Leper Island Curiosities

Posted in Under the Sea on January 7th, 2011 by MadDog
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The diving has been sporadic over the holidays. People were off cavorting elsewhere and I was hiding out. Now things will hopefully be returning to something resembling normality, me being one of those things. I’ve picked out some of the more interesting images from our last dive at Leper Island  to display here this evening. Fish seem to be more and more difficult to chase. I don’t think the fish have changed. It’s me. Though it seems impossible, I am becoming even more lazy. Let the fish come to me.

Corals don’t move around much, in fact, not at all. They provide easy fodder for my hungry lens. I’m particularly on the lookout for colourful specimens. Part of my laziness is demonstrated by my lack of attention to species names. I’ve decided that they are not so important after all. All that they do for me is provide lots of Google hits. Let the colours speak for themselves and we’ll stick with generic names such as “coral” and “sponge” and so on. This coral is strutting its stuff in a most flamboyant manner:

One might suspect that I’ve fiddled with the colours in this shot. While that’s true, it was minor fiddling, mere accentuation. I might be forgiven for that.

This coral is altogether different from the previous one. While the former was flashy, this specimen is so subtle that one might not appreciate it at a distance:

Ah, but up close it is a different story:

The violet colour sprinkled with great care across the tops of the colonies is exquisite. I don’t know what it is and I have not seen it before. I’m happy for it to remain a mystery. We need our mysteries, eh?

Well, I’m tired of coral all ready. Restless, that’s what I am. How about a sponge? This one is outrageous:

Yes it really is that bright. I often wonder if these colours have any purpose. But, then again, I often wonder about a lot of things.

Now here is something which one doesn’t see every day. Dive buddy Rich Jones spotted these two nudibranchs presumably doing what comes naturally:

It’s worth a click on the image to see the clarity that is possible from a cheap underwater outfit such as my Canon G11. Passable stuff for an amateur on a budget. I could never get images such as this when I was shooting on film.

I cropped the shot down and used a Photoshop trick of repeatedly enlarging the image by 110% until it is about four or five times as large. It can then be sharpened to make it appear as if the shot were taken at an impossibly close distance. It’s now possible to see what they are doing. Well, not exactly. It’s just a jumble of miscellaneous spindly bits:

Never mind. It’s a private party, anyway.

Tomorrow marks four months since Eunie departed from Brisbane to claim her reward. Kindly people ask me almost daily, “How are you doing.” That’s a good question. I wish I had an answer. All in all, I suppose that I’m doing, as they say, better than expected. In fact, I am doing considerably better than I expected and I don’t fully understand why. For a while there I wasn’t sure if I’d be around to welcome 2011. I’m sure that I am being cared for by my creator. If I didn’t believe that, I simply wouldn’t bother. Wasting away seems to be a popular alternative. However, over and above the care from above, I’ve also gotten huge attention and love from my friends. Moreover, giving credit where it’s due, I’m coming to realise that my survival is largely due to whatever minuscule amounts of common sense and wisdom which I absorbed from my dear wife over the course of nearly a half century. That’s a lot of training. Even for someone as slow as I it was bound to be helpful when things got rough. Thanks again, babe.

I must end my hermit episode. People will give up on me if I don’t make an effort. Tonight they are having some kind of quiz thing at the Madang Country Club. Though I’m not a member, Rich will sign me in as a guest. I think I’ll venture out. I wonder if anything has changed?

Anything could happen.

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Weird Light – Dallman Passage

Posted in Under the Sea on January 3rd, 2011 by MadDog
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It’s a new year. I have my work cut out for me. Most of the horribly unpleasant chores which were generated by Eunie’s illness and subsequent death have now been disposed of by a mixture of desperate prayer and grim determination. Some things are improving. I’m marking 2011 as The Year of Rehabilitation.

As one friend recently pointed out to me, 2011 is also the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac. I give absolutely no credence to anything vaguely astrological (as opposed to astronomy, in which I am very interested), but sometimes it’s amusing to delve into the ways others view reality. I Googled Year of the Rabbit and came up with this outlandish description of those born under that sign.

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are articulate, talented, and ambitious. They are virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise. They are most compatible with those born in the years of the Sheep, Pig, and Dog.

Well, I’m here to tell you that practically none of that applies to me. I will admit to being vaguely articulate, but ambitious – HAH! I don’t have an ambitious bone in my body. I’m happy to just sail along. It is true that nowadays I seldom lose my temper, but that is mostly because of good training from my wife. Forget about clever at business also, but my word is my bond. It is correct about gambling. I believe that it’s foolish. Whatever wisdom I might have was born of error recognised as such.

So much for astrology.

UPDATE: Before I get a flood of comments, I’ll admit that I completely missed the point of the whole zodiac thing. The year in which I was born, 1943, was the year of the Sheep, according to the Chinese. So, of course, the attributes of those born in the year of the Tiger would have nothing at all to do with me. I haven’t bothered looking up the attributes for those born in the year of the Sheep. I doubt that they would be any more accurate.

However I did appreciate this bit of wishful thinking from another site.

According to Chinese tradition, the Rabbit brings a year in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves.

I could use some of that, but I don’t need astrology to deliver it. Do I sound as if I’m trashing astrology? No, I’m not. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t fit into my world view. Arguing about world views is someone else’s job.

Good friend Monty Armstrong came over on Thursday afternoon for a dive, along with sweet Meri, Monty’s dear wife. We set into place a new buoy in front of my dock to keep Faded Glory  from drifting off. I very much appreciated this, since the buoy and its heavy chain have been sitting in my lounge room for quite a while. We went to Dallman Passage.  The water was murky and the light was poor. It did, however create some interesting images.

The weird light lent a ghostly appearance to many of the coral colonies:

I’m reasonably sure that this colony is sick. It looks to me as if it’s bleached. Bleaching occurs when something causes the coral polyps which make up the colony to expel the symbiotic protozoa which live in the coral and play a crucial role in its health. You can read more about it in Wikipedia.

