Darryl and Stig (AKA “The Wild Orchid Man”) were in Tasmania looking for wild orchids, with the goal of making a documentary film. But of course, beyond the orchids were the strange and wonderful animals that evolved in that geographic environment. What about the Tasmanian devil? Could we find on, and if so, in the wild?
The devils of Tasmania were near the top of the food chain, with fiercely strong teeth and a killer instinct. They might have done a nice job of controlling the exploding population of rabbits, stoats, and feral cats, but were not very lucky. In addition to being hunted, they developed a rare form of contagious mouth cancer in recent decades, which became lethal. The Tasmanian government, along with private wildlife parks, began scrambling to protect the remaining populations. Here is one we met at such a park:
Nothing quite illustrates the juncture of humans and evolution as a trip through Tasmania. From the beginning of White immigration there was wholesale slaughter of indigenous populations of humans and animals. No thought was taken for preservation or protection.
What is my responsibility for this? I do not know. I do know that I have some. It is incumbent upon me to continue searching for that in the New Year 2018.
I left Ranger with his other buddies in town while I joined Darryl in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a long way to go to Hobart, and by the time I found a taxi and then the motel I had been traveling for more than a day, disoriented by time changes and crossing the International Date Line. I had carried my laptop and camera equipment in my backpack, and felt every one of my advanced years as I trudged through airport terminals and taxi lines.
Ranger would have counseled, but he wasn’t there. Darryl was attentive, but the purpose of the trip was suddenly consuming for both of us. I arrived there without the emotional or physical baggage of my life. I felt lost and alone, without a past, a stateless person washed up on a strange shore. I had no past, and nobody we met asked either about my family or my career.
Then I met a duck-billed platypus.
I’m pretty sure most Tasmanians have never seen a platypus. Their habitat has been invaded, and they have been driven nearly to extinction. Darryl has a magic about him, able to arrive at a location to find the animals emerging, as if they preparing for a photo shoot. This animal, a combination of beaver, duck, and penguin perhaps, was busy building a life in this section of river. She was scouting the river bottom and banks, looking for shellfish. We learned from the landowner that she has taken up residence on that river bend, has raised her young there.
So the platypus arrived here, possibly like I did, without context and without a past. But it claimed this small bend in the river as hers. Here she has raised her young and found a ready food source. I am reminded that my mother, no matter where she landed, was able to make a home. I hope I have done the same. Wherever that is, adaptation is the key to happiness. Would I love to live in the mountains or on the shore of Lake Superior? Yes, indeed. But it is here, on the shores of this Florida retention pond, that I now live. Ranger would tell me to make this my home in truth, rather than in just name. He has done the same. I am here, washed up on a shore without a past. It is my opportunity to love today and tomorrow…..