Flora and Fauna

There is a tree near our hotel that looks for all the world like it's the "Whomping Willow" from Harry Potter. (Except that, as far as I can tell it's a conifer, not a willow) Every time I walk past, I expect one of its branches to grab my ankle and hoist me into the air. The other trees here are far less menacing and several of them are some type of eucalyptus, including many of them who shed their bark rather indiscriminately.

Since October is spring in Australia, flowers are blooming everywhere. Their version of a dandelion is this tiny yellow daisy that peppers the grass along the side of the road. We have also spotted azaleas and what I think were magnolias. Katherine stopped at this one bush that was full of little lavender flowers and quickly made a face: pretty but smelly.

A big, big chunk of Australia is uninhabitable desert and, with the exception of some rain forests and cities very near the coast, water is a fairly precious commodity. The grass is unquestionably scrubbier than were used to in the midwest and most of the trees seem to have smaller leaves with a compact surface area (or have needles which also seem to be shorter than I'm used to seeing).

Last night we were taken to the top of Mount Ainslie, a nature reserve and focal point for the city of Canberra. Apparently Burley Griffin designed the city with it in mind. When we called it a mountain, our guides scoffed the compliment off with the usual self-deprecating comments that it seems Aussies apply to Canberra. However, to our flat-lander eyes it was a very, very big hill and we were surprised to see crazy people running up it. The view of the city was indeed spectacular, and you could really see the "National Mall" way that the War Memorial, Old Parliament and New Parliament were all lined up.

This was lovely to see and we were about to be satisfied with just that when, low and behold right below the retaining wall we were looking over, there were 4 kangaroos! Just hanging out and eating grass in the manner of all extremely cool creatures who know they're cool and don't need to make any effort to seem more so. The closest one appeared to have something in her pouch, and we were surprised when a lady who was walking her dog passed not 10 feet in front of the 'roo and received no reaction. This prompted us to scurry down to get a closer look. The 'roo proved to be an excellent model, but truly seemed to care less that we were there.

Just now I was woken up by a bird outside my window whose song sounded a lot like a moderately complicated cell phone ring. The bird calls here are almost constant and many are quite pleasant. One, however, sounds like a whiny three year old saying "Ma!" and invariably whenever we hear that one of us turns around to located the distressed child. The birds don't just sound pretty, they are pretty - so far our favorites include a blue and red small parrot and the black and white magpie. Yesterday at Flouriade I saw a pair of black swans with their babies, but they weren't as good of models as the kangaroo and I didn't get a good picture :(

Today we will have our first performance, a concert for the spouses (wives) of the Diplomatic Corps and the Ambassador's residence!