Monday, June 30, 2014

Thoughts on the Passing of Another Year

Having a birthday six months away from the start of each year means that I somewhat compulsively look at any New Year's resolutions I made for that year and consider whether I'm doing what I resolved. My resolutions of six months ago were not that specific, as seen here and here.

In terms of the first one of those, have I made some art, dreamed dangerously a time or more, and made some epic mistakes? I'd like to think so. I know I've made some epic mistakes, but who hasn't. I've definitely opened my mouth more than once and inserted my foot, at times both of them. I should perhaps try to live the sentiment I found on a friend's blog a while back: Don't make the same mistake twice or you won't have time to make them all. When it comes right down to it, a perfect life would get boring pretty quickly. I've definitely dreamed some dreams, some bigger than others and some which might be looked at askance by some people. Some might even come true. Finally, I've definitely made some art. Anyone who knows me knows that I do that as often as I can.

In terms of the second one, have I lived the life I imagined? I have, at least in some respects, though the life I imagined has been a different one at different points in that life. As I sat in the husband's arms in an underground bar in Coober Pedy, South Australia, in May, listening to oldies and sipping some local brews, it occurred to me that the life I'm living is probably better than any I have imagined along the way. It was one of those transcendent moments where time almost seemed to stand still and all was right with my world.

My brother turned 60 a month ago and has pointed out that my turn is coming in two years. He lives in Maine, so he marked his 60th by climbing Mt. Katahdin at the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I suppose I shall have to give thought to how I might mark mine. As for my 58th tomorrow, I have no real plans. There will be birthday push-ups at SEAL Team PT, more than some people might like. I do not expect much hoopla at home given that younger son is coming down on the weekend meaning hoopla may arise then. Older son has suggested that I might want to make a honeyed apple pie in place of a birthday cake given that he is doing a nutrition challenge in which he cannot eat any processed sugar. I think what he meant to say is that if I tell him, his brother, or the husband how to make one, then one of them will make it. I can draw the line at baking my own birthday treat, can't I?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The How and Why of T-Shirt Quilts

After I posted the following status on Facebook, I got several requests for some how-tos of making a quilt out of t-shirts:
I have all the t-shirt emblems for the next t-shirt quilt stabilized and ready for piecing into quilt squares. Given that this is the 6th t-shirt quilt I've done in the last 2.5 years, I'm starting to get a rhythm down.
This post is my attempt at an answer, which is the "how" part of the post. But first, the "why."

A much more experienced quilter, upon hearing that I was making my first t-shirt quilt, informed me that it would also be my last, that no one makes more than one. So what am I doing making my sixth one (none of which have been for me)? I think (and hope) that I'm helping preserve some memories that might otherwise be lost. Someday I do hope to make a couple for the sons from the boxes of old t-shirts I have packed away for just that purpose. If they're not interested in having a quilt made of some of the very special childhood t-shirts, well, their mom the maker of it would appreciate it.

So, on to the "how." Since I didn't start on this post until after I'd done a bit on the latest quilt and I don't want to put the post out bit by bit as I make the latest quilt, the photos will be from several different quilt efforts. Step one should be obvious. Find the t-shirts you want to use. Make sure you notice if there are designs in more than one place.

This shirt, a duplicate of one in the current quilt, has designs on both the back and front. Sometimes there's a design on a sleeve. Wash and dry the shirts without using any form of fabric softener. Yes, there will be some static cling, but that's better than the invisible coating the softener will leave that will complicate a later step.

After assembling or being given the shirts to be used, I measure the designs, noting the height and width of each design.

Use this information to help determine the size of the blocks. I like to leave at least one inch around each side of the design. I also don't mind having blocks of different sizes, though your mileage may vary. Besides doodling designs on graph paper, there's always the cereal box design tool.

You may already know the size the finished quilt will be, or you may be playing it by ear. The measurements of the designs will help determine the size of your blocks. The current quilt (a commission) will be approximately double or full sized or 54 by 75 inches. For the current quilt, I decided to consider large blocks for the large designs as shown above and smaller blocks for the small designs. The large blocks will be 15 by 15 inches finished (as they will appear in the quilt; there will be 1/4 inch on each side that will be sewn into the seam); the small ones will be half that or 7.5 by 7.5 inches finished. If you have too many shirts, you may have to cull them or make more than one quilt. For the current quilt, I had nine shirts, and ended up with the following arrangement.

