The Coconut Tree Community

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on March 29th, 2010 by MadDog
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For a Monday morning, things went remarkably well. I took the battery and fuel tank out to Faded Glory so the the guys from the marina could come to tow her in. Reversing the battery cables on Saturday morning was a very bad idea. I was worried all weekend that I’d blown the voltage regulator on the engine. That would probably set me back a thousand Kina or so. As it turned out, I had only fried a couple of fuses on the engine. Thank heaven for fuses! I’ll be considerably more observant in the future when hooking up my battery. If we didn’t have so many thieves around, I wouldn’t have to lug it out of the house to the boat and then back to the house every time I go to sea.

Wandering around in my garden the other day, I gave my coconut trees a thorough inspection. It’s amazing the things you find on really ancient coconut trees. I don’t know how old these are. My guess is about fifty years. They are still producing coconuts despite being old and only a metre from the ocean. Look at the circus of colour here:

Not being an expert, I can only guess that the colourful organisms here are lichens. As I remember, lichens are a symbiotic conglomeration of fungi and either an algae or a cyanobacteria. So, a lichen is neither beast nor foul, so to speak, but some crazy combination of radically different organisms that somehow help each other, indeed, can’t live without each other. Funny, that. I think that I just described my marriage.

Where someone took a big chunk out of the side of the tree there is now a beautiful little cave:At the base of the tree, just above the roots, lives another type of lichen. This one looks as if it would be tasty to reindeer. It’s sort of snowy:You can’t find a tree near where people walk here in PNG that is not scarred. Everybody carries a bush knife and nobody can resist giving a passing tree a whack. Don’t ask me why. It’s probably inexplicable. My coconuts are scarred from generations of whacking by passers-by:The poor tree seems to be bleeding orange blood.

Sometime in the distant past, someone had need for a nail in the tree. It may have been me. Any such memory has long past:

The nail is as rusty as my memories and the ever growing hole around it is not so different from the empty space in my skull left as my brain slowly shrinks to the size of a peach. Call me peach brain. I like that. It’s not at all offensive.

A few metres away is the drain that carries water under our driveway from our crab hole infested front lawn to the sea. Down at the bottom of the cement catchment basin that I poured many years ago there is a little jungle growing:It is furiously producing oxygen. Good little jungle; keep it up. We need all the help we can get.

And that, as they say, is that.

Or, as we say here, em tasol.

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When Nature Says, “Hey, Look at THIS!”

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 27th, 2009 by MadDog
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When I was a kid, every rock in every stream and every log in every forest was a potential treasure chest for me to explore. I loved the sense of anticipation. What might be found under that flat sandstone slab? Bugs, salamanders, mysterious moulds, anything seemed possible. I’m glad that I haven’t lost that. Many diversions of youth are simply that – diversions from the business of growing up. The love of nature and the capability of being pleasantly surprised and gratified by nature’s many wonders is a good thing to hang on to. There are some youthful distractions that serve us well as we mature.

Up at Blueblood on Christmas Day I got a couple of pleasant surprises. One of them was this bright red moth:

I think that it was nearing the end of its pitifully short life. Its wings were ragged and it seemed listless, as if it desperately needed a nap.

A few months ago, during a severe period of beach erosion, this coconut tree was undercut by the waves and fell over into the water. Coconuts can survive very close to the salt water as long as there is sufficient rain to keep salt from its shallow root system. This tree is in peril. Filling in around the base to protect it from further erosion and allowing its roots to gather fresh water will save it:

You can see that it is trying to survive. It has already begun to change its direction of growth. It will naturally grow upwards if it survives, giving it a graceful curve toward the sky.

However, in its current dire straits, it is exhibiting some abnormal growth patterns. I have never before seen such a strange pattern of growth in the leaves of a coconut frond:

Among those of us who pondered this odd pattern, speculation ran rampant. There were several theories. When I first saw it, I thought it was someone’s joke. Then I realised that was simply not possible. We finally settled on some kind of osmotic imbalance that is causing the leaves to improperly separate at the tips as the frond unfurls. This would cause the tension to bend the tips of the leaves as is seen here, because they have no way to assume their natural position. The little fibre that attaches the tips of the leaves together as they develop never ‘lets go’.

I did find one reference to a disease problem with coconuts that might be causing this weird leaf growth. It’s called Crown Choking. (See the UPDATE at the end of the post.)

The light in this image was horrible. It was a flat-light day with a solid bright grey sky. About the worst thing that you can do on a day like that is to point your camera skyward and try to capture something back-lit by the brightness of the clouds. That’s exactly what I had to do to get this shot:

You can see the hideous flatness of the details. I had to twist the histogram mercilessly to get any details. However, it was worth the effort. I think that what we’re seeing here are two ant nests. However, I have some questions. The leaves on the plants seem the same as the rest of the tree, so I’m guessing that they are branches vainly trying to invigorate the dying tree. The ant nests speak for themselves. But, what are the rope-like bands encircling the branch? These are typical of a parasitic or saprophytic growth hanging on to the tree and either using it for support or sucking the life from it. There is a lot going on in this picture, much of it a mystery to me.