The strange light also made this Solitary Coral (Fungia fungites)  glow:

I’ve not seen one of this yellow colour. It may be a natural variation or it may be bleached.

In most of these shots, the background appears very dark. That is because of the high contrast ratio between highly reflective objects and other less reflective ones. It was an unusual condition worth capturing. I was also using a very small aperture (ƒ/8.0) in order to get the greatest depth of field (the maximum amount of the image in focus):

As we descended to twenty metres, the light dropped to practically nothing and I was forced to turn on my flash. In this shot of Sea Squirts (Didemnum molle)  you can see an unnatural rosy glow in the highly reflective white areas:

This shot of an Epaulette Soldierfish (Myripristis kuntee)  is interesting because of the parasitic isopod which has attached itself to the fish’s head:

It is amusing that, in this case, being parasitised might have an advantage. It seems that females are more attracted to males who wear a silly hat. You can read a little more about it here in this post.

The small aperture paid off in this shot, which shows a group of Reticulated Dascyllus (Dascyllys reticulatus)  darting in and out of the protective coral:

With the low light level, a long slow shutter speed was demanded. I think that this shot was taken about about 1/20 second. That’s too slow to stop the motions of the fish, so they look a little blurry. However, if you look at it positively, it does convey a sense of motion.

This week I start a major remodelling job on myself.

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Living Frugally for Fun and Profit

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. I’ve spent a lot of this morning answering messages sent to me from friends, many of whom I have never met, wishing me all the best and congratulating me on my longevity. The former sentiment is welcome and comforting. The latter, well, it seems something that happened to me gradually and is only now becoming troublesome. I have enough faith and understanding of human nature to know that I’m wintering now. That is the season that is upon me. Spring will come, sooner or later, and someday I’ll start a new life that is beyond my imagination. I’ve learned patience, especially in the last half of my life. Living in Papua New Guinea is an experience that fosters patience in the wise. My spring will come.

Since this is the saddest birthday I have ever had, I’ll now do what is best for me. I’ll amuse myself with feeble attempts at humour while annoying you. This will be fun. Along the way, I’ll puzzle you with some images that are utterly unrelated to the subject matter.

Upon my return from Australia, I was immediately deluged with not-so-subtle clues that my life had changed dramatically. I found myself deep in debt. The circumstances leading up to this, some obvious, some not so, were many and complex. They are boring, so I’ll not put us all to sleep with the details. Of course, the financial situation was only one of many changes. I’ve learned to cope with most of these. Some can be fixed. Some can’t. Loneliness is the worst, but that can’t be helped. It’s difficult to explain to why one can feel lonely to the bones while surrounded by laughing friends. It seems unlikely. It is, however, profoundly real.

I must learn many new skills to enjoy this new life. I must accomplish many things to assure happiness. One thing which I can  do something about is money.

I made some mistakes at first. I talked too much. I’m a compulsive talker. I give too much away. I trust more than I ought and I take it for granted that others will be as interested and inquisitive about me as I am about them. I want to get under the skin, and sometimes that is unwelcome. I erred in giving the impression that I was broke and in dire financial stress. This is not the case. I’m better off than most of the people on this planet – much better off.

I’m not broke. I am just being careful. Throughout our lives, Eunie and I followed the “best financial advice”. Oh, what a mistake that was. It seems that most of those who formulate this advice are those who have already gotten theirs  and are looking to get their hand’s on some of yours.

The worst mistake, among many, which we made was to buy into consumerism and borrowing. It’s easy to talk about these twin evils today, since many of you have also been stung by these wasps. Thirty years ago, nobody would listen. We certainly weren’t.

I won’t go into the property fiasco in detail. It’s too boring. Let’s just say that nobody today is suggesting that it’s a good idea to buy old houses and rent them out, expecting them to provide a retirement income. You can imagine how that turned out. However, thirty-five years ago that was the “best financial advice”, at least from the person in whom we had placed trust.

What I will go into is the matter of debt. I often wonder what my world would be like today if I had resisted to ever buy anything for which I could not pay cash. Certainly there are many, many things which I would never have had. However, today I have none of those things. They’ve turned to dust or whatever happens to all those things I “needed” then and no longer even exist in my memories.

Okay, time for a picutre:

That’s my good buddy Monty Armstrong (whoops, I nearly typed Python) with his trusty Canon G11 camera. The water was nice and clear that day.

So, how does one avoid buying everything which catches the eye and immediately insinuates itself in your brain as a need? For me, it wasn’t easy. I spent most of my life learning to subdue the urge. The problem is that plastic makes to far too easy. We lived for many years without credit cards. We resisted the temptation for quite a while. However, I can remember going for a decade with monthly payments to Household Finance. I don’t care about all the money I spent on the stuff,  but I’d sure like to have the interest back!

Well, I digress. Let me get back on point. What is the difference between being a miser and living frugally?

Let’s have a look at the definition of a miser from the Princeton Word Search:

(n) miser (a stingy hoarder of money and possessions (often living miserably))

Hmmm. . . that doesn’t sound very pleasant. It doesn’t sound like a person you’d want to have as a friend, either. Who would buy you a beer? Would this person share a cab fare without counting every penny? I don’t think so. I knew a guy like that once. He owned a barber shop in a small town where we lived for a couple of years. We made the mistake of going on a holiday with him and his wife. He drove us crazy with his accounting. Oh, there was no problem if I said, “I’ll get that.” However, if I didn’t make the offer, then out came the notebook and pencil. Scratch, scratch, scratch – here’s your share. I had a pocket full of change clinking as I walked. I hate small change.

Well, that’s clearly not me. In the first place, I’m not stingy, never have been.  And I’m not miserable, at least as far as money goes. Those miseries I do have will subside. Money problems require a strategy. I have a strategy.