Using the 15 and 7.5 inch blocks will give a final size of 60 by 75 inches, which is close enough to double size.

While I'm using blocks of two sizes for this quilt, it's certainly possible to have all the blocks the same size as in the most recent quilt made of music festival t-shirts.

It's also possible to have blocks of more than two or even three sizes.

For these two quilts, I wanted to use something from every shirt I had been given. In order to accommodate all the varying sizes of designs, I had to have several different sizes. To keep things a bit simple, each size was a multiple of three in one direction.

You might notice in the above two quilts and the festival quilt, the blocks are oriented differently. I expected that the two quilts above would be used to sit under when reading or thrown on the back of a couch, rather than displayed as in hung on a wall. I oriented the designs so that no matter what side is the "bottom," there's always at least one design that is right-side-up. The person commissioning the festival shirt asked that all the designs be oriented in the same direction.

Once you've figured out how large the blocks will be, it's time to start prepping the t-shirt designs. I start by carefully cutting the t-shirt apart, leaving plenty of plain shirt around the design. Remember the shirt with large and small designs shown above? Here are the pieces I cut from its duplicate.

I left several inches around each design meaning that I can easily cut a one-inch border around the printed design. I can even cut a bit more should I decide that would look better.

The next step is to stabilize the designs. T-shirts are stretchy, and stretchy does not work well in a quilt. Medium-weight fusible interfacing works well for stabilizing the stretch. For the current quilt, I'm using Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex All-Purpose Woven Fusible Interfacing. Just follow the directions in terms of fusing. And remember way back when I mentioned laundering the shirts without using any fabric softener? The fusible interfacing won't fuse as well if there's a coating on fabric softener on the shirts.

With the designs flipped over, it's easy to see just how close to the edges I went with the fusible interfacing.

I am now at the point where I no longer have photos either of the current quilt or past ones in terms of the construction process, so I'll see if I can explain it in words. If you have not yet decided on a fabric to go around the t-shirt designs, you need to choose one now. Whatever you choose, pre-wash it, a step I normally do not do but will for t-shirt quilts. Since the shirts have all been pre-washed, they will no longer shrink when washed. If they're not going to shrink, I don't want the fabric around them to shrink.

Next, I cut each design into what will appear in the quilt. For me, this means cutting a rectangle one inch larger on each side than the shirt design is. I then add borders of a size that will let me cut a square of the size needed. For the current quilt, I will be cutting large squares to 15.5 inches and small ones to 8 inches. If I'm not sure I have enough of the surrounding fabric, I will get compulsive and measure each design piece and then carefully figuring how wide the border strips need to be and leave just a smidgen to be trimmed off when I cut the blocks square. If I know I have plenty of the fabric, I take the easy way out and sew on borders that I know will be too large but that will make it easy to square things up and cut the piece that will be sewn into the quilt top.

Note: When pressing seams or anything else on the quilt, be very careful not to run your iron over the front of a design. You risk gumming up your iron but worse, ruining that block of the quilt.

Once all the designs have been incorporated into blocks, sew those blocks together. Add a border or borders as desired in terms of the final size of the quilt. Small blocks can be incorporated into the border.

I'm going to assume that if you asked me for something resembling directions for a t-shirt quilt, it's the t-shirt part that's of interest. Layer your t-shirt top with a backing fabric and batting. Pin or baste together as you prefer. (If you need an explanation of this, let me know, and I'll send one privately.)

I have read directions for and seen t-shirt quilts that are tied at the corners of each block. I have also seen t-shirt quilts with quilting only on the fabric that lies between and around the t-shirt pieces. I do much more; I machine quilt my t-shirt quilts in between and all over the t-shirt pieces. First, I stabilize things by quilting in the ditch on all the seams holding rows of shirt pieces together. Then I stabilize things further by quilting in the ditch around the outside of each t-shirt piece within each block. The next part is what I find the most fun--making each t-shirt design stand out by how it's quilted. Sometimes I just follow the lines in the t-shirt design.