Here is something not so mysterious. It’s our little friend, the gecko. Now that we have had no cats in the house for a year or so, the geckos are coming back in normal numbers, which means about one per square metre, it seems. They make a happy little barking noise when challenging each other:Having dinner with some Chinese friends one night, we were discussing the propensity of the Chinese to bet on practically anything. We were told of the amusing practice of betting on the number of barks that will be heard from the next gecko to speak. The bark count tends to run from about four to ten, with a Bell shaped curve. The strange thing about this is that, once you have played the game a few times (it takes all evening and the conversation can continue – it’s very civilised), you can not stop counting gecko barks. Once your brain is trained, you can’t shut it off and it is extremely accurate. It reminds me of how I learned to automatically count gunshots. Another odd thing is that there is hardly ever any question among players as to the number of barks. Apparently , everybody can learn to do this accurately, so there is no need for arguments. As I said, it’s very civilised.

And, here is our little friend’s favourite food:Well, actually, not so. The geckos seem not to like these muli ants. They are big, very feisty and chock full of stinky formic acid. They will happily take on a human being, even standing up on their hind legs and threatening the hapless hand to stay away. They bite ferociously.

As I seem to be running out of steam for this post, I’ll leave you with a sight that I have seen many, many times:

Very often, as we sit near the small islands off the coast, we see huge thunderstorms marching up the line of mountains a few kilometres inland.

You need to worry, if nature can no longer surprise and amuse you. Get some new glasses and keep your eyes open.

UPDATE:  I received an email from Kevin Lock which may shed some light on the weird palm fronds:

I am guessing that the appearance of that frond is not a disease but just an emerging new frond.  We have a few Golden Cane Palms and emerging new fonds have a similar appearance.  Attached is a snap of one on ours today.

Here is the image that Kevin sent:

In this healthy plant, it’s clear that the unfolding process is the same as the one we observed. I wondered about it, but rejected it as a normal condition mainly because I had never observed it before.

Thanks, Kevin, for giving us another good reason to keep our eyes open.

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Watching Little Gifts Grow – The Coconut Tree Project

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 18th, 2009 by MadDog
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We’ve been watching with mixed feelings hundreds of people out making Madang an even more beautiful place to live. I say mixed feelings, because there is some question whether the modest pay that has been promised to them will be forthcoming.

Work crews have been out for several weeks now. They are cleaning along the roads, cutting back bush that hides little kids about to dart out in front of your car and planting hedges and trees. One of the wonderful aspects of living in Madang is what amazing things you can do for very little money.

I went up to the Coconut Research Institute today and purchased 400 dwarf coconut seedlings for K100 (that’s about US$40). We are giving them to the work crews to be planted along the roads in our neighborhood. For the price of a case of beer we can plant 400 trees. Imagine that!

The Coconut Research Institute in Madang, Papua New Guinea

I can’t take any credit for planting them, of course. I wouldn’t live through the experience.

Here is the kind of tree that I purchased. They do not grow tall enough to interfere with power lines. In fact, they are so short that you can knock down a refreshing green coconut, containing the delicious fluid locally called kulau, with nothing more than a stick:

Dwarf Coconut Trees

Here are three of the ladies who work at the Institute loading the seedlings on our rusty old truck:

Loading the coconut trees into the truck

It is going to be a genuine pleasure to watch these trees grow, provide shade for the weary (coconuts from these trees don’t have so far to fall before they knock you on your head) and provide a refreshing bit of nourishment to any passerby who desires it.

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Birds, Trees, Airplanes, Frisky Fish

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on February 26th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ve got it all for you today.

This morning, my garden was sizzling with warm morning sunshine. I felt like I was 60 again. Whoopee! I was standing on Faded Glory  looking back at the house. I quickly brought my camera up to my eye by instinct and caught this crow flying past. The blue sky, warm orange sunlight on the trunks of the coconut tree, and the ominous black bird make an interesting juxtaposition:

Sky, coconuts, bird
Then I heard an Air Niugini jet about to take off. The runway is close to our house. I snap-shot again, just barely having time to zoom. There is even a small school of fish jumping at the bottom of the frame on the right:
Air Niugini departing Madang
A click on the image to enlarge will give you a view of the logo on the tail.

Lastly, here is an unfortunately green movie clip that I got on our Wednesday dive on the Henry Leith.  It is two Three-spot Dascyllus (Dascyllus trimaculatus)  getting it on (Excuse the minor vulgarity. If I use the word – I’ll spell it out – “esss – eee – exxx” in a post, I’ll be knocked off of millions of computers.):They take turns circling, cleaning, depositing, fertilising, and chasing away potential egg stealers (including myself – they BITE!).

