niece called Emma so I'm feeling very connected which is nice. There's also been some really good conversations here, including a presentation from the A Rocha UK head guy which I found very interesting. I have lots of deep thoughts running around in my head, and coming out in my journal. I'll share here soon when I have them a little more articulated than they are at present.

I think that's enough for today. Thanks for sticking with me.
I'll write again soon.

PS the last photo is an action shot on the birdwalk with Stan and some of the other interns when we saw the baby barn owl. Check out my Facebook for an actual pic of the bird, courtesy of Bea. My phone is not up to taking that sort of photo!