Here, besides quilting 1/4 on an inch in from the border fabric, I've also sewn on all the lines in the figure's pants and shirt not to mention the detail in his shoes, hands, and head. Sometimes I also quilt around the figure in the design.

Once I've quilted all the t-shirt pieces, I add whatever quilting I like in the borders around each piece and the borders of the quilt itself. Bind the layers together, and you have a treasury of memories to keep you or someone special warm or just to warm your or their heart.

I hope this gives those who asked for more information enough to get started. If you do, I'm open to questions along the way. I am by no means an expert at quilting in general or t-shirt quilts in particular, but I've also only gotten one complaint about one of my quilts and since it was not from the recipient of that quilt, I don't think it matters. What matters is what the recipient thinks. If they love it, well, that's good enough for me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New Challenges?

I was registered to do a back-to-back GORUCK Challenge and Light in July, hoping to accomplish what I could not in March. Between imminent hypothermia (why I withdrew from the March Challenge) and my mother's condo flooding (why I did not show up for the March Light), my most recent GORUCK experience wasn't really a good one. The May events I'd registered for turned out to be while I would be in Australia, so I moved the registrations to July events. As it turned out, they cancelled the May Challenge though the Light was still held. Today they cancelled both July events. There are still September events on the schedule, but it's not clear those will remain on the schedule for long.

Because I wanted to be successful at doing a Challenge/Light in July and because I just returned from three weeks with no real exercise but walking, I asked the sons to come up with training programs for me. Older son's was short and to the point: carry heavy shit. Younger son's was quite detailed, with some things to be done once weekly; others, three time weekly; and so on. I started two days ago with a four-mile run shortly after I'd finished the hour-long SEAL Team PT workout. I was hurting by the end--it was hot out there!--but I did it. Today I rucked 5.5 miles with a 35-pound pack. The last 1.5 mile lap was a killer, but I actually felt very positive about it, knowing that it was making me stronger.

So this afternoon they cancelled both events. Usually, they don't give refunds; they let you switch your registration to another event. This time, they said we could move the registrations or get a refund or store credit. This is what makes me think that the September events currently on the schedule may not be there for long. Given how much GORUCK gear I already have, I'll probably go for a refund. If the (gun) range gear they're launching in the fall looks decent, I can get some of that with the refund.

This may mean that it is time to concentrate more effort on running given that I am apparently running a half marathon next May. My plan had been to focus on the Challenge/Light until they were held and then switch to running. I'm pretty sure if I don't switch the GORUCK registration now, I won't ever try another event. I had thought that after July, I might only do Lights, not Challenges. That doesn't appeal so much any longer.

Enough thinking out loud. I am not sure why I am in a particularly reflective mood today and see this as something worth special attention. Perhaps it is my approaching birthday. Regular readers of this blog know that I always devote time to reflection then; maybe I'm just starting that early this year.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Uluru Up Close and Far Away

Our first glimpse of Uluru came as we drove here. It rose off to our left, taunting us to stop for the photo op.

 Then the road turned, and Uluru disappeared. We did not see it again that day despite arriving at the Ayers Rock Resort, the closest lodging to Uluru. We could have seen it, but we did not seek it out since we knew we would be seeing it at sunset the next day and sunrise the day after that. Instead, we expanded our knowledge of Aussie beers and ate pizza.

We had but one mission for the next morning—attend the boomerang and spear throwing class. We threw boomerangs at a workshop in Charlottesville a few years back. David Maurer wrote a feature article about it for the Daily Progress. I ended up featured in the article thanks to the squeal I let out when I finally got the boomerang to return to me. I figured that if I didn’t get to throw a boomerang here that was okay. I wanted to throw a spear, and throw a spear I did. Not very well, mind you, but I threw one.

The spears were rough and not very aerodynamic. I think my farthest throw was about 15 yards. Two ways of throwing a spear were presented, one barehanded and one using something like a launch platform. I only threw barehanded. Your index finger fits in a depression into one end of the spear, and then you launch it over your shoulder. The launch platform (there was a name for it, but I don’t remember) was a bit longer than one foot. The spear sat in it, and you sent your arm forward while holding on to the platform. The people who used this seemed to be throwing farther than those of us who didn’t. The husband also gave it a whirl.