I just noticed while I was checking this post that, if you turn the sound up, you can hear over my breathing the sound that many of these small fishes make (Damselfishes of all kinds, including the Anemonefishes). It is a small, quick grunting sound. Turn your sound up and see if you can pick it up. They most commonly make this sound when they are perturbed. You can hear the sound most clearly starting at about 1:13 into the clip running to about 1:45. It comes back again at about 1:45 and you can hear it on and off until near the end of the clip.

Sorry for the horrible green cast. The water was very green and I haven’t yet figured out how to change the tint of my video clips. If there’s anybody out there with a suggestion how to do that, please leave a comment.

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Shoot the Moon

Posted in Photography Tricks on October 17th, 2008 by MadDog
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This morning Selene was doing her silly daytime tricks just as the sun was coming up. I’m usually so focused on other images that I forget to look for her.

Here’s Selene peeking out from behind some coconut fronds:

The moon, clouds, and coconut fronds

A little different angle and some more telephoto boost gives us this. It’s a good one to click to enlarge:

The moon again

I’m never one to ignore a sunrise, so here’s Yet Another Gorgeous Emotive Madang Eastern Sunrise (I’m going to start using the acronymic version of that – YAGEMES [pronounced yah-GEE-meez]):

Yet Another Gorgeous Emotive Madang Eastern Sunrise - YAGEMES [pronounced yah-GEE-meez]

Hey, it’s not any sillier than most acronyms. The above was a three-shot panorama blended by Photoshop.

Here’s a single frame showing how the many colour controls available can generate a completely different rendition of the same scene:

Another YAGEMES

Some of you are already fans of Photoshop, so I won’t waste time singing its praises. For those of you who are not familiar with the Adobe photographic tools, I’ll show you two screen shots of the ones that I use the most.

Here is a screenshot of Adobe Bridge with the shots from today open on the “filmstrip” at the bottom. You can see one of the frames enlarged so that I can judge if it is something worth of further work:

Adobe Bridge with Camera RAW files open

For the technician/artists out there, I’ll mention that Bridge does an excellent job with RAW files from just about any camera and opens a RAW image directly into the Photoshop Camera Raw filter so that you can make any conceivable adjustment that you might desire. (If that’s gobbledygook to you:  RAW files capture the information for each colour and keep the colour channels separate from each other, giving a huge range of possibilities to the artist. It’s the One Big Secret for creating good underwater shots.)

Here is the frame from the filmstrip opened in Photoshop:

The same frame now opened in Photoshop - ready for adjustments

The fun of fooling around with Photoshop can suck up an inordinate amount of time. I have had to exert the miniscule force of my pathetic self-discipline in order to keep myself down to an hour or so a day.

It beats watching reruns of The Simpsons.

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In My Garden #5 – Orange Coconut Trees?

Posted in My Garden on March 22nd, 2008 by MadDog
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I recently saw a PowerPoint slide show presented by Maureen Hill. She had some very fine photos of her trek to Antarctica and South America with Val Jerram. It was a comedy of penguin and blubbery seals on an icy stage. Maureen’s sense of humor was at the boiling point.

I was, however, distracted when she displayed huge boulders that looked as if they had been nearby when Jackson Pollock suffered a conniption fit while carrying a large bucket of bright orange paint.

A sudden and unanticipated wiring alteration in my brain caused small sparks to fly out of my ears, startling the nice ladies on either side of me. The colour splashed on the boulders seemed to be suspiciously similar to the weird orange splotches so common on the flanks of our very own coconut trees! Hey, what’s going on here? Antarctica – Papua New Guinea. Hot – Cold. Rock – Tree. What’s the connection?

Having, of course, taken a picture of a coconut tree in My Garden (memory like mine? – few other choices), I arranged to have lunch with my well-informed friend Mr. Google. He cleared things up for me . . . to a point.

I don’t have Maureen’s photo, so you’ll have to use your imagination. Here’s my snap of the mysterious orange stuff on my coconut tree:

Orange lichen on my coconut tree.

As it turns out, there is a family (actually a genus, but let’s not get picky) of lichens called Xanthoria that are remarkably orange. I’ve always been intrigued by lichens. Hey, we don’t have, let’s say, dogs and chickens plotting, “Let’s mash together and make a whole new thing!” So what’s the deal with fungi and algae?

Anyway, I couldn’t find a definitive page that said, “Yeah, the coconut bilas in Madang is the same as the Pollock paintings in Antarctica”, but my suspicion is aroused that such is the case.

Curiosity now temporarily satiated, I’m musing over the serendipitous fact that if we were invaded by a herd of ravenous reindeer, we would be able to point them to our coconut trees for a good feed.

I also found out that the light green stuff that looks like dried cabbage is yet another kind of lichen. Enough, already

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