Nobody knows why we have five toes. Go ahead – open a new tab and search it. You’ll get a bunch of scientific stuff about how toes shortened when we came down out of the trees, and about how we needed so many digits early on for clinging to branches. I’m not going to talk about fingers, in deference to Inigo Montoya. But if you had four extra toes, you would walk more steadily, have better balance (the more to consume wine), and hold a poolside eight-card flush, which beats an eight-card straight. This little piggy could have four extra destinations between the market and roast beef.
But what I’m really talking about is having four little extra things that you probably would not think about if they weren’t there. That’s what we did this weekend in Canberra: the zoo, the botanical gardens, the old parliament house, and a science center called Questicon. All were within 15 minutes of our place in Canberra, and very few inhabitants, I surveyed, had experienced them.
I saw my first wildfire, up close, at the botanical garden – they were doing some small “controlled burns” on the ground, around some of the vegetation. Just little flames that licked around the trunks and left a black-grey ash over the soil. Then they turned on the sprinklers, which gave me a chuckle. My guide didn’t know too many details on the how and why, but I know a bunch of Boy Scouts who would love to get a piece of that action. The gardens had everything from daisies (Stacey’s favorite) to termite mounds (not her favorite). I learned more about eucalypt varieties than I thought possible, but little of it stuck, other than using the bark to make rope, and a few that can produce syrup. Here there are bees that are independent, not part of a hive, but still very important for pollination. There’s also an interestingly shaped bottle tree,
The zoo was a bit expensive, quite disorganized, and a bit sad. The walking paths would get you lost faster than a caravan in a sandstorm, and most of the animals were lying far away in the shade, sleeping. The only way to get them up close was to feed them, so of course, we did, though you have to pay extra. There’s nothing so exhilarating like having an alpaca come up and start eating your shirt; oh, I didn’t pay for that – it just happened. Stacey got to feed the three giraffes (dad, mom, and 9-month old baby, which was still 10 feet tall). They were very friendly, and hungry – they would rip the fresh leaves right out of your hands, and then use their tongues to scoop up some horse pellets, which they really liked. We also went in with a guide and fed and petted a tree kangaroo – very cute little guy, but had the potential to bite, so the key was to keep him busy with food, so we want’s attracted to your fingers. Australia was once covered with rainforest, and these little guys were bigger and ruled the land. Once the climate changed and the rainforests shrank, regular roos evolved to take over the bush, and the tree roos have declined dramatically.
Questicon is a great science museum, missing one thing: adult swim. There were tons of cool things to play with, but you either had to stand in line, or if you tried to move, you stepped on a dozen seven-year-olds who just want to run around and push buttons without reading the nice plaques on the exhibits. If you do manage to push them out of the way, you would be able do things like:
- play air hockey against a robotic arm or against 3 other people in a cross-shape
- put on a slippery suit and free fall 25 feet down a slide
- freeze your shadow on a wall
- stick your hand inside a tornado
One thing that mesmerized us for a good 20 minutes, partly because all you had to do is stand there a watch it, was a demonstration of how comets vent parts of their surface as they orbit near the sun. This is physically illustrated by dropping little crystals of dry ice from a conveyor belt into a pool of water. The comets float on the surface, but you see these little jets coming out the sides, and they scoot around under the plexiglass. There’s lots to do and see and touch – just make sure you use the hand sanitizer stations located every 15 feet.
The old parliament house has rotating exhibits – downstairs was a collection of the best political cartoons of 2016 – and quite a few related to the US election, ’nuff said. Upstairs, you walk around and learn about the early prime ministers, or social and economic landmarks in Australia’s century of independent history, or you can sit in the actual House and Senate rooms, in the same seats that were actually used up until 1986. I yearned to stand up and holler, “Mr. Speaker!” There also was a remarkable history of the Magna Carta, illustrating just how much world history I had forgotten since high school.
In addition to our normal weekend activities of people-watching at the Dock Bar and perusing bread and vegetables at the farmer’s marker, it was a good way to spend a dreary, windy, drizzly weekend – one that converted both of our umbrellas into fabric-clad spider-webs. No, these places won’t be on your Top 10 list of things to see if you only had a weekend on Canberra. But they would be on your top 14, if you had 14 toes.