I was pretty dismal at throwing the boomerang, though I did get it to arc back around once.

We learned that there are returning boomerangs and non-returning boomerangs. A returning boomerang would be thrown into a flock of birds or ducks getting them to fly up so that they could be taken down. Because the boomerang returned, the hunter did not have to risk crocodile attack going into the water to retrieve it. The non-returning boomerangs were larger and heavier and were intended to kill something.

After the spears and boomerangs, I retired to the laundry room to work on my previous blog post. The husband went to a didgeridoo class. Because women traditionally do not play the didgeridoo, I figured I was better off not being there and unable to participate. The husband evidently got some notes out of the didgeridoo he tried, something not everyone managed to do.

In the evening, we went to something called the Sounds of Silence dinner. It started with libations and canapes while watching the sun set at Uluru.

The photo above was taken by a young American who works for Boeing in Newcastle. His parents were visiting him, and we really hit it off trading stories. Once the sun was pretty much down, we moved to an outdoor dining room where we combined to make a party of five to sit together. We were joined by an Australian couple and a global family of three—a German wife, a British husband, and their 12-year-old daughter who was born in Germany. The family lived for a time in New Zealand but now live in Melbourne.

Dinner featured Australian specialties such as kangaroo and crocodile accompanied, of course, by some good Australian wines. During the dinner there were various entertainments including some aboriginal dancers and a didgeridoo player. When it was dark, around dessert time, an astronomer showed us various parts of the night sky including the Milky Way (I have never seen that from Charlottesville) and another galaxy and, of course, the Southern Cross. Unintended entertainment was also provided by the dingoes that circled the dining area. Because our table was at one side rather than surrounded by other tables, we got especially up close with one dingo in particular. In terms of how one deals with dingoes, here’s a sign from the hotel’s Laundromat.

The 14-kilometer (9 miles) sunrise hike started quite early or perhaps it only felt that way given the wine consumed the night before. The hike was small—just four of us with the guide. The sunrise was every bit as stunning as the sunsets we’ve seen have been.

One of the most interesting things about being so up close and personal with Uluru was seeing how the colo(u)rs changed as the angle of the sun changed. The following photos were taken at various points throughout the morning with the sun at different angles and from different directions.

The variety of flowering plants was also impressive.

Thirty percent of the rain that falls on Uluru collects in this watering hole.

Rock paintings and petroglyphs aren’t common, but there are a few. I needed the super-zoom on my camera to get the first shot, which is a petroglyph rather than a painting. The tracks shown are those of an emu.

 In terms of wildlife, we didn’t really see any but some birds, unless you count this termite nest.

Climbing Uluru is discouraged, but people still do it anyway.

Right now, about 26 percent of the visitors to Uluru try to climb it. If that figure gets down to 20 percent, they may put an outright ban on climbing. There are real issues with the amount of human waste deposited on top of the rock and leaching down into the water below. The lithium from discarded batteries is also affecting the ecosystem.

Finally, I should offer proof that we were there. Here we are at the end of the walk, tired but none the worse for wear.

And, perhaps more exciting, here we are with our butts on the same bench that held Prince William and Kate’s butts on their recent trip here.

After we returned from the walk, we had time to kill thinking they would clean our room in the meantime. They didn't, but the husband took a dynamite panorama from one of the resort's observation points.

And so, tomorrow we start on the way home. We fly from the Ayers Rock airport to Sydney and, on the day after, from there to Los Angeles, then Atlanta, then home. It will be a long day as we reclaim the one we lost on the way out here. Three weeks was a good length for this trip. We are both ready to head home. Two weeks would not have been enough, but four would have been too many. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them as my trip journal of sorts. Until next trip...

