Birds Falling from the Trees

It was about 12 degrees Celsius hotter than our guidebook’s projected average Spring temperature for pretty much our entire trip from Longreach to Adelaide. Ouch!


Last Wednesday a friendly caretaker at Beltana Station saw sweat tickling down my brow and asked me how hot it gets in New York. She had seen a movie one time where the main character is a woman who is trying to escape oppressive heat in a New York summer. I almost didn’t want to answer because this was going to be the alligator and the crocodile all over again. And the “American” position never fares well in that debate.

In case you’re an American wondering what I’m talking about, well, let’s put it this way: Australians aren’t much impressed by alligators. To hear them tell it, they consider Gators at about the same threat level as a pet iguana. And I’m not talking about the Gators coached (for now) by Will Muschamp. I’m talking real toothy gators hungry for a meal. Everywhere we go, if the subject comes up, Australians point out that crocodiles are far bigger and tougher than alligators. Now, I have wrestled neither alligator nor crocodile, and have no imminent plans to, but by all accounts the saltwater crocodile is a super predator which hunts man and beast alike with an unmatched wild ruthlessness. They are hard to spot – it’s the croc you don’t see that gets you- and I want no part of an unexpected croc encounter. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make alligators geckos. An alligator is certainly capable of ending you, or at least taking a limb. Apparently there is a reality show about Cajun Gator hunters popular in Queensland, which made it seem like alligators are weak animals. I have no way of verifying either that the hunters were Cajun or what they did that made the gators seem docile, having not seen the show, but Aussies out there I assure you – gators will bite hard if provoked.

Back to my story. So you see my predicament. When I say a hot summer’s day in New York is in the mid-90s, my new friend will do the math (35 degrees Celsius) and chuckle. You see, 35 is hot of course, but it’s in the mid 40s today here and still Spring. I don’t even want to know what 50 degrees feels like (122 degrees), but we will almost certainly encounter it in the summer if we come back to the interior. The thing is, New York IS hot in the summer, even at 35 Celsius. Sure, it’s no Outback, but with the humidity and the heat from the concrete, busy streets, smog and automobiles, it gets petty darn uncomfortable. I suspect even this woman would emerge from the subway drenched in sweat if she were unfortunate enough to have to wait too long for a train during a commute from a subway platform without aircon in her office attire. But if I say any of this, it will just sound like an excuse, like I can’t admit my inferiority. Even my Alabama childhood, which consisted of long stretches of 100-plus degree days in the summer, doesn’t really compare to 50 Celsius with no AC. Plus, this place had alpacas…I’m just saying, it’s not likely you will ever win the one up game against someone who has alpacas…


My dad used to describe this as the “one up game”, something in human nature that compels people to tell a bigger or better story after they hear you tell your story.

Well, I answered the question. “95 degrees.” Her eyes moved as she calculated mid-30s. She shrugged. “That’s not so hot.” I tried to explain about the humidity, about the amplification of heat in the city. “Still, it’s a lot hotter than that here, right now,” she said, clearly let down by 95 degrees. I couldn’t bring myself to discuss heat indexes. Instead I tried to recover with an Alabama story, about how hot it was at a BBQ festival I went to at Sloss furnace one time when the temperature was 102, people were smoking ribs everywhere, and the heat was coming at you from the sun, the gravel, the cooking and the furnace. I got a look of mild approval when I reminded her of the unmatched Alabama humidity factor.

Then she made her next move in what had clearly become a losing hand for me in the one up game. She tells me of an outback summer day in the 50s, no aircon (I just don’t understand that part!). “It was so hot, she says, people were flooding into the hotel (also local pub) because It was the coolest place in the town, paying top dollar for a cold drink,and watching birds drop dead from heat, falling to the ground right out of the tree in the town square. Yep, birds were just falling from the trees.” Game. set. Match. We have found the one up champion of the world in the “how hot is your town” tourney. >


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