Okay, now let’s look at the definition of frugality:

Frugality is the practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal.

That doesn’t sound nearly as bad.

Here’s monty again. He’s shooting a Prickly Sea Cucumber which you can see if you click to enlarge:

The part of the definition I want to bore you with is “to achieve a longer term goal”. Consumerism is definitely not about long term goals. Most of the junk we buy is designed  to be useless or undesirable within a matter of months or, at most, a few years. I don’t need more stuff.  I have a house full of it now which I am actively trying to unload. Things are not what I need. What I do need is a plan for life. One of the many goals within that plan is to be measurably better off in each year of my remaining life, at least for as long as possible. Since my income is declining and will continue to do so, baring some miracle, then the only way I can achieve this is by “acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services”. Well, hey, that sounds reasonable to me!

Oh, I bet you haven’t seen one of these for a while:

It’s a marine snail. The brown thing blocking the entrance to the shell is doing just what’s it’s supposed to do – block the entrance. It is a common feature of most marine snails and many of the terrestrial species.

It seems astonishing to me that consumerism has been so successful at converting desire into need. Happiness today seems mostly to be packaged in that hateful clear plastic which defies all but the sharpest most dangerous object which comes to hand. I still break into a cold sweat when I enter an electronics or camera store. Oh, wow, I need  that! And that  and that too!  Out comes the plastic. At least I did until now. No more! I have a plan.

My plan is simple. I will never again purchase anything on impulse. I vow to give myself at least twenty-four hours as a cool-down period before making a purchase. I don’t care if it’s a great price on a camera that I’ve been craving or a cheap memory stick. If I can think about it for a day and I’ve asked myself if the purchase will really improve my quality of life sufficiently to justify the cost, then I might reach for the plastic. However, I will never do so if I know that I can’t pay off the amount before the next monthly billing cycle.

Snail wasn’t enough for you, eh? How about a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):The last thing I want to do now is to accumulate yet more stuff. I’m trying to get rid of about 90% of what I have. It’s excess baggage and I’d rather deal with it a bit at a time than have to sing the blues someday when I have to leave Madang and deal with a house full of items which have no place to gather dust any more.

But stuff isn’t the only concern. For example, there is the matter of diet. Here on MPBM I once mentioned eating steamed cabbage, pumpkin and beans. That should not be taken as an advertisement that I’ve become a miser. It happens that those are foods which I like. Having lost my sense of smell, I now find that simple fare appeals more strongly to my taste than rich foods. The fact that it’s cheaper to eat that way is, to my way of thinking, a bonus. I used to eat a lot of meat and cheese, foods which are expensive here. I’ve found that I now have little taste for cheese. My cholesterol level thanks me for that change. The meat which we get here never has appealed much to me. Frankly, I always found it a little smelly – not as fresh as I’d like it to be. So, why should I buy it now?

Here’s an Elephant Ear Sponge (Lanthella basta):
They also come in green and bright yellow.

I lost over five kilos while I was in Australia. I was looking just a little hollow. Since coming back I’ve gained it all back and then some. I now weigh more than I have in the last fifteen years. I’m getting plenty to eat. In fact, I’m going to have to cut back or get more exercise, probably both.

So, thinking now about my plan, just what is it? First, I’ll turn down no opportunity to increase my income. If it continues to decline in my present situation, I will eventually have to consider if another situation might be better suited to me. I’ll purchase nothing that is not necessary for my physical well being unless I am convinced that it will significantly contribute to my quality of life for a meaningful period of time. I will not go into debt again for anything. If I can’t pay for it in thirty days, I can’t afford it.

It’s that simple.

Here is the last shot of the day, a Blackblotch Lizardfish (Synodus jaculum):

Cute little fella, eh?

I’m not so insensitive to suggest that my plan is for others. It’s custom tailored to my situation. Realistically, most people in economically switched-on areas of the planet need credit to live what they perceive as a decent life. The nature of modern economic practice demands it. Who can pay cash for a house or a car, for that matter?

However, it’s interesting to dream up a little thought experiment to imagine how one might avoid the worst ills of spending money which one does not have. It seems to me that frugality, as a life-long plan, might work out pretty well. One might think of it as the middle road.

So, I’m not going to play the big spender when I’m out with friends, but I’m not going to be a miser, either. It’s the middle road for me.

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How Bad Can It Kill Me?

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ve been holed up in the house for about three days. Today I opened the bedroom curtains for the first time. It was sunny outside. I think that I know what sent me into this latest deep depression. I’ll tell a little about it later. I’ve been having some face-to-face with a friend who has dealt with this kind of uncontrollable emotional paralysis in her own life. It’s comforting to have someone to talk to that understands from first hand experience.

However, I’m not here to blab on about distress. I’m in the mood for a bit of humour. Let’s see if I can pull it off. It’s time to laugh a bit.

A week or so I was talking to someone about something difficult I had to accomplish and I was trying to make it sound light-hearted. I had intended to say, “How bad can it hurt me?” It came out, somewhat more ominously, “How bad can it kill me?” I took a mental note of that and proceeded to bore my friend with the details of my plan to conquer this horrible thing which was an everyday problem for many people, but made me feel as if I were a passenger on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. When his eyes glassed over I relented. Later, I began to think about my Freudian slip.

I certainly don’t recommend fooling around with fate and getting yourself in such a pickle as the one in which I’m presently fermenting. Nobody is stupid enough to bring such things upon himself. Nevertheless, I must admit that there is an upside. Regardless if it is true or not, there is a certain freedom in feeling  that I have nothing to lose. Of course, I know that it is not true, but knowing is not feeling,  knowing is not accepting.  I have many things going for me. I’m healthy, if putting on a little too much weight. I’m reasonably sane and able to take care of myself day by day, though my bed only occasionally gets made. I have a job which I can still perform well enough for the time being and I’ll improve as I get better. I have a nice house to live in, though I do rattle around in it like a cracked marble. I have friends to annoy. All in all, I’m likely better off than maybe eighty percent of the population of the planet.

