Wednesday, February 27, 2013

About the Merganser

Most Putney residents assumed the merganser ducks that hang around the bay were originally brought in from eastern Russia in the early 1900s for sport shooting. Rumor has it that these ducks were the descendants of north Asian mergansers that got away.
Not so!
After years of research on obscure islands south of New Zealand, ornithology expert Delilah Wiggins of Putney University has determined that New Island's  mergansers are a close relative of the Auckland Merganser long thought to be extinct! See the Wikipedia article below:
The Auckland Merganser or Auckland Islands Merganser (Mergus australis) was a typical merganser which is now (almost) extinct.
This duck was similar in size to the Red-breasted Merganser. The adult male had a dark reddish-brown head, crest and neck, with bluish black mantle and tail and slate grey wings. The female was slightly smaller with a shorter crest.

Illustration from 1909

Drawing of the head
This bird was first collected when a French expedition led by the explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville on the ships L'Astrolabe and La Zelee visited the Auckland Islands in 1840. Its decline was caused by a combination of hunting and predation by introduced mammals. The bird was not flightless, but rather hard to flush; it preferred to hide between rocks when pursued. The last sighting was of a pair shot on January 9, 1902. It was not found in a 1909 search, and a thorough 1972/1973 exploration of possible habitat concluded that it was long extinct (Williams & Weller, 1974).
Subsequent fossil discoveries suggest that this merganser was previously resident on the South Island and Stewart Island/Rakiura in New Zealand. Fossils of a subspecies or closely related species have also been found on the Chatham Islands. There exists a short remark mentioning "a merganser" found on Campbell Island in McCormick (1842), but this may just as well refer to the semi-marine Campbell Teal which is otherwise missing in his notes: he only mentions the Pacific Black Duck ("a New Zealand species of duck").
There are unconfirmed reports of an extant Auckland merganser population on The Commonwealth of New Island, a warmer large island west of Australia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Cecelia Ave. Bridge...

... was the pride and joy of Alexander Poloustrov's modernization efforts in the early 1900s.  As the railway bridge was nearing completion, he moved his labor force 200 yards up the bay to begin construction on a similar concrete arch span, which was completed in 1914. The elegant street lighting was special-ordered from St. Petersburg and shipped around South Africa.  
It's wide sidewalks and little traffic make it a favorite walking route back and forth from downtown Putney to the west/northwest neighborhoods. Jumping off or diving from the bridge is not allowed, though young daredevils try it quite often. Some have met a grisly end by hitting a stone abutment (such as where the Chinese merganser is standing) instead of the water. There have been eighteen known suicide attempts from the bridge, but probably more since records have been spotty. Only two of these were known to be successful, since it's not that high off the water.
Except for frightening off the merganser, the tsunami had no affect on the bridge.
A brief review:
This all happened in the City of Putney, on 
The Commonwealth of New Island, in the Indian Ocean. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

As the 4:42 crossed the Landon Everard Railway Bridge...

...the tsunami had just passed beneath it! When the passengers saw the roiling waves, the conductor assured them that, "This bridge is plenty strong enough to take that little bit of rough water!"

This cast-concrete parabolic-arch bridge was built in 1908 during the Great Modernization directed by Governor General Alexander Poloustrov. Under the reign of  Czar Nicholas II, Poloustrov built hundreds of miles of new roads, streets, and railways as well as hydroelectric dams and deep-water harbors to modernise New Island. This ambitious Great Leap Forward was intended to tell the world that Russia was also creating a colonial empire to rival that of Great Britain, Germany and the USA. Poloustrov's modernization was surprisingly accomplished with hired labor - a story unto itself!

Landon Everard, a New Island native, later won brief fame for sending the first international  telegraph message to Perth, Western Australia. The railways maintained the telegraph and early telephone systems, so the bridge was named after Everard in 1992.

The Putney Interurban Streetcar Authority (PISA) runs trains every 15 minutes over this bridge from the Downtown Station to the western and northern suburbs. A narrow bike/walking path was added in 2011, but it was a bad idea. The trains ran so close to the path that few people used it, and two 11-year-olds were almost hit by a train while arguing and shoving each other during a rainstorm (a long story). The path was closed late in 2012.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Also on the Cecelia Bridge...

...Georgina Lark was taking her sister Francine's baby, Tomas, for an outing in his pram. She was returning to Newtown (Francine's neighborhood NW of downtown Putney) from the Fantasia Market, and had been walking for over an hour, in the gathering afternoon heat, with no hat. She was hot and thirsty and beginning to find this tiresome.