Neither Rain Nor Snow Nor Dark of Night

Mail carriers in Coober Pedy, South Australia don’t need to worry about snow, but rain and dark of night can be sources of concern, as we learned during our day with Peter, one of the local posties. Going on the mail run was one reason for coming to Coober Pedy, the other being the chance to stay in an underground hotel room and drink at an underground bar. Our room at the Desert Cave Hotel was not underground in the sense of being down a hole; it was underground in the sense of being dug into the side of a hill. My dad would have loved it there; he once showed me several things he’d read about dugout houses and commented how much he would like to try one. Well, Dad, I got the chance and you would have loved it.

Our day on the mail run started a bit late. The tour was full—12 people—all Aussies save for us. Peter started by reminding us that it was a real mail run and that we would be stopping at two towns and five cattle stations while driving through three additional stations for a total of 600 kilometers. The first leg would be 200 kilometers to the town of Oodnadatta. As we left Coober Pedy proper, he noted that 60 percent of the local population live underground. One such residence actually has five bedrooms, each with its own en-suite facilities. There is one dugout residence in a somewhat skinny hill that features front and back doors to above ground. Peter said that he had lived in his underground residence for 40 years, perfectly comfortable despite having no heating nor air conditioning. Keeping with the underground theme, it is worth noting that the starting point for the mail run was also underground.

As we left Coober Pedy onto what is called the Oodnadatta Track, Peter noted that we were somewhat lucky in terms of seeing the surrounding fields dressed in green rather than the reddish brown usual at this time of year. The green came thanks to an unseasonably timed rain in the last week.

Not very far through those fields, we crossed the world’s longest man-made structure, the dingo fence.

It stretches some 5,600 kilometers across the country and serves to allow Australia to have a sheep industry. A dingo is a dog, not a wolf or some sort of crossbreed; it may be the oldest type of dog on the planet. Unlike a domesticated dog, it yips and howls but does not bark. It is also supposedly four times more intelligent than a domesticated dog. The other big difference, and the one that makes the dingo fence necessary, is that a dingo kills for fun not food. One dingo has been known to kill 20 sheep in one night. Peter told us of one sheep farmer who went on vacation and came home to discover he had 268 fewer sheep than when he’d left.

After the dingo fence, Peter noted that the land around us was the Moon Plain, in no small part because it resembled what people thought the surface of the moon would look like.

The Moon Plain is part of the Great Artesian Basin, the world’s largest internal drainage basin and containing 20 percent of the land mass of Australia. This means that the water here does not flow into any ocean but remains part of the water system here. Fossil evidence suggests that the basin was formed as an inland sea when what is now Australia broke away from the land that is now Antarctica. The basin is a semi-desert. The average rainfall is five inches, but it comes in torrential rains rather than throughout the year. When the rain falls in the summer, grass grows; when it falls in the winter, the result is flowers. The air temperature can get as high as 64 degrees Celsius in summer; for those more familiar with Fahrenheit degrees, that’s 147. Besides the aquifer, a large field of shale oil, possibly holding 330 billion barrels, sits underneath the Great Artesian Basin. Unfortunately, the only way of getting at that oil is through fracking.

The harsh landscape is well suited for cattle farming. The barley grass that grows provides excellent nutrition. The grass grows in clumps around the salt bushes. The roots of a salt bush move rocks away making a depression around the bush that helps the grass to grow. Peter said that after a heavy enough rain, a person really can see the grass grow over a matter of hours. The fact that cattle must also walk for water leads to a higher muscle mass, making for some great beef. Most of the cattle stations we crossed or stopped at were roughly 5,000 square kilometers with about 3,600 to 4,000 head of cattle.

The first station at which we stopped was Mt. Barry. The husband made the observation that it looked much like the farms in Saskatchewan, with the house being miniscule when compared to the barn and other work buildings.

Mt. Barry was also where we put a stop to the Aussie salute of waving flies away from our faces and instead donned bug nets as a fashion statement.

The folks at home who loaned us these nets get a special shout-out from across the water and the Equator. We’ve used them a lot so far and will use them more before we head for home.

The stations in this area got phone service in 1986. There is still no cell phone service here. Before the phone lines, all communication with the outside world was by radio. Somewhere in the midst of before the phone lines came, there was a “red phone” that converted the radio waves to phone waves meaning that someone on a radio in the Outback could communicate with someone on a phone in Adelaide or beyond.