I admit that I can’t do a post without images. I’m sure that this stems from the fear that what I’m writing is so abominably rotten that nobody could possibly read it without becoming nauseous. If I throw in a few pictures, it might possibly be seen as a redeeming value. Here is the rather unusual sight of three Solitary Corals (Fungia fugites)  cuddled up together:

Let me get back to what is passing for a train of thought tonight. As I was saying, perceiving a current state of life as being unsustainable over the long run and being not so nihilistic as to believe that there is no hope that it might get better is the starting point. So, it’s pretty bad, but it could get better. Now add that what has happened is the worst thing possible that could have happened. Yes, it could have happened in a worse way, but there is nothing on the list that could possibly top it. And the list is exhaustive. Okay, throw into the equation that even if more bad things pop up, they can’t make me much worse than I am now. My money all disappears – hey, money is not security. What good is it doing me now? I lose my job – well, that would be tough, but it would just force me into a change. The list goes on.

Nothing that I can think of really threatens me. This seems to create some kind of weird super-power. Call me Sticks-and-Stones-Can-Break-My-Bones-But-Nothing-Can-Really-Hurt-Me-Man. No, that’s too long a name for a super-hero.

Ah, now I remember what set off my hiding-under-the-covers period – the second coffin-building incident in less than two weeks. I won’t go into the details. It suffices to say that it was another time of grieving:

It does strike me that I look terribly angry in that shot. I was going for “resigned”. It came out much differently. By the time I came into the office to discover that it needed to be built, a friend had already been recruited, so at least neither of us had to face the job alone. I am getting rather good at knocking together a coffin. I don’t plan to take it up professionally, but one never knows.

Feeling this freedom of relative invulnerability, however, it not a safe thing. It can make one reckless. I find myself thinking outrageous thoughts about what I might conceivably do. I fantasise. I make astonishingly stupid plans. I catch myself dreaming of selling everything and scuttling off to Bali or Rio and living off my photography and writing. Then I’m brought up short by the realisation that I’ve found no way to live off it yet and the fact that I might starve trying to is not  an improvement on the present situation. Not a bit.

No, I’m better off now staying here and doing what I was sent here to do. That’s where my security lies now. In some ways that’s a hard pill to swallow, but that is only because I’m not exactly ecstatic about life at the moment.

This horrible thing, looking for all the world like “The Small Intestine from Outer Space” is a Prickly Sea Cucumber:

It’s not a great picture of one. Possibly you can see the hideous frilly arms that wave around engulfing whatever seems edible. I’ll have to try feeding a banana to one.

Yes, fantasies sustain me these days. I’ve always been an exceptionally good daydreamer. Walter Mitty has nothing on me. I’ve dreamed up several schemes lately, none of which have proved, upon the most cursory consideration, to be remotely feasible. Most of the difficulty lies in where,  I might go. Except for Papua New Guinea and the USA, any place I might choose to go would present considerable difficulty. You must have permanent residency to work in almost any country worth living in. That is a high hurdle.

I had a passing fancy for Costa Rica until I began to look at the residency problem. I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to jump through all of the hoops. The same goes for Canada, which I would like to be able to think of as my final “home” when I’m so broken down that I need to crawl into a hole and wait for the end. I’d probably have to do it as an illegal immigrant. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to end up? I’d have to start a new journal and make it anonymous.

I met a friend at the Madang Lodge and Restaurant last Friday evening for some light conversation. I noticed that the big storyboard on the back wall had been decorated for the Christmas season:

I got this storyboard along with four others about the same size while on a trip to the Sepik River quite a few years ago. They were among the largest I have seen. I don’t know how much they would be worth now – probably quite a bit, as they are very hard to come by now. I have two of them about the same size hanging in my house.

Much of the future is too fuzzy for me to think about with any clarity. I wish I had something like this:

Yeah, a big brain – that’s the ticket. I need a huge Platygyra lamellina.

Then again, I probably spend far too much time pondering the future. When I consider that, I feel silly, but I’ve always been that way. Yeah, a thinker about the future and silly. I admit to both. It’s painfully obvious that the future is the thing over which I have the least control. How delusional it was to believe otherwise. It was all planned out . . .

Look what all that planning got me. Best simply to plan to brush one’s teeth in the morning. If that works out, then begin to plan what to have for lunch. Anything beyond that is getting risky.

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Calm Collected Comical Chaos – Grief

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 4th, 2010 by MadDog
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Grief . . . It’s a funny thing. No, not funny – ha-ha; it’s an odd thing that it is so very common – we all do it sooner or later – but we do it in such extremely different ways. Now, you may be thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” And, you’re right. Here I go again, but with a twist. Some things we simply have to laugh about, because if we don’t, we get all depressed, bitter and twisted. So, today I’m going to laugh.

Like most Westerners, my concept of grief included things such as plenty of nice deep depression, an acute sense of loss, gobs and gobs of denial, much sniffling and dabbing of eyes and the occasional crying jag. More pronounced but harmful symptoms such as suicidal thoughts and intense anger are common but are usually unseen by those surrounding the griever. That was my idea of grief until I witnessed the aftermath of a death in a Papua New Guinean village.

Wow, you’ve probably never witnessed such scenes – well, maybe in movies. Believe me, movies can’t convey that kind of emotional chaos. You have to see it first-hand. You have to hear it, the wailing which goes on interminably, the drums beating all night. You have to smell it, the stench of animal fat and plant juices smeared on sweaty bodies. I felt embarrassed. The staggering around, the rolling in the dirt, the screaming and shouting, the moans and tears, the trembling, the falling into camp-fires. I kept wanting to shout, “Hey, hold on there. You’re going to hurt yourself!” It was horrible. I didn’t get the point of it. That’s it all right. It seemed pointless to me. And it went on for a couple of days with brief periods of exhaustion.

