WE’RE SLOWLY DRIVING up a dirt road with eucalyptus trees lined up at each side. A total of 19 pairs of eyes are looking up. “There” shouts Liam, “up on that tree.” For a second I’m reminded of the shout of “Tierra!” given by Rodrigo the Triana from the Pinta. In a moment, we’ve all jumped out of the van. There, up on the eucalyptus tree, looking down at us is the first koala I’ve ever seen in my life.
This will be the first encounter of the journey we’ve taken this week into the Australian flora and fauna. It was quickly followed by a dose of ants on steroids, which we had to learn to avoid. “In Australia” the guide warns us, “you never stop walking until you’ve looked down at the ground. Ants like these or bigger can climb up your legs or pants in seconds.” We learn about the eucalyptus trees, 800 varieties in all of Australia!
As we move on through the day, I stop to ask the students questions of what we’ve seen so far. I expect them to have forgotten or not really paid attention. I have a list of more than 20 questions. As I go down the list, I realize with amazement that they remember all these facts with no struggle at all. I finish the list in less than five minutes, and smile at them. “Ok guys, let’s go for the sea lions.”
Little would prepare us for what we were about to see. We were all intoxicated by the beauty of these animals in their natural environments. Look over there, look, look there, the camera, where is my camera?, my God this is beautiful, I can’t believe I’m here, and what is that, oops don’t step on the poop –were just a few of the many comments we shared. We were very lucky to see little ones surfing, playing in the water, jumping up and cruising along the shoreline. It was spectacular! A young pup was reclining against the boardwalk. It would look up wondering what all those lenses, and iPhones were doing pointing at it. It just remained there calmly looking at us as we shot away!
Later we ran into a wallaby hiding in the bush. Again, he just sat there on top of his tail. He would look at us not too sure what we were up to either. We let it be and continued our journey. Later we shared the silence and beauty of fields that extended before us. With binoculars, we could see black swans swimming along a lake that was left behind by the last ice age. As we walked back to the van, we couldn’t help but feel moved by the enormity of the space and the lack of human sounds around us.
Soon after, we found ourselves listening to Peggy Rismiller, the world specialist in echidna. She shared with us the results of years of devoted research on these incredible mammals. She explained how volunteers from all over the world have collaborated with her in order to obtain such detailed information. The passion of one inspires many others, and eventually they provide knowledge for all. It makes me think of someone I know…yes, the founder of our school.
Are we done yet? Oh no, one more stop! It’s a beautiful beach where we can all swim, walk, run, or just sit and talk for a while. Our guide pulls out hot drinks, cookies, and chocolate cake for our enjoyment. We are all excited after the long day, and are now ready to head back to our hotel.
As I write this, some of the students are sitting on the beach watching the sunset. Others are playing catch with one of our interns, while others are finishing up assignments and homework that needs to be completed. Bedtime will come soon, and another day in school awaits us. School? Yes, this is TGS, the school with no walls.