I recently went to the final day of a magnificent public exhibition of photos by Peter Dombrovskis. You know, the guy who produced those landmark Tasmanian shots that saved the Franklin. Apparently he lugged into the wilderness some seriously heavy gear with really large film, allowing him extraordinary field of depth in his photographs. We strolled around the beautifully presented images twice. Mostly what I felt was awe and admiration, and some sense of the world’s beauty. But one impact was more subtle and more far-reaching. In addition to his epic Tasmanian shots, Dombrovskis visited the Victorian high country that I know so well, having hiked decent swathes of it. A resplendent snow gum … a gently undulating plain of scaparia bushes … inexplicably, I felt myself come to tears. I recovered quick enough but ever since then have reflected, and I think I know the issue.
Having rejected more Big Years of remote hikes, other priorities have asserted themselves. I might never get back to the most remote and wonderful parts of the Bogong High Plains. And that saddens me. And photographs can remind me.
Our Earth slowly, ever so slowly, heats up while we add humans to our Earth. I remember Paul Ehrlich thundering on about population growth in the 70s. False alarm, many said, but a new IPBES report (think of them as the IPCC of fauna and flora, 300 superb, worried scientists) points out that we’ve doubled in population over my last half century. The consequences (as Kolbert ably reports)? We’ve dug up three quarters of Earth’s land, are impacting two-thirds of our oceanic areas, have killed off half of Earth’s coral, and have ripped out 85% of Earth’s wetlands. Throw in climate change and a million species of non-human life, some of them (bees! who would have thought?) vital to our survival, will go extinct. It’s time to stop burning coal, that’s the first non-negotiable step, folks.
34 central banks issued an open letter five days ago, outlining how the world’s big banks reckon they should act as climate change accelerates. More worrying, though, is the language of normally reticent bankers towards the end of the letter:
“The stakes are undoubtedly high, but the commitment of all actors in the financial system to act on these recommendations will help avoid a climate-driven “Minsky moment” – the term we use to refer to a sudden collapse in asset prices.”
My corporate career, among finance professionals, never produced this kind of emotion. The back of my neck crawls.
I posted a while back that Sean Dooley, one of Australia’s prominent birders, said that the Royal Australian Ornithological Union put the number of Australian species, back in 2005, was “around 830.” Let me now peruse a far more academic tome, the sumptuous 566-page 2017 “bible”: “The Australian Bird Guide,” written by six ornithologists headed by Peter Menkhorst and published by CSIRO. It’s an exhilarating yet intimidating book for a keen but amateurish birder like me. Here ‘s the numbers skinny from the experts:
About 936 bird species have been recorded n the field guide region; of these, 747 are breeding residents or regular migrants that occur annually, and 29 were introduced. One hundred and sixty species are considered vagrants – stray birds that have occurred in Australia but do not normally do so.
So, for my purposes, of the 10,500 global species, I could aspire to witness 776 in my own land. We’ve got just over 7% of the world’s birdies. Again, as asked yesterday, how many of the 776 might I aspire to see/tick? It’d be easier, obviously, to aim high here than across the entire world, and in our birding travels, we’ve met singles or couples with life lists of high numbers, but is that what I want? Are numbers a worthy goal?
“I had not reversed time, or gotten any younger. But I had shown, at least to myself, that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped.” That’s a conclusion from Peter Sagal’s splendiferous book on running. When I did my Jogging Big Year, back in 2016, I used to complain all the time. Now, I’m running even slower and only half the distance, and the weight is stacking on. Isn’t motivation mysterious?
After Big Year experience in 2016, 2017, and 2018, perhaps I’m getting wiser. Perhaps not. Anyway, back in May, while walking the Way of Saint Francis, I resolved to make 2019 a Movie Big Year. Let me lovingly describe it to you, and tell me it doesn’t sound like the best fun of your life!
A Movie Big Year would involve watching a movie each and every day, from January 1 to December 31, no exceptions. Of course the devil is in the details, so I decided to clock my movie watching time and commit a daily average of 105 minutes, one and three quarter hours, that being the supposed average movie length. If I watched a TV series, for example, of ten 50-minute episodes, I’d watch it over about five days.
What a pleasure it would be seeking out films and series, old and new! I decided to see content from five sources: my local cinema, just round the corner; Netflix; Foxtel on Demand; Stan; and the Melbourne Film Festival (my big binge!).
Regrettably, just days before January 1, I’ve decided to defer this sweet, sweet joy. The writing I’m trying to get done in my Author Big Year, plus the demands of life, simply squeeze me too much. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the first three years of my Big Decade, trying to jam too much in leads to failure and depression.
When will the Movie Big Year take place? Soon, I pledge to myself, soon. 2020 isn’t a possibility . . . maybe 2021 can be.
With days to go before the shuttering of 2018 and the unfurling of 2019, do you glow with a sense of a year well spent? Do you reckon yourself more knowledgeable? Did you tackle any of your flaws, the ones you know so well? Was the nineteenth year of the 21st Century progressive or static?
I raise these questions with no arrogance or preachiness. I know I’m an outlier in desiring “progress” or “momentum” or “betterment.” I know I’m strange in dreading stasis. What’s more, my four 2018 Big Years mostly bombed out big time, so to the extent I tried to change myself over the year, the results weren’t stellar.
Today I probed my own situation. I’ll discuss the four specific Big Years in future posts, just to round off the year for my own benefit, but from a general perspective, here’s one important (to me, at least) observation: each of the four Big Years, even the ones that tanked in November, had SOME impact on me. Even if I didn’t take huge strides upwards, even if I sniffed the stench of “failure,” the very effort, the trying, the questing . . . I think I inched forward. That pleases me greatly.
A neat cartoon from three weeks ago in the Guardian (thanks, Shane). In the middle of reading The Eastern Curlew: The Extraordinary Life of a Migratory Bird by Harry Saddler, plonking a resort on Toondah Wetlands in Queensland seems barbaric.
Deciding what Big Years to do over my sixties is obviously of paramount importance. In May I decided to drop one planned such year, a Tough Hiking Big Year during which I might do the Tour du Mont Blanc, say, or the Western Arthurs, or some other famous slog. I figured I was done with masochistic challenges to self.
Last weekend we climbed the North West Spur up to Mount Feathertop, Victoria’s second highest peak. Once this hike would have had me sweating but confident. Now, underdone and less strong, the 1,000-metre ascent slammed my quads and, most weirdly, had me huffing and stopping. It was as if I were beginning pack carrying over again. At the end of two days, I was spent.
But here’s the mystifying aftermath: something in that unenjoyable battle sparked an ember. Isn’t this, after all, glorious? Doesn’t a physical test that gets you into remote, beautiful locations offer profundity. Should I reconsider the May decision? The jury is out.
Last year I listened to an album each and every day. Every 3 days, I stopped and jotted down some notes and a rating (archived on a Pinterest board). At the end of the year, and into the early part of this year, I bemoaned the fact that, while pleasant, that intense effort didn’t restore my love of music. I was listening no more frequently than back in 2016! Well, the strangest things happen . . . suddenly, nearly a year later, my rock mojo is back. At home, on the street, at work in a café, gorgeous modern music plays. It’s a tonic and an inspiration!