One might well ask, “What’s funny about that?” Well, nothing, I admit. Until it happens to you. It’s taken me a few days to calm down enough to look back on it to see the irony of my experience. Before Tuesday morning it all seemed a tiny bit fake to me – like a public demonstration of sadness and loss which is Politically Correct. If one doesn’t participate it is considered callous and uncaring. Proper respect must be paid.

I kept a pretty stiff upper lip through the two memorial services, grieving in the Western way, hunched, sobbing occasionally, gratefully accepting the ministrations of lady friends on each side holding a hand or draping a comforting arm around my shoulders. It was very proper and convincing. I was certainly convinced at the time. However, in the end it was strangely uncompelling, unfulfilling, unmoving and a whole lot of other un-somethings which I can’t seem to get from my brain to the keyboard. I will not take a thing from those experiences. I won’t spoil them by lessening their importance. Those ceremonies were not for me. They were for Eunie. However they did not come anywhere near satisfying my need to grieve for her. There’s another un – unsatisfied.

Many people warned me. “It hasn’t hit you yet.” Now I get it. I learned all about it in one morning. I don’t know how to rank it alongside other powerful experiences in my life. It was absolutely unique. It wasn’t much fun, but I am so glad that it happened.

Because I’m feeling calmer now and I want to run with that, here is a nice peaceful reef scene with my favourite starfish, the highly improbable Linckia laevigata:

The morning did not start well. I called in sick. At some point I sat down at the computer to compose the words for Eunie’s tombstone. Yes, I know that’s been a long time coming, but it’s a logistical problem. You cannot get anything like that made in PNG, at least not what I wanted. I had a mild sense of foreboding, but I told myself sternly (doing that a lot these days), “Hey, you’re a writer. So sit down and write something. It’s not War and Peace.”

So, I sat down to write. Here’s another L. laevigata:

Nothing that I wanted so much came to mind. I desperately needed  to get the job done. Nothing but frustration . . . What a fine time for writer’s block. Suddenly something wild pounced upon me like a wolf ravaging a carcass. It blew me away. I was Pooh Bear on The Blustery Day.

Okay, what I’m going to describe is not pretty. Keep in mind that I’m in a very calm and bemused state of mind right now and I’m standing outside myself looking in. It was a good thing. It was needed. Still, you may not want to read about it. That’s okay. I’m putting these words here because I need to. If nobody  reads them . . . well, that’s okay too.

It went on and on. I couldn’t stop it. Crying isn’t the word for it. It was more like wailing – yeah, wailing and moaning and . . . screaming. I can’t ever remember screaming before in my whole crazy life. How can that happen? How can you get through life without screaming once in a while? Now I get that too. I get screaming. Oh, yeah, baby. I get screaming. We all need to do it more often. It’s very refreshing.

And then there was the staggering around and bumping into things. And yes, the falling down. And the pounding of the fists against anything handy, like a head or the floor or the wall or whatever. And the head banging, now I finally dig that one too – the head banging. I couldn’t stop. I started getting scared.

And then something really silly happened. I started yawning. I have seldom yawned in the last few months. What’s with that? So, between racking sobs I experienced a seemingly endless series of yawns that went way down to my soul, long earnest yawns which sent chills of wacky pleasure flowing from my scalp to my toes. You know the kind of yawns I’m talking about. Where did those come from? They seemed so incongruous, so unseemly, so . . . so stupid!

I managed to get my voice back enough to call the office to say that I wasn’t coming in. I think that I scared my friend on the phone. He offered to come over. Let me catch my breath a moment. Here’s yet another calm blue starfish. Really this blue toy looks as if it’s just plain tired:

If I show enough of these I will put you to sleep. Don’t spill your coffee.

I declined the offer of help because I knew exactly the kind of help I needed. I needed some tough love. some very tough love. I called Trevor. I’m not going to tell you everything that happened while I sat in the living room waiting for Trev to arrive. Some of it is too revealing. Some of it is embarrassing.  I will admit that I did two things which are supposed to be a part of the grieving process, but I had decided to skip, because they seemed so pointless. I asked “Why? Oh, WHY?” and I got extremely angry with God. And yeah, in retrospect, both were pointless. Imagine that – getting all angry at God. It is to laugh. And asking why?  WHY?? What a silly question. Everybody dies. It’s part of the deal. What makes me so special that my wife shouldn’t die? It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t require an explanation.  Because. Just because.  That’s why.

The anger seems very comical. I’m too steeped in Christianity to curse God properly.  The words wouldn’t come. The sentences were too awful to complete. I’m now picturing Homer Simpson with his hand’s around Bart’s neck and Bart’s tongue is sticking out and wiggling frantically and Homer is screaming, “Why, you . . . (sputter, sputter)”. You get the picture. That’s me – angry with God. A dear friend told me that she was very angry with God for a very long time after her husband died. I didn’t get it. Now I do. I got over my anger pretty quickly. I ran out of energy. All of that grinding of the teeth and clenching of the fists wears a fellow down. It takes a lot of effort to stay angry with God.

You don’t need any more details. That is not what this is about. This is about relief.

Here is another of my favourite starfish, a Choriaster granulatus:

I don’t know how they get into these positions. They must practice Yoga. More about that later. You’re going to have a good laugh. (Hee-hee)

Well, by the time Trev arrived I was in a sorry state. I wish he had taken a picture. I’d love to have it. My head was lumpy and my hands hurt. We sat there for a while and he calmed me down. It was some of the finest tough love I have ever received. I was still breaking out in fresh fits for a while. I distinctly remember hitting myself in the face very hard. Funny, I did not realise that it was possible for one to hit oneself in the face so hard. My jaw is still sore. Now I am getting a giggle from that as I think of it. It was like the classic movie scene in which some poor soul is plainly hysterical and gets a good hard slap from a friend who says, “Get control of yourself!” and the slapped person replies, “Thanks, I needed that.”

