Friday, June 29, 2012

Cue the sun


Thematic Photographic's theme this past week was 'Welcome Summer'.


Maybe I'm the only TP participant who lives in the southern hemisphere, where it is, at the moment, anything but summery. Reading the joyful posts of all those people who are enjoying the warmth of summer, lapping up beaches and holidays, I didn't really feel that I had anything to contribute. 
I did however love looking at all the beautiful and interesting photos they posted to herald the season; if you'd like to see them, go here.
What made me decide to put a late post up, just so that I could say I hadn't missed Theme # 201, was marking my students' assignments on The Truman Show; my Year 11 class (16 yr-olds) and I have just finished our study of this excellent movie. Many of them chose to write about the concept of control and the abuse of power in the film, and one of the quotes that was often discussed was when Christof decides they'll never find Truman in the dark, and demands: "Cue the sun".


My thoughts exactly. 
I'm looking forward to when our sun is cued, and is accompanied by 
some lovely warmth, instead of heavy frosts.

Have a spectacular weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Strange Denizens 1: Weta



Wētā is the Maori name for one of our endemic creatures:
 large, spiny, wingless grass-hopper-like insects. 
They are members of the order Orthoptera, and are therefore
related to grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids. 

Like their relatives, they have powerful hind legs for jumping. 

When they feel threatened, they will raise them defensively, 
like this female Giant Wētā:



 There are over 100 species in New Zealand, classified in five groups:
  • tree Wētā
  • tusked Wētā
  • cave Wētā
  • ground Wētā
  • giant Wētā
 Some are herbiverous, others eat meat. They're all nocturnal.








 








Giant Wētā - many species of these are endangered

I find all of these insects fascinating, if a little scary. They can inflict 
quite a bite, but they only do so if they're scared.
I've found them in gumboots, crawling out of the laundry sink, sitting on the
rim of the toilet - in dry weather they seek out moisture and it's common for them 
to appear in basins and hosepipes...


Tusked Wētā - the tusks are for fighting
A few more cool facts:
  • the Wētā has changed very little in the last 100 Million years! (fossil evidence)
  • the Giant Wētā is so heavy it cannot jump
  • the largest ever recorded was a female which weighed 71 grams, 
  • 3 times heavier than a mouse
  • alpine ground Wētā can survive being frozen, although they don't 
  • contain anti-freeze
  • ground Wētā are the only group who don't have their ears on their front legs
  • the plural of Wētā is Wētā
cave Wētā

Male giant Wētā
I hope you've enjoyed  meeting these creatures. I've had a couple of nips on a finger, which have caused no real damage. They seem aggressive - they can do a good line in hissing and waving their back legs at you - but they're no danger at all. I would never kill one - it's easy to lift them on a shovel or something and put them safely out in the garden.

And then there's Weta Digital - the local New Zealand design animation company who have made special effects for Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Tin-Tin, Rise of The Planet of the Apes, X-Men, King Kong and a host of other movies... but that's another story entirely.

Links: pictures and information come from here, here,
here and here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Winter Solstice

Tree ~ Rita Angus

Tonight, June 21st - 22nd, is the longest night of the year. 

I visualise all of you northern-hemisphere types, basking in the heat. 
You are swimming in an aqua pool; you are sitting under the cool shade of luxuriant trees. 
You wear light cotton tops and espadrilles, sunglasses and floppy straw hats. 
You are at picnics, enjoying baguettes and beautiful cheeses, strawberries and melon, 
chilled white wine....

Ah well. Outside my classroom it's bitterly cold, with heavy rain falling. 
We've had days on end of heavy frosts and clear blue days, bracketed by southerly storms sweeping over our small country; they bring wintry blasts and thundery storms. All of the ski fields are open already - it's unusually early in the winter for that, so their operators will be happy. 
My students have colds and coughs, and so do many of my colleagues. My cat only stirs from in front of the fire to eat and briefly dash outside to make a deposit in the garden before reclaiming her spot on the lambswool rug.

I hate the cold. 
And we always get our worst winter weather after the shortest day, in July and August.
But of course, there is a good side: from now on, we're heading towards summer!

“There are adventures of the spirit and one can travel in books and interest oneself in people and affairs. One need never be dull as long as one has friends to help, gardens to enjoy and books in the long winter evenings.”
~ D. E. Stevenson

Monday, June 18, 2012

Thematic Photographic 200 !!

My abstract shots for the 200th Thematic Photographic theme, all taken within about 15 kilometres from my home:

sand patterns


forest floor
tracks
fenced-off sky
trees
branches

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Strange denizens - an introduction


source

 New Zealand is an odd little country. We split away from Antarctica and Australia during the Mesozoic period, then almost disappeared underwater because of volcanic activity and plate movements. We finally emerged in something like our present shape about 24 million years ago (source). Because of our long isolation, we have only two native mammals - 2 small bats. 
We do however have a number of native birds, insects, and trees.

I'm planning an occasional series on the fauna and flora of this country, with the occasional giant extinct bird thrown in. Just as I am fascinated by shots of squirrels and foxes in other countries, I'm hoping people may find some interest in reading about our weird and wonderful inhabitants.
My first real post will be about these guys:


This is a Giant Weta, the heaviest insect on the planet.
 More on him next time. Meantime, it's nearly Monday on this side of the world, so I'm
mentally girding my loins for school tomorrow.
Enjoy what's left of your weekend!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

TP 199 - Got the Blues

This week's Thematic theme fits the way I've been feeling lately. I've been sick for the last
couple of weeks, and winter is getting me down.
In April I visited my old hometown of Christchurch, which was struck by several devastating earthquakes in 2010-11. (See here and here)

Since September 4th 2010 there have been 10,934 quakes, ranging from the largest  (7.1 on 4th September 2010), through the aftershock which took the most lives and caused the most damage (6.3 on 22nd February 2011), down to small aftershocks which are barely felt. There was a 3.1 quake at 11.00 am this morning, 14th June.

I cannot express in words how depressing the visit was.
The city I knew has gone. As a teenager I lived in the beautiful seaside suburb of Sumner, where many houses toppled down cliffs and where large shipping containers are anchored at the bottom of steep, shorn hillsides, to keep rocks from tumbling onto the roads.


half a house on top of a new cliff
The port of Lyttelton was virtually on top of the shallow epicentre of the 6.3 quake.
Many of the shops and buildings have been demolished, or are in the process of being pulled down, leaving empty lots interspersed with piles of rubble.

Building gone? Now it's an outdoor cafe
this one's being rebuilt - with attitude!
 The high school I attended, Christchurch Girls' High School, stood here:


This is what it used to look like:


The CBD was hugely damaged, and large parts of it are still inaccessible to the public
while tower blocks and heritage buildings alike are being razed to the ground.

Source
One small part - a few blocks - of the CBD is open for business, with
"pop-up" shops mostly constructed from shipping containers:


All of the older structures which are still standing are closed or fenced off from
public access, like the Bridge of Remembrance across the Avon River:


So.
I lived in this city for 25 years.
I will never live there again, and I would never want to. I have nothing but admiration
for the people who have stayed (many haven't) and shown indomitable strength and spirit.
I wish them luck in rebuilding their shattered city.

A recent post on Christchurch Daily Photo included this message, which brought tears to my eyes:


and these words:
"The sentiment of the sign is so true for Christchurch – there is so much we can see no more. At least not in real life. The buildings and sights will never be in physically front of us again, they’re consigned to memory now, and that fades oh so quickly... even now it’s getting harder and harder to piece things together – which street was that? What building was that?"
  
If you've stayed with me until this point, thank you for reading.