Depending on your background, you may have had the chance to watch an old (I watched it in 1989 on the BBC) television series about Australia’s Flying Doctors. Health care in the towns of the Outback is handled by nurse practitioners. If a doctor is needed, the Flying Doctors come in. Peter told us one story about medicine in the Outback that is somewhat funny but only in retrospect. At one point before phone lines, Peter served as an ambulance driver. As such, he was summoned once to a car accident. One of the victims was a young girl with a head injury. There happened to be a Flying Doctor flying nearby who was able to land and get to the accident site. The red phone got patched through to a neurosurgeon at the Royal Hospital in Adelaide. The neurosurgeon advised the doctor on-site to drill a burr hole in the girl’s skull to relieve the pressure. As this was a somewhat advanced procedure, the appropriate implements to perform it were not available. Here’s the part that may remind you of a certain scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. There just happened to be a man there who offered that he worked for the telecomm company and had in his tool box a brand new (as in had not been used and was about as clean as you could get out there) drill along with brand new (again, think cleanliness) drill bits. The neurosurgeon was asked how big the burr hole should be in terms of the drill bits available. Peter’s role was to wave flies away as the hole was drilled. Once the burr hole had been drilled and the girl otherwise stabilized, she was loaded into the Flying Doctors plane and taken to Adelaide for treatment. Peter said he was notified six weeks later that the girl was going back to school and showing no ill effects of the accident or the treatment.

Children on the cattle stations get their education through the School of the Air. In the radio-only days, this was done over the radio. The teacher would call roll every morning, and children needed to be by their station’s radio to respond that they were there and ready. As you might imagine, the telephone was a very helpful learning tool and helped speed up the turnaround on assignments. The government decided, though, that even that was too slow and placed a priority on getting satellite and broadband Internet to the stations. The School of the Air now operates via online classes. At the secondary level, many students attend boarding school in Adelaide. Supposedly, 80 to 90 percent of the School of the Air students arrive at boarding school better prepared than the graduates of conventional schools. There may be a bit of selection bias here in terms of the socio-economic status of people who can own a cattle station and afford to send their kids to boarding school.

Aside: If you read my post about our train journey from Perth to Adelaide, you might remember that I mentioned boxes with solar panels that sit beside the train tracks. Before I could ask Peter what they were, he mentioned that they amplified the telephone signals.

And in a final note about education to remote areas, Peter mentioned that a 92-year-old woman had recently earned her doctorate studying interactively from the Outback.

Peter told us that to the east, behind some hills, was Lake Eyre. If the water level in the lake got high enough, brine shrimp hatched and turned the lake a pink color. (This answered another question we had about a pink lake we had passed on our way to Coober Pedy the day before.) When this happens, birds and animals, some from as far away as Siberia, come to the lake to eat. In 1989, 32,000 pelicans from the coasts arrived at Lake Eyre, one of which had been banded on the Swan River that flows through Perth. Three years later, this same bird was located back on the Swan River. The mechanism by which the animals know when the brine shrimp hatched is one of the animal kingdom’s great mysteries.

We eventually arrived in the town of Oodnadatta, where we would be having lunch. Peter had passed around a menu from the Pink Roadhouse and radioed our orders in so that they could be ready when we got there. Oodnadatta was formed in the 1890s as a rail station. While at one point in time, 500 people lived there, the current population is 180. In its days as a rail station, Oodnadatta was where the train from Adelaide ended, meaning that after three to four days on the train, folks heading to Alice Springs got off the train and began a nine-day camel ride to get there. Given that the highest temperature recorded in Oodnadatta is 53.1 degrees Celsius (128 degrees Fahrenheit), that may have been one uncomfortable camel ride.

Lunch was eaten at the Pink Roadhouse, so called because, yes, it’s pink.

It even has a pink car out front to go with the pink canoes.

There were also pink table cloths.

If you wondered why we would be delivering mail to a roadhouse, it’s because it is not only a roadhouse but also the post office not to mention the bank.

With only 180 people, Oodnadatta did not take long to drive around. Houses were small and basic.

If you thought you saw a bird atop the very bare tree in the last photo, you did. It’s a Major Mitchell cockatoo.

