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February 27, 2011

When You See the Southern Cross for the First Time

AustraliaTasmania 193

I still had that dull headache from dehydration and sleep deprivation when I boarded the afternoon flight to Launceston, Tasmania. We had arrived in Melbourne from Los Angeles one-day prior and even though I had the chance to swim off some of the kinks in my back from the long flight at the Balgownie Estate pool, the fog of jet lag made everything seem surreal. Just a couple of weeks prior to my departure if you had told me I would be travelling to Tasmania with Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild film crew I would have thought you had lost your mind.

I am ashamed to admit when I learned of the opportunity I had to look Tasmania up on the Internet to make sure I even knew its exact location. Now, here I was a tired frozen food product developer feeling like a stow away amongst a group of wildlife enthusiasts in the Launceston airport gathering camera and sound equipment along with our suitcases off of what appeared to be a tractor pulling a long hay wagon loaded with luggage.

A woman of slight build with bright sparkling eyes was calling for our attention. Her name was Di Hollister and she was going to be our guide for the entire time we were in Tasmania. She was a wiry bundle of energy with a huge smile that made you like her the moment you met her. She seemed to have superhuman strength too as she loaded suitcases twice her size into the trailer hitched to our van. Di’s enthusiasm for her state was palpable even through the veil of fatigue as she drove us to our hotel.

We spent the next day visiting Devils@cradle, a Tasmanian devil interpretation and viewing center on Cradle Mountain. The devils are suffering from devil facial tumor disease and there has been a fifty-three percent decline in spotlight sightings since the first report of the disease. The dedicated folks at this facility are trying to ensure the ongoing survival of devils in the wild by the operation of their successful captive breeding program. While the crew was filming we were able to observe devils sun baking, sleeping and running around their enclosures. I boarded the van with a new appreciation and fondness for the misunderstood and amazing little devils.

Evening took us to Narawntapu National Park, where local experts from the Save the Tasmanian Devil research team explained their role in the ongoing species survival endeavors. Here we had a delightful BBQ dinner as we waited for nightfall and the opportunity to watch the devils feast in the wild at the “devil restaurant” created by the local experts.

As darkness settled in all around us, the stars illuminated the sky in the brightest array I have ever seen. There was no competition from city lights or highway headlights just pitch planetarium blackness. It was here that Suzy Hanna enthusiastically showed us the two very bright stars in the Milky Way that are known as the pointers. She showed us how to draw an imaginary line between the pointer stars alpha and beta Centauri, then continue up a short distance to find the Southern Cross lying on its left side. So clearly I saw the constellation that I jumped as when you finally see a hidden image in a picture puzzle. My mesmerization by the night sky was interrupted by a chewing noise coming from the area around my right knee. I looked down to find that a pademelon, had joined our small group of star gazers. Taking in the night sky and chewing on some leaves this small creature seemed quite content hanging out with us.

In that moment under the pristine southern sky I experienced a moment of sheer joy. Maybe it was brought on from breathing the unpolluted air or sensory overload from being in a prolonged state of awe by my Tasmanian experience or maybe it was that I had escaped from frozen food chatter, I don’t know but it was a definite feeling of euphoria. Throughout our night walk we were joined by wallaby and wombat. It was as Greg from our group said, like being on another planet.

Struggling to stay awake on the drive back to the hotel we were startled by Di stopping the van abruptly so that we could observe a tawny frogmouth bird perched alongside the road. “What luck for a group of wildlife enthusiasts!” She exclaimed. “A perfect ending to a perfect night. “I was thinking how lucky I was to be a member of this group of wildlife enthusiasts. When I left Ohio, I felt sad and tired. As I prepared to leave Tasmania, I felt happy and inspired. I thought about the lyrics to “Southern Cross”, one of my favorite songs by Crosby Stills and Nash. The song lyrics state: When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way.

I understood.


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