A sandfly just bit me on the thumb. It’s probably the thirtieth bite I’ve gotten today but considering how many of them seem to have somehow ended up on the inside of the small two bunk bivvy, that’s a pretty low number. It is 11 pm and they are supposed to ‘go away’ after it gets dark, but like me, the ones in the biv must be wide awake for some reason. I’m not sure what I’m wanting to write about, but I finished my days work at 1:30 and have already eaten six times, had three cups of tea, two thermoses of Raro, read for hours, watched a movie on my laptop and spent an hour trying to fix the solar power to no avail. I’m sure if i’d have gotten that sorted I wouldn’t be writing at all–I’d be struggling in vain to complete the Ipad quest game I brought along just so I’d have something to do.
But alas, all the batteries are flat and so here I am, reaching for the one device that still has an ounce of life left. If I dim the screen long enough maybe I can get another half hour of writing out of it.
Which again begs the question as to what i want to write about.
Well, I’ve noticed a few things on this trip, but before I launch into that, I’ll provide a brief rundown of what ‘this trip’ is. I’m on Resolution Island of the coast of Fiordland. It’s one of two big islands in Fiordland that some years ago they decided to try and make pest free–pest meaning possums, rats, and stoats–so that they would be sanctuaries for native birds. It works, kind of. Resolution has been declared possum and rat free but there are still the occasional stoats that swim over from the mainland and think they’ve hit the jackpot. And to keep them from raising their families over here, the Department of Conservation sends a crew of guys (like me) out to check and rebait the over 2000 stoat traps that criss cross the rugged landscape on a network of rough cut trails. I’m on the island crew (there is a boat crew that lives aboard the ship and checks traps on the shoreline)–one of four. Each day I have a set route of traps to check. I’m all by myself in the middle of nowhere for 6 days.
This is my second time on a trip like this. The first was on the other of the two islands, Secretary. That trip was in winter (colder) but the sun shone brilliantly and there were awesome mountains and steep country and i mostly loved it. This time I was in the bush pretty much the whole time–no great views. And it rained. A lot.
I’ve learned I’m not a big fan of going from cozy to not cozy. Once I’m not cozy, I’m pretty sweet. I can soldier on through grim conditions as good as anyone, maybe even better than most. But when I have the choice–when I’ve got 60 square feet (7.5 square meters) of dry and warm and slippers on my feet and my ipad and book and instant coffee and the rain is pounding on the roof it’s really hard to go to work when work is going to be cold, wet, muddy, and involve lots of physical work.
But…I’ve also realized that the work is what makes these trips so unique. I find that because of that work, and the solitude, I collapse into a sort of hedonism. Not the kind that money and drugs and a misplaced sense of one’s own importance brings, mind you, but one driven more by the ferel nature of the job and the sense of solipsism surrounding the whole experience. I’m completely on my own. I’m in a sometimes harsh and uncertain environment, dealing with demons (deciding not to turn back when no one would know), suffering a little or a lot, and taxing and testing my physical machine. And then I’m done. Because of how I am, once I’m out there I go pretty non-stop, which means my days have been shorter than expected this trip–often only 6ish hours. And when I get back, I just consume. Food, drink, technology. And although I reflecto on it, I’m strangely satisfied with it all. I don’t think I should be doing anything else really, don’t feel guilty for eating a whole bar of chocolate (250 grams) then a whole bag of lollies (kiwi party mix), before a massive dinner of stir fried veggies over noodles. If I had the juice and the patience with torrenting over slow connections, I’d happily consume season after season of whatever Sci Fi series I am taken with at the time, too [the 100 was great, Shannara chronicles not so much. The Expanse seems promising…]. Or, as on this trip, battle evil forces on my Ipad for hours.
I stay up late–as late as 1 am one night. Reading, thinking, more movies. That first secretary trip I didn’t know how I’d be on my own–I’d never gone more than the better part of my day without company.
And during the days–when i’m out in the field trudging my way over roots and rocks and up and down hills, scrambling and slipping and clutching desperately at the mud and ferns sometimes–I just enter a zone. It goes by so quickly. It’s not as if I’m not aware–I am. I have to be. To move quickly in this terrain requires focus. But the days are long and daunting and I let my mind wander. It’s almost like I’m of two minds–a present mind completely absorbed in the task, and a higher/intellectual mind that is able to detach and think about whatever it wants–my family, new business ideas, notstalgic reminiscings, sex, food, racing, politics, and end of the world type stuff. I write novels in my head, I talk to myself (seriously), and sometimes even sing. As I’m writing this now I wonder what this sort of dual natured experience means, what my wife the meditator who is studying mindfullness would think. I wonder who else has had similar experiences. In my estimation, it is a good thing–it allows me to cope, to get through a long uncertain day, to overcome tired muscles and not let the negative self talk that might otherwise overcome me derail my efforts when the going gets hard. This duality has a purpose. Yeah, it keeps me from ‘really experiencing the moment,’ to fully appreciating the grandeur around me and where I am, but it also keeps me from sitting down on a rotting log and crying at the crushing thought of how heavy my pack is and how much further I have to go.
Tomorrow is my last day. The helicopter comes the morning after that. It’s been long enough. My legs are tired. My clothes–(i’ve got one field pair and one hut pair) are getting pretty stiff. I’m ready to go. But it has been an interesting journey. I get two days off and then I’m back out for six days–but this time as a packraft guide for six clients.
I somehow don’t think the feral hedonism will be part of that trip.
But I suspect the sandflies will.