Well, this story is growing too long, so I’d better wrap it up. I scared the neighbours something awful. When I came back to the house in the evening, after going for some Yoga (yes, I said Yoga), Sisilia and her niece were waiting for me with some food and serious looks on their faces. They are lovely people, my next door neighbours. I invited them into the house and we sat for a while. Though they were shaken and worried about me their attitude changed dramatically when I told them what it was all about. They were very approving and happy for me. It’s the Papua New Guinian way. I was now acting like good person and properly showing my grief for my dead wife. See?  A happy ending.

Now for the real fun.

I have detected a tiny hint of jocular scepticism among certain friends whenever the word Yoga escapes my lips in connection with myself. I’m here to dispel that scoffing attitude. I went for some Yoga to help calm me down. I asked Michaela to take a couple of pictures of me in the less frightening positions.

I have never ascribed to the spiritual accoutrements of Yoga. I don’t get it. However, I have practiced the physical exercises and contortions since I was a child. I’m Pretzel Man. I don’t want to shock you with the more bizarre configurations of my body. You may be having your breakfast doughnut. I just want to demonstrate that I actually do Yoga. I don’t pretend to do Yoga:

Yes, that is me. You might now be saying, “Yeah, well, anybody  can do that.”

Yeah, well, can you do this?

This is also me – doing a head stand or, as I prefer to call it, a Tiger Stand.

If you don’t find that funny then you need an attitude check.

UPDATE: I got this Facebook comment from Justin Friend. It’s so appropriate to this post that I’m including it here.

Reading your blog post today reminded me of several PNG Haus Krais and similar I have been to. One of my first experiences with such things was when I first arrived in the highlands and was in Kerowagi. We had been in the garden for several hours digging up Kaukau and getting other foods for a feast the next day. We were all taking a break and sitting in the shade beside a typical single file village track winding through the gardens. There was maybe 8 of us sitting there telling stories. As we sat it was common every few minutes for someone to pass by on the track only metres away, apart from a general greeting the passing people were essentially politely ignored.

And then all hell broke loose amongst the people I was with, seemingly without a cue or a reason. The women started wailing and almost convulsing, going from sitting on the ground to rolling on the ground flailing their arms, tears flowing immediately. The men were not much better. The noise was intense, the emotion was intense.

I sat dumbfounded. One minute, no 1 second ago we were all laughing and joking, and now all of a sudden the entire party was crying, screaming, rolling around the ground.

And then it stopped. Almost as sudden as it started it stopped. There was the briefest point of composure and then things went straight back the way it was, telling stories, laughing, joking, sitting in the shade after the gardening work.

What the hell had happened. I looked to my soon to be wife for an explanation.

“Did you see those two people who just passed on the track?” she asked. Well no, I didn’t because as soon as the first Aunty started screaming I was focussed on our group.

It turned out that just a day or so before I arrived there a man had died. The “official” mourning period was still in place. The people who had walked past our merry group laughing in the shade were owed the appropriate sign of grief and mourning so they got it.

IT was certainly genuine. The tears were real. The grief was real. But it was so controlled. They turned it on and off like it was the tap supplying fresh water.

It was very powerful and I see and hear it still in my mind as if it was yesterday I experienced that.

Not exactly where you were coming from in your blog, but still an interesting handle on grief

Hang in there ol’ fella.

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Things I See

Posted in Under the Sea on November 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today I went to the Fred Hollows Eye Clinic at the hospital here in Madang. You may have read about my paranoia concerning the near certainty of losing or misplacing my eyeglasses. Silly as it seems it was of so much concern to me that I was compulsively checking my one pair of multi-focal glasses to make certain that I knew where they were at all times if I didn’t have them on. The resulting behaviours would have been comical had it not been for the fact that merely thinking about misplacing them and having to call a friend to search my house would set me trembling. I blame it on stress. I have to blame it on something.

I had gotten three pairs of glasses to replace my one varifocal pair. While I’m yakking on about pairs of glasses I want to ask you why is it a pair  of glasses? I know it’s because there are two lenses, but it still doesn’t sound right. It’s a little like a pair of pants or a pair of pliers. Are there objects called a pant or a plier? I don’t think so. I can see a pair of socks. That makes sense; there are two separate socks. Together they make a pair. However if there are not two things called a pant, then how can you have a pair of pants? Same goes for pliers. I couldn’t say, “I had gotten three glasses”, because that might be confusing if the context was not clear. You might think I was talking about drinking glasses. No, I had to say three pairs  of glasses so you would know that I’m talking about  . . . Okay, this is getting silly. I’d better move on. I have to admit, however, that this is something which has bothered me for years. I feel better now that I’ve gotten it off my chest.

Anyway, I got a +4 for distance, a +5 for computer work and a +6 for close-up work like reading in bed. What I discovered is that after a while the distance formula was not working any more. It was too strong. Things a bit close were fine, but when I was driving the distant objects were fuzzy. I went back today and got a pair of +3.5 glasses. That did the trick. Now when I’m driving everything from the gauges to infinity is in perfect focus. I’m happy with that, considering that these eyeglasses cost me only about $8.00.

Okay, that was not very interesting, I admit. Nevertheless, I wish to report to myself here in my journal that I can now see perfectly at any distance. The only problem is that I have to carry around four pairs of eyeglasses. Also, most of the time my eyes feel as if they are about to pop from their sockets. Am I giving myself eye strain? Hey, I’m blessed. Some people can’t see at all.

So, here are some things I have seen lately. By the way, I wasn’t wearing any of my pairs of glasses. I have a prescription dive mask. It is perfect underwater. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out of the water. Otherwise, I would just wear it instead of buying so many pairs  of glasses.