There is also a railway museum in the old train station.

The husband and I went over to see it with another couple. It assumed a lot of knowledge I didn’t have, so I headed back to the van before the others. People who know some of the travel adventures I’ve had will appreciate that on my way back, I rolled the usual ankle (left) stepping on something unknown in the yard of the museum and fell forward onto my right knee. Walking in the street, still on my way back, a small dog (one of three walking off-leash with a couple) decided I merited attacking. When I got back to the roadhouse where the van was, I figured I should check the right knee onto which I’d fallen. Yep, it was skinned and bleeding and as soon as I could see that, there were two flies making the acquaintance of my type O-positive blood.

In the fields beside the road are little shiny specks of gypsum. Also found in the fields are tectites, which were highly prized by the indigenous people when sharpened into cutting implements. We also stopped at one point to check a beside-the-road mailbox.

Peter said that there probably would not be any mail in it (there wasn’t) but since he was on the mail run he really should check it. Peter also pointed out a small something on the side of a hill. Being curious about what it was, he stopped one day and climbed up to inspect it. It was labelled as a Tsunami Seismic Testing Station. He also pointed out some bare trees which he said were known as dead dog trees. (Do you see where this is going?) They have no bark. (I could have included a lot more of Peter’s jokes, but I’m sparing you.)

As we turned and drove up to look around an old railway building, there was a rather load clunking noise from under the front of the van. As we explored the site, Peter looked to see if he could find what had caused the clunk.

In the distance, you could see a windmill that looks surprisingly akin to the one my grandfather had on his Nebraska farm.

Peter said that when one of these windmills breaks down today, it is typically replaced by a solar powered pump. As for the clunk, Peter had been unable to find the cause, so off we went. It wasn’t long before we noticed a lack of air conditioning. Peter noted that the clunk must have come from something hitting the fan in the engine. He pulled off at Algebukina Bridge, a trestle on the old railway. While he and most of the men investigated the van situation, the women and a man or two not interested in or knowledgeable about engines explored the trestle.

It wasn’t clear to me if the railings and flooring would have been sufficient in the litigious U.S., but the end of the explorable part of the trestle definitely would not have been.

In terms of the investigation into the original clunk, the men determined that something had sheared off the fan. Fortunately, the fan had fallen back onto some wires rather than falling totally out or cutting through those wires. The husband was glad that he’d brought along his leather jacket. He was one of the men who checked things out underneath the van, and the leather jacket really helped protect against the gravel-covered ground. We were also extremely lucky in that it was late autumn rather than summer. It is one thing to deal with no air conditioning or engine-cooling capability in the late autumn, but in summer, it could easily be fatal. Even with the radio operational, it would have taken quite some time for someone to get out to us with the parts to make the van drivable.

As we continued, we passed what once had been the Warrina rail station. The former population of 300 had trickled down to the current population of three. We also saw several wild kangaroos, fortunately just sitting alongside the road rather than jumping across it. As the van approached they scattered out into the grass.

We also watched, first from the van

later from the roadside,

and then from the van again

another incredible sunset. We had marveled the night before at a sunset that stretch around half the sky. This one stretched around the entire sky. When I took this shot, my back was to the setting sun.

When we were all back in the van and heading for dinner in William Creek, Peter told us that as sunsets here go, he would have to rate the one we had just oohed and aahed over “mediocre.”

We stopped for a later-than-expected dinner in William Creek, where the pub will let you affix your business card to the ceiling if you make a donation to the Flying Doctors.

There’s also a guardian just inside the door.

Outside the door was a dog avidly engaged in eating a rat. There is no photo of that; you’ll just have to take my word for it.

On the way back to Coober Pedy from William Creek, we passed through the Prince Anna station which, at 24,000 square kilometers or roughly the size of Belgium, is the largest cattle station in terms of land area in the world. With only 18,000 head of cattle, it is not the largest in terms of herd size.

The last tidbit of information I gained was that the cowboys of cattle stations no longer ride horses. Most now get around the fields on motorbikes. I tell you; it’s just not the same world it used to be. I wonder if they still wear cowboy hats.