She had let go of the carriage (thinking it would stay put) to dig in her purse for a mint or something when she suddenly noticed the tsunami coming up the bay. In those few seconds of Georgina's spellbound distraction, the pram had edged away from her down the sidewalk...

By now the wave was crashing almost directly below the bridge and Warren McGovern, excitedly dancing and waving his arms, (having just seen the wave) nearly fell over the pram. He grabbed its handle just before it tumbled into the street, rescuing young Tom! He then hollered toward Georgina, who was still staring at the water, "Hey, is this yours?"
More bystanders had rushed onto the bridge wanting to know what was happening, and Georgina seemed to delight in all the attention. To anyone listening, she explained she had recently returned to Putney from far-away Los Angeles, California, where she had been living for several years. "I almost got married there", she said, still somewhat breathless. While Warren waited with the pram, she went on about trying out for acting parts in Hollywood movies, but not having much success; in fact, no success at all. "You just can't believe how tricky and creepy those movie agents are...why, there was this one time..." 
Warren, still holding the pram, made eyes at Tomas while thinking that Georgina might have only one oar in the water...

Monday, February 18, 2013

On the Cecelia Avenue Bridge...

...Warren Mc Govern was taking his late afternoon break from his cook's helper job at the Rainbow Coffee Shop located just west of the bridge. The Rainbow is run by two women, Alison and Janel, who have built up quite a nice business. Warren likes his smelly cigarettes and they don't, so he often walks out to the bridge railing and stares at the bay, deep in his thoughts. (He smokes Rugby Lights, a local brand found no where else!) Warren thinks of himself as a "Modern Philosopher" and wants to write a book of his ruminations one day. He hasn't quite started it yet.

Warren grew up in tiny Spofford, a sheep-country town inland from Newport, down south. He got out of there as quick as he could, and has been working odd jobs, first in Victoria Harbor, then in Putney when he learned about the university, as well as Putney's more literary/bohemian culture. He likes the Rainbow because it attracts so many students, including a certain female philosophy major named Marjorie that he'd like to know better.

The day the tsunami rolled in, Warren was leaning on the railing as usual, and was probably the last person on the bridge to really notice the wave. He was absently watching the girl on the bicycle (Martha) and not until she suddenly swerved up the bank that it dawned on him there was something happening here. We see Warren just as he re-enters current reality...

Friday, February 15, 2013

As the tsunami surged under the railway bridge...

...Martha Wollensak was riding along the bike/walk path with her headphones on. She later told her boyfriend that she saw some people waving at her from the bridge and she thought, "Wow, do I know those people?" Then she suddenly felt water rushing around her feet, and it almost upset her bicycle. She managed to swerve up the grass embankment just before she came upon Bob's Prop Shop, but she got plenty wet anyway. Martha is from Wheatland in the rather dry Highlands, and had just come down to visit her boyfriend Rod, now attending Putney University. She didn't expect the ocean to visit upon her.
"That was enough bicycling for me today." said Martha, still a bit breathless... 

Martha is about to get wet

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When the tsunami came through...

...this little red truck was crossing the Cecelia Avenue Bridge.

It's a Haulzall Type 2, gets up to 95 miles to the gallon (gas prices are through the roof on New Island) and can easily cruise at 65 miles per hour. The Type 2 is a kind of Tuk Tuk, but with four wheels instead of three. It's built in Victoria Harbor, mostly of imported parts from Thailand, and uses a high-efficiency, very quiet, gas/biofuel engine designed by Arnold F. Partener, who moved here from New Zealand. Arnold had been tinkering with small engines all his life, but couldn't find backers in New Zealand or Australia (they couldn't believe his claims of efficiency). He moved here in 2002, set up a small plant in an long-abandoned whale-oil processing building in Victoria Harbor's Marketside District, hired a few semi-retired foundry specialists and machinists and set to work. (VH once was a ship repair center, and, before that, a whaling center run by the Russians. Many machinists stayed on after the Russians left in 1992.) 

The first trucks came on the market in 2009, and were an instant success! New Island was finally in the home-built transportation business, after years of importing. Haulzall is developing a Type 2 Electric model, but Partener's company, Nevermore Transport, is not yet happy with the cost, weight, and environmental risks of the battery.

Most trucks are meant for commercial use - very few are used privately. This one happens to be owned by Putney University.