Monday 19 November 2012


I have to admit, I was initially a bit sceptical about the hoo-haa surrounding the total solar eclipse. A couple of years in advance, all the hotels in Cairns were fully booked out around the target date of November 14. The chance of a cloudy November morning on the far northern coast of Queensland is about 30%, so we had a 1 in 3 chance of seeing nothing but a false evening. And the eclipse was due to occur just after dawn, when (babies not withstanding) I am typically still in bed. Meh. How much of a spectacle could it be?

As the date crept closer, of course, there was nothing you could do to avoid it. Everyone in Cairns was talking about it. The forecast attempts from the weather bureau were coming thick and fast from about a week out. Local authorities were warning residents about likely mayhem on the roads for the few hours before and after. And makers of eclipse sunglasses were making an absolute killing - surely some of those crappy "filters" were nothing more than $5 squares of black paper!

In the end, though, I couldn't stay away. We had a friend visit from Japan and put in a detour to Cairns just for the event. A work colleague invited us around to his place, for a great view over the city and the mountains from his balcony. We borrowed some welding shields from my wife's father, who made them to view the transit of Venus earlier in the year. We bought some bubbly. We got up at 05:00 and were in place by 06:15 to see it all go down.

What do you know, there was a big fat cloud right in front of the sun as it rose over the coastal ranges. Massive fail incoming.

But wait... the edge of the cloud is brightening... glimpses of the sun, quick get the glasses... 2 minutes to go and the clouds have parted perfectly... what do you know, those crappy sunglasses really do work - but the welding shields are SOOOO much better, you can even take photos through them...

Within a matter of the last few seconds before totality, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, and you could start to look in the general direction of the sun without being blinded. And suddenly, the sun was gone, replaced by the moon and its halo.

There followed two minutes of beautiful, perfect, somehow-I-feel-insignificant-in-the-universe totality. ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE.

Even our little boy Ryo noticed it, between chasing the dog around the house. "The mooooon!" he cried and pointed. I guess he won't remember it when he's an adult, but I'll make sure he knows that he's seen it, because for most of us it's truly a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

And I can sort of understand why some people travel the world chasing eclipses, waiting for their next solar fix. Brief though that interlude of totality may be, it is truly a wonder of our existence in this corner of the multiverse. I think the comment that sums it up for me was to the tune of, "The fact that the moon covers the sun so perfectly makes you wonder that someone must have organised it that way." It certainly makes we wonder, and in any case, it was wonderful.

And for all you guys hanging out down at the Esplanade, I think that cloud that moved out of the way for us must have moved into the way for you. Sorry. Better luck in South Australia in a couple of decades time, eh? :)

If I hadn't been living right under the path of the eclipse, of course, I probably wouldn't have bothered. Another reason I feel lucky to have moved to Cairns some six years ago. No wonder they call it paradise.



Tuesday 20 March 2012

Beautiful design

I don't know what my wife is doing, but our little girl is BIG. Growing at double the rate of most babies in the eight weeks since her birth. I've searched the house for syringes and growth hormone - nothing. Maybe there's something about giving birth on Australia Day that puts a little extra zing in your breast milk? In any case, our daughter Aya is already as big as most kids twice her age and every bit the healthy, beautiful girl we had hoped for, so I guess we'll just count our lucky stars.

The character we chose for Aya means "beautiful design", with some common usage in relation to kimonos. Masumi was keen to have a one-character name, to match our older boy Ryo. I was just happy to give her a solid, easily understood name. It happened that she joined us on her due day - just like Ryo - and at a time when we were about to move into our new home. With such good timing, and in the face of the awesome reality and blessing of now having two children, it's easy to believe that it really is all part of some greater, beautiful design.

Oh, and there was the small matter of her being born on AustrAYA Day... :)

Of course, new baby and moving house all made for a good deal of mayhem to kick off the year. Having Masumi's mother on hand to help for nearly two months made the house even busier, but certainly lightened the load. Another big help was ten days of dedicated paternity leave, courtesy of our recently approved enterprise agreement. A few of the boys from work pitched in to help us do the move - couldn't have done it without them! And we were in the house just in time for my brother to visit for a week, during which I put him to work with shovel and wheelbarrow to make a fantastic start on the landscaping.

In the four weeks we've been in the house thus far, we've always had a visitor staying with us - Masumi's mum, my brother, then my mum. It's only now, a month later, that we finally have the place to ourselves. The company's been wonderful, but it's nice to have a quiet Saturday night to ourselves, at last!

However, I could do with a little extra help around the garden still. We're getting someone else to do the patch of grass out the front, but I've got a massive load of rocks and gravel still to move around by myself, trying to stop our soil from eroding away in the big wet. It's only really the last couple of weeks that the wet season has come on in earnest here in tropical north Queensland - all the rain went south before that! Hopefully a few well placed boulders will help to hold it all together until the dry.

We get to enjoy a bit of quiet time until June, when we're probably heading off to Japan for our usual summer pilgrimage. If you have a chance to visit Cairns in the meantime, now that we've got room for guests, feel free to get in touch!

Until next time,