This is a very cute little Blackspotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus):

I call them them “puppy fishes”, because they look like . . . mmmm, puppies.

Okay, this is not going so well. I seem to have forgotten how to write tonight.

This is a colony of sea squirts called Lissoclinum patellum:

I could think of several things which I’m reminded of when I see these and none of them are pleasant, so I won’t trouble you with that. I find it amusing that something as lowly as a sea squirt can be placed in the phylum, Chordata, which is the same phylum to which I belong. Or maybe it’s not so surprising when I think hard about it. Sea squirts have something like a spinal column only while they are mobile juveniles. As adults they form colonies and lose all of their backbone. They become blobby and are plastered solidly in place. Come to think of it, that’s not so different from me after all. I’m a giant sea squirt. I’ve become rooted into immobility and have lost my backbone. I’m going to double up on my calcium pills and see what happens. Is that a wild goose I hear calling to me?

Okay, there goes what I so laughably call my brain again. It’s off on a tangent, slipped a gear, got its wires crossed, blew a fuse. Little purple sparks are coming out of my ears. I’m unable to escape the chorus of Frankie Laine’s old hit Cry of the Wild Goose:

My heart knows what the wild goose knows,
I must go where the wild goose goes.
Wild goose, brother goose, which is best?
A wanderin’ fool or a heart at rest?
Let me fly, let me fly, let me fly away.

Where does a moody hankering for change cross over into the realm of escapism? I remember a time not so long ago when I would have hopped a plane to Kathmandu if only that wouldn’t have left such a big mess behind. I could get a job as a dishwasher somewhere. I’d be the best dishwasher in the business. You could eat off my plates. Yeah, I wanted to run. Recent events have made many of us flinch. The flinching continues. Today a friend and I voiced it in the same moment, “How much can we take?” I’m reminded of the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail  when the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog viscously attacked King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Run away!

Well, I don’t really want to get all sombre tonight. I’ve felt that way all day and now I need to cheer up a bit. A little balance is in order, eh? Sometimes situations are so miserable that you can find nothing resembling humour. However, you can always stand back a bit and laugh at your own reactions.

This bizarre critter is a kind of sea slug or Bêche-de-mer,  a Bohadschia argus:

This one has a single incredibly sticky white filament trailing out of its . . . uh, unpleasant  end. Often there are many filaments. It is a defence mechanism. This individual was angry and defensive because I accidentally disturbed it while I was photographing something else. I know from experience that you do not want to allow these filaments to come into contact with your skin or anything else for that matter. If scientists could develop a glue as efficient and durable as this stuff, they would see big bonuses in their pay-checks.

This strange wormy thing with an all-over beard is a kind of nudibranch called a Pteraeolidia ianthina:

I’m reasonably sure of the identification, but if I’m mistaken I’ll blame Rich Jones. He recently took back his giant nudibranch field guide upon which I had been drooling for the last few months. So many nudibranchs to photograph, so little time.

Here is another nudi, one of my favourites. It’s an Electric Swallowtail (Chelidonura electra):

What an utterly charming name. It dredges up visions of Unicorns, Ashwinders, Mermaids, Mooncalves, Murlaps and Kneazles.  (that should keep you Googling for a while).

This is the only balding Magnificent Anemone (Heteractis magnifica)  which I have seen:

I have no idea what has caused it to lose its tentacles in this spot. It is not something which I have observed before. It seemed otherwise healthy. I once fed a Magnificent Anemone  half of a banana. It took it about fifteen minutes for it to transport the banana treat across its tentacles, passing it along the tips like a rock star being carried along on the up-stretched hands of fans. The banana finally ended up in the anemone’s mouth. I didn’t stick around long enough to ask it if it liked it.

This shot is my pick of the day. It’s a very common Cushion Star (Culcita novaeguineae)  which is most uncommonly beautiful:

It takes things such as this to remind me of the incredible riches of my life. People pay vast sums of money for the privilege of doing the things which I enjoy every week. I’m still able to see these things as privileges which are not to be taken for granted.

I must accept that Madang is not my eternal home. Some day I will have to leave this place. Maybe my body will stay here in the ground and my spirit will depart. Or perhaps while body and spirit are still merged circumstances will arise which require me to leave and I’ll be led to another place. The future is very fuzzy.

I think that even that fuzziness is a blessing. I’m listening. And I’m leaving plenty of room for surprises.

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Bart Simpson’s Hair – Why I’m Talking to Myself

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on November 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Now that I have all of these pictures loaded onto my WordPress page, I am wondering how to write something that makes some kind of sense. In cases such as this my usual ploy is to abandon any hope of writing anything which pleases me and put the job off until tomorrow. However, I have a deadline. It’s 8PM and I want to be ready to drink some kava an hour before I’d like to sleep. It worked the last two nights. I got more sleep than I have for a long time and I felt great in the morning. I’m going to write about kava soon. So, since I can’t put it off, I’ll write nonsense. It probably fits the subject matter better anyway.

As the title implies, the subject is twofold. Here is Bart Simpson’s Hair:

Okay, does that give you some idea of where we are going with this? Fasten your seat belts.

I’m going to the kitchen now to get some cookies . . . okay, I’m back. Hmmmmm . . . delicious. The other subject, which I made you think has something to do with Bart Simpson’s hair but it doesn’t, is Why I’m Talking to Myself.

I never used to do that – talk to myself – at least not much. I’d let slip, “Idiot!” or “You old fool.” or something similarly self- deprecating, but I had no serious conversations. Even now, my solo exchanges are usually not directed to me, but since there is nobody else around (I try not to do this when others might be observing.) one might be prone to suspect that my brain is doing a little recursive boogaloo. I don’t know if this is healthy or not, but it is making me feel better.

So, who do I talk to?

