Days melt into each other. Golden skies fuse day with night. Silver sun-trails adorn emerald waters and the moon bathes everything in silken white. In the motionless midday air even the ocean is limp, dozing in the dry heat this season brings. Relief comes when the languid air stirs late in the day, trees breathe in the sea breeze and water lapping the shore softly sings.
I comb the beaches or venture into the rainforest, following small streams that descend the range. Sometimes I carry the rifle or the spear, envisaging bringing home meat or fish for the table, but my only luck is with the fishing tackle or the speargun. The coral reef is an easy swim from the shore and fish abound, although more often than not I prefer to observe that wonderland rather than hunt. Otherwise I sit back in a rickety chair on the veranda and take in the panorama, watching pods of dolphins pass and terns work the schooling fish. There are plenty of old paperbacks in the shack, but I’m not much interested in reading. I seldom turn the night-light on, preferring to live with the rhythms of moon and sun or to make do with the flame from the fire.
One night I sit by the fire with the bottle of whisky, mulling over a mess in my mind. I steadily work my way into the bottle, all the while talking to the fire as if it’s an old friend who’d listen to my grievances without complaining. I wake up there in the morning nursing the bottle, so as a penance I stow what’s left of the whisky in the shack and resolve to let it be.
I savour the simple pleasures; feeling the sun on my skin, doing nothing at all, watching the wildlife, walking, bathing and eating. Finding jars of vegetable seeds inspires me to get busy in the garden, tilling the soil and hauling water from the stream, and seemingly within the twinkle of an eye I’m celebrating the first leaves sprouting from the rich earth. Collecting fallen branches from the forest and chopping them for firewood is a ritual I revel in.
Making a fire every night in the primitive hearth has the grace of a prayer, though some nights, a little wastefully, I stoke the fire and watch the flames leap up to the stars. Fire is a companion in the night, this orb of light warming the soul, as human as a person. On one occasion the old archaeologist’s joke about a fire being a Neanderthal’s television set comes to mind, but then immediately memories of Iraq flood my thoughts with visions of oil fires belching black smoke. At the same time a breath of breeze makes the flames cower and I feel uneasy, peering into the surrounding dark. I resist thinking about Iraq, about the work I’ve done delving into the past, though somehow my thoughts keep taking me back. I resist thinking about Liz too, but on more than the odd night she’s dancing in the flames before my eyes.
This fire also cooks my meals, which are no pedestrian fare. The ocean provides fish, crab, oysters, clam, octopus and an ornate crayfish that is almost too beautiful to eat, all cooked on the coals in the restaurant of earthly delights. The hearth and the surrounding mound of sand is a veritable midden heap of shellfish remains, bleached bones and even the odd implement-part, to which my own contributions are being added. Another midden is located a short distance up the coast, replete with cutting stones and flints, as old as time. I refrain from digging to determine a profile, respectfully leaving it as it was when the last people were there. In a moment of fancy I envisage sitting by the fire with the natives of this land, listening to their stories and learning about their world, but it’s gone; gone forever.
(a sample from Ice by Russell Roberts)