Monday, 27 January 2014

Nights by a Highland Lake: Part 3

After a day in the mountains and an invigorating swim in Lake Myrtle, our lakeside campsite felt close to paradise. The low sun lay a bright sheet of light on the water. The wind raised only the quietest of whispers, and a second Mt Rogoona slept, perfectly twinned, in the lake.


[Panorama: Lake Myrtle, Mt Rogoona, Tasmania] 

Does there have to be a fly in the ointment? Apparently so. The sandflies that we’d noticed earlier had come back with reinforcements. As we prepared dinner, hundreds hovered around our faces; dive bombed our drinks; got caught in our hair; bit our neck, ears and any other piece of exposed skin.

They had seemed quite harmless at first, but we were soon quoting The Lord of the Rings movie: “What do they eat when they can’t get hobbit?!” Our assumption that these sandflies were only pale imitations of the fierce New Zealand ones was coming back to bite us. And this despite our use of a New Zealand insect repellent especially formulated to combat sandflies.

Later I found out that our sandflies come from the Ceratopogonidae (biting midge) family, while the Kiwi ones are Austrosimuliidae (Sandfly/blackfly). Was that why they showed contempt for our repellent? Whatever the facts, we were to find that subjecting your skin to their bite would lead to similar results. I had written about the gory details of NZ sandfly bites previously here http://www.naturescribe.com/2010/04/dragons-in-paradise-part-2.html. We would only re-learn that itchy lesson later, once the full effect of their bites became obvious.


[Models of NZ sandflies at Milford Sound] 

Meanwhile, back at Lake Myrtle, we had to walk around as we ate our dinner just to make the midges work for theirs. Although it was still bright and sunny, an early night in the sanctuary of the tent seemed the best solution. Even then our scurried tent entries took dozens of the little critters in with us. We had to perform the invertebrate equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel before we could sleep in peace. And still the thousands of desperate midges left outside our tent clamoured and hammered as loudly as rain on the nylon exterior. (Perhaps this is why they call it a tent fly?)

“Midges can be active at night!” became my unwelcome new learning, and “How’s the serenity?” my next movie quote. Somehow, eventually, we found sleep. But the beasts had not finished with us. At 4am a loud clanking of pots told us our outside “kitchen” was being raided. I staggered out of the tent (yes, the midges were STILL awake) and shone my torch on a fat, black possum. He was licking nonchalantly on the muesli we’d been soaking in a pot. The clank had been him removing the hefty rock we’d put on the pot’s lid as defence against just this sort of raid.


[Forensic evidence from the night before] 

I supposed that the damage had been done. Certainly the muesli wasn’t salvageable, but we did have a spare. So I scowled at the possum, scanned for anything else that might be edible, and crawled back into the tent. In the morning I found that our thief had also taken a liking to my trangia bag, and had taken it off for afters.

Despite an extensive search of the surrounds, we didn’t find the bag. What, I wondered, would a possum do with a metal Trangia lid, a strap and a home-made pot cosy?  Would stories be handed down the possum generations? Would the shiny green pot cosy be worn fez-like by the boss poss, as he told tales of bravery and bircher muesli?


[Modelling the pot cosy as a fez on an earlier walk] 

As for me, I would return from the walk in need of a new strap, screw-cap lid and pot cosy. But there’s always a bright side. Thanks to the beasts, my burden would be lighter by the contents of that Trangia bag, not to mention a syringe or two’s worth of blood.


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