Not far from Bart’s hair I found this disgusting, encrusting sponge trying to strangle a branch of black coral:

See, I’m going to do that to you. I’ll go along as if I have something interesting to say and when I sense you nodding off, I’ll throw a bean bag at you. The image above is trying to connect up some wires in my brain between it and Sponge Bob Squarepants. Okay, time for another cookie. Hey, I need some milk.

Mostly I talk to two entities. I probably spend the most time conversing with Eunie. She was always a good listener. I ask her for advice. Then I think about what she would tell me if she were sitting next to me or we were having a walk through the woods. The surprising thing is that what I hear in my head, or rather what I make up from the million memories of how she was, seems very real to me. It can’t be so far off from what she would have said. Quite often it makes me laugh.

Tonight I had a ham sandwich. The ham had been in the freezer for I don’t know how many months. I got it out of the freezer a week or so ago. It didn’t look bad, but I can’t smell it, of course. I’m constantly concerned that I will poison myself. I quit thinking about suicide about a month ago, mainly because I couldn’t stand the thought of the colossal mess it would leave behind for my friends to clean up. So, since that prospect is off the table, I’ve gone back to a less hair-raising and reckless existence. I actually don’t want to die now. Something interesting might happen. I call that progress. I also had ten-day-old steamed broccoli which had nothing obvious growing on it. I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell you what I’m eating – cookies, ham sandwiches, broccoli. I’ve been doing it for some time now.

Here is some whip coral at Magic Passage:

No, I’m not going to explain why it’s called whip coral. I don’t feel pedantic tonight. In fact, I don’t feel much of anything. That’s funny. I haven’t had any kava yet. It has a strange calming effect which my pleasant Dr. Mackerel told me about. I told him no Prozac, so he said to try kava. I’m going to do this without major drugs. As I said, I’ll get to that later. It’ll be a hoot!

Talking to Eunie is fun. I close my eyes and see that surreal half-smile which said, “I’m watching you, you crazy guy.” Man, I loved that smile. I carry it on my shoulder.

Often, though – about a hundred times a day, I need to unload on or seek counsel with someone with more clout. Eunie is my gentle advisor. When I need the heavy artillery, I talk to God. I talk out loud, like I do with Eunie.

It’s much more difficult for me to imagine what God is saying back. Obviously, I don’t hear anything. I’m not that far gone. I also have to admit that I don’t know as much about God as I do Eunie. The truth is that you never know what God is up to. I do trust that it’s all going to work out in the end, but man, in the meantime you have to be ready to catch some fast curve balls. I was never any good at baseball. After teams were chosen, I was always the one guy left standing there staring at my toes sticking out of the end of my sneakers.

I do seem to be getting some answers lately. The big questions remain mysteries, but some of the little ones are falling into place. So, I’m calling these productive conversations. There are fewer swords hanging over my head. I’m not afraid to look in my mailbox any more. Part of that is because I can’t imagine what could happen that has not already happened. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that the only things left to lose are things that really don’t matter that much. It’s tremendously liberating. Money – EHHH! There will always be enough. One simply has to adjust one’s expectations. Property – MEH! I don’t have any (Or at least I soon will not – that house is GOING, one way or another!) All of the rest of the stuff that I have accumulated – PFFFT!  I can carry everything I need in a back pack and a small camera case. Free! Free at last!

What brought that on? Hey, my kitchen is full of ants. I’m too cheap to buy bug spray any more. That’s off the shopping list. Beside, they don’t eat much – only what I have dropped or slopped. There are a couple of dead ones floating in my milk. At least I hope they are dead. If they are not, they are in for quite a ride.

Does this look like a giant corkscrew to you?

I guess I mostly talk to myself because I am so used to having someone around to talk to and I just can’t stop because she’s not here now. I’ve noticed that I am much more talkative than I used to be when friends are around. I hope that is not a bad trend. I have seen that flick of the eyes to another which says, “When is he going to shut up?” I’m on the lookout for it.

This is the model which was used for The Blob  in the original movie starring Steve McQueen:

It’s about a metre wide. They had to scale it up and make it mobile for the movie. Inert blobs aren’t very scary and they get real hungry. This one is quite immobile.

I don’t anticipate finding any other conversation partners for my lonely quiet times when I’m feeling chatty. Who else would there be, Elvis? John Belushi? Jack Kerouac?

No, not them. If I talked to anyone else it would be absent friends, the living kind. There are so many who I would love to spend an evening with in quiet discourse.

Speaking of friends, I’m going to take advantage of you and sneak in a couple of very amusing images sent to me by Alison Raynor of Toogoolawah in Queensland. Here is what she wrote to me:

I’ve been on the road a fair bit in the last couple of days and this 6ft carpet snake (a common constricting python) crossed our path yesterday.  We stopped for a look and he stopped  to geek my camera… such a pretty snake, you should see the size of their mouths and fangs though……EEEEK!   This one would be able to swallow an animal or bird heaps bigger than its own body weight and size:

Okay, Ali. How close are you going to get to this thing?

Close enough for THIS!

Okay, I’m impressed.

Today, I spent a fair amount of time getting lawns mowed. No, I didn’t mow the lawns. It’s Gosel’s job to mow the lawns. However somebody has to haul his lawnmower around and get him to the grass which needs cutting. That’s what I did today. Exciting, eh? Here is Gosel mowing a lawn:

I sat in there my blazing hot brand-new Nissan Navarra twin-cab utility truck. I didn’t particularly want to buy a new car, but Eunie wanted one. Her old red truck was getting rusty and she didn’t like that. Anyway, I’m glad now that I have it. It’s like money in the bank, not that money in the bank is any guarantee of security. And, I probably have a car which will serve me for the rest of my life. Hey, my dog Sheba has a good chance of outlasting me. I’m not planting any more trees either. Like many other things which I am discovering, there is a certain comfort here.

I got bored reading Hollywood Crows  by Joseph Wambaugh, so I had a nice, long conversation with Eunie.

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