Originally published Sept 18, 2019.
By Roy L Hales
Coming to Cortes Island was Jane Dudley’s idea. She had woofed at Blue Jay Farm before and talked about the experience ever since. To her zoologist husband, Alexander, this was a challenge. His special passion is weird and wonderful creatures. Alexander simply has to have his “lizard fix” every day. Canada isn’t especially famous for its reptiles, yet he could see how important this was to Jane. For the first week after their arrival, he didn’t know what to do. Then he saw an alligator lizard. (He didn’t know there were any in Canada!) Since then the couple made an important observation about the lives of red legged frogs. (They will leave the photographs and GPS locations with FOCI.) The Dudleys have been blown away by the beauty of our forest – and are embraced by Cortesians everywhere they go. For good reason, Alexander & Jane Dudley introduce us to a whole new world of ecological wisdom through songs, deep ecological knowledge, quirky poetry & stunning photography of the Australian bush
Telling People About Wildlife
“I was five when I started telling people about wildlife and I haven’t really stopped. When I left school, I worked in various clerical positions that definitely were not where my passion lies. I ended up moving down to Tasmania and was employed as a technical officer with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. I was involved in rafting down the glorious Franklin River collecting invertebrates and working on archaeological digs. From that, I ended up working as a Discovery Ranger, which is basically interpreting the natural and cultural heritage of the national parks.” – Alexander Dudley
Woman With A Frog
His relationship with Jane started with a frog, which she found in her raincoat one foggy morning. “It was brown and had green spots that shimmered like emeralds in the sunlight,” says Jane. She needed to know more. “My google searches of magical frog that shimmers like the sun came up with nothing.” Her older sister knew a zoologist. Jane contacted Alex through facebook and, a week later, drove 600 kilometres to see him.
“Meeting Alex really opened up my world, in that I had a lot of trauma and found it very difficult to live in the world … Alex’s whole existence is going into the bush, observing nature, learning about nature. It was very exciting,” says Jane.
“That week-end, he took me out into the bush. We were driving along at 80 kilometres an hour and then suddenly he stops and says ‘See that lizard?”
“That lizard, a hundred metres away on the log.”
“He’d spotted this lizard from a huge distance, that I don’t think anyone else would have ever seen. He got out of the car, walked straight up to it, brought it back and told me about this lizard.”
“I was already in love with him, but it was like: I want to know your secrets. Teach me the magic ways of your nature connection … For someone who didn’t grow up with a huge connection to nature, it is difficult to know how to connect to nature. Sometimes people need somebody to teach them how to do that. Alex had spent his entire life learning how to connect to nature. He was the perfect guide,” says Jane.
She added, “Within a week, we knew we would spend the rest of our lives together.”
“A woman with a frog will always get my attention,” adds Alex.
Our Continued Survival As A Species
Why is Alex so passionate about nature?
“There are always new things to discover. Anyone can learn something new by just going into nature, sitting down, and watching. Everything is connected in some small subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, way. …
“ … Human beings have only lived in boxes of four walls for a few centuries of our evolutionary history. It goes back hundreds of thousands of generations. I think the real human place is in nature. It isn’t in cubicles looking at computer screens or sitting in air conditioned cars and getting stressed out in traffic jams. It is sitting in nature and listening to bird songs and hearing the subtle changes in the ways birds sing when there is a predator around. We are actually attuned to do that. Our brains can register these things.
“Being in nature is incredibly important for everybody. If you don’t appreciate it, you are not going to try to protect it. If we don’t protect nature, we are all basically going to die because we are all absolutely dependant on functioning ecosystems.” – Alexander Dudley
Quirky Poetry & Stunning Photography
Alex has been writing poetry and taking pictures for almost as long as he can remember, but would not have written a book if it were not for Jane.
“Basically, I kept nagging Alex. I’ll say nag, it was more than a suggestion – it was ‘you need to write a book.’ [He’d say] ’Yes, yes, yes, I’ll get around to it’ – and he wasn’t getting around to it.”
“So I took it upon myself to take Alex’s poetry file – his very big file of his poems that he has been writing for decades – and took out all the wildlife poems. I asked Alex if he had book-worthy photographs for the poems … That is how the first book happened. It was based on poems he had already written, poems he had photographs for and then we co-wrote some poems. We enlisted the help of Alex’s friend, who is also a naturalist and a graphic designer, to help pull it all together,” she says.
Alex interjected, “It was a little bit of an effort. We were both novices at this. We had no idea how easy it is for little mistakes to creep in … If you are so close to producing something like this, it is so easy to not really see mistakes. So the first print run of the first book had quite a few little errors … They weren’t really obvious, but we’d pick them up after they were printed.”
Their decision to publish AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE IN POETRY themselves was prompted by the fact so many Australian books are published in China.
“I have yet to pick up a book that wasn’t printed in China. Ethically that didn’t sit well with me – Having books trying to teach people to care about the environment printed in a different country,” says Jane.
AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE IN POETRY (2016) sold very well. It is now in a second print run and the Dudley’s published a second book WILDLIFE IN POETRY in 2018.
Songs, Youtube & the School Safari Program
“The day after our book was published we got a call from a friend in the local Landcare Centre who said “Do you want to go into primary schools and turn this into a learning program?”
That was the beginning of their School Safari program. The Dudleys have visited about 20 Australian primary schools and will be making presentations in Cortes Island’s Elementary School this week.
“Our School Safari program is designed to educate kids about the incredible diversity of wildlife that exists in their very own backyards, and in Australia as a whole. Alex’s beautiful photographic slideshows take the children on a journey into the world of invertebrates, frogs, mammals, birds and reptiles. He has an ability to captivate kids of all ages, inspiring awe and wonder and sparking a fascination in the natural world. He uses poetry, stories and stunning photographs to interpret the world of the animals in an engaging manner.”
“After the photographic presentation and talk, Alex takes the kids into their school grounds with magnifying glasses on an invertebrate safari. You don’t need to travel far to find exciting, weird and wonderful critters in nature. They’re everywhere!” – School Safaris, Faunaverse.
Soon they were venturing into YouTube and Jane started producing environmental songs.
Healing Story Involving Poo
There is yet another story within this story.
“I have suffered from serious mental illness my whole adult life. I came to Cortes Island in a brief moment of sanity and wellness in 2011 and had a fantastic time living on Bluejay Farm, woofing, growing food, collecting mushrooms – all those great things living in community. [Then] I got really ill and had to go home to Australia and basically spent two years in and out of the psychiatric ward,” says Jane.
“I was suicidal and tried to commit suicide many times and, luckily, was unsuccessful in those attempts. When you attempt suicide: if you are successful you don’t see the damage it does to your family, but if you are unsuccessful you see the damage that it is doing to the people around you. I realized that I couldn’t continue, I had to find a way to live. I had to find a way to connect to my body and to the earth and keep going … Every day was an incredible amount of unbearable suffering.”
That was when she met Alex.
“It turns out that, at least in Jane’s case, her bipolar disorder was triggered in part by a disfunction of her gut ecology. The microbiome in her gut had been smashed by trauma as a kid and antibiotics – a lot of antibiotics when she had tonsillitis in her teenage years. So there were a lot of things that were missing in her microbiome … things that you need for brain function,” says Alex.
“I approached it as an ecologist, which is a little bit unusual, and I’d read an article about rats – or mice, I can’t remember which – with symptoms of depression having their symptoms disappear following a fecal transplant. We were desperate, Jane was suffering every day – really, really, really badly. Her grandmother had just celebrated her 88th birthday and we realized Jane had another fifty years she could be suffering like this.”
As bizarre as the idea sounded, the results of Jane’s subsequent fecal transplant were almost miraculous. In the podcast above, Alex compares the condition of her gut to a clearcut. The transplant she was given introduced a healthy ecosystem that took root and held.
“We started the treatment in November, 2016, and after six months all of my symptoms went away. After 18 years of continual depression and mania, I was well,” says Jane.
That was over two years ago and her symptoms have not returned. (In the podcast, Jane mentions other medical conditions that were successfully treated this way.)
This article is just a sampling. There is much more (about every topic) in the podcast above and it only offers a taste of what Alex and Jane have to offer.
- Faunaverse website: https://faunaverse.com.au/
- Alex & Jane’s books: https://faunaverse.com.au/thebooks/
- Faunaverse Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Faunaverse/
- Alexander’s PBase Library photo library of Australian wildlife: https://www.pbase.com/gehyra
- Faunaverse YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWlTjV_Bd9Ge0EpmIp3m0IA