Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gales, fear and danger

Woah nellie... it is NASTY out there. 40 knot gusts pushing fine rain. The mailplane didn't come in. It's been good for writing - I had a nice run of words this morning.

I was thinking about a comment someone made - about a lack of dramatic tension in our expedition into the wild making it a dull story... Hmmm. You know, you can't rock climb (and stay alive) on the sharp end doing trad without keeping your cool. That means going up first, putting in little wedges and cams. If you do it wrong, you die. If you do it right you still risk long scary falls and finding out if you did it right the hard way. If you happen to be opening (being the first person to ever climb) new climbs like this (and I have opened rather a lot. Several hundreds) you're going off into the unknown, where no-one has been before, trusting your judgement and skill. Much the same sort of thing applies to catching crayfish (spiny lobster) without aqualungs. It's a series of judgement calls. There may be an eel under that rock. You could get stuck down there (it's happened to me). There is a lot of risk, ameliorated by experience and skill, but, well you can't do these sort of things for many years without knowing the dangers, facing them, and dealing with them fairly calmly. It calls for a phlegmatic personality with a long neck. I wonder if, however, I am telling less than good story because of it? There've been a lot of phases of this journey where I have been near blue-faced with terror, torn apart by misery. It's been very like opening a new rock climb. This is not Joe with a degree in whatever moving from a job in South Africa to a job in Melbourne, where he has a brother and three cousins, a company organising it, a house and car organised and a comfortable financial landing mat. Or even young Fred with no real responsibilities setting off on a working holiday and going to a foreign country alone. Those are difficult and scary enough. This is... a long, long way out from that. Yes, we've done what we can to make sure that if we fall we have put in what wedges and cams we can. But we're a long, long way away from our support system, and a long way out from those tiny wedges. Keeping cool, moving steadily and keeping our nerve and courage is a lot more difficult, and more important. Much of our landing mat went into moving the animals. That was our ethical decision, that I am glad we made, but it was a terrifying one. The island is (so far) a friendly and welcoming place (partly because of our attitude, I think) - but back when we were going through the utter heartbreak of putting the dogs and cats into quarantine... we had no way of even beginning to assess that. We were selling Finnegan's Wake - possibly one of the most beautiful properties in the Midlands, leaving it all, losing a lot financially, emotionally and as a support system... to follow a dream that could easily turn into a total nightmare. And when I was dealing with those delightful people at Eastlands Mall Telstra, when our tent blew away, when the blue slug overheated in the middle of nowhere, when the tire blew and we couldn't get the vehicle jacked up and we had the ferry to catch... the nightmare seemed close.

There have been a few times since... we're still moving lightly, carefully, over fragile rock, on thin hand and footholds, just inside the limits of our strength. Knowing that if we gave in to fear or angst for a second... it would be over. Knowing too that there is potential for success, for dealing with disasters (which will happen) but only if we keep cool and work at it. For instance I'm diving - mostly alone. Dive alone = die alone. I know that. I am aware of that every second I am out there, my senses keyed. Feeling and watching for problems in water that I just don't know enough about. Watching for signs of current, knowing there are undertows. Yet... there is abalone and crayfish out there. And, bluntly, I am a man, not ready to back off and stick to eating cheese yet. And I've got real courage with me too in Barbs. In the night out there with me... walking carefully through the dark in chilly silent water - knowing there are channels, currents, soft and sucking mud. The possibility of dis-orientating mist... looking down into the water and seeing the s-bends of an eely thing - and not knowing just what kind of animal they are here? Deadly sea-snake? Vicious moray? Good dinner? So I prod it with a spear and it swims away and we laugh against the darkness.

Yeah, there is tension aplenty all right. I've probably been more worried and terrified and miserable at times in the last year than I have in the last twenty (and that's not all been a holiday camp). We've been knocked to our knees a few times too... so far, we've got up, and marched on. It'll probably happen again, and again. It'll be years (if ever) before we have the assets and friends and family support systems of the old country... But it's a dream we decided to follow. It's a demanding physical and psycological adventure. Sometimes I think better undertaken at 25 than 50...

But we have our dream and we have our rock. We have each other, a sense of humour, a sense of adventure, a willingness to fit in, to try anything. And soon we'll have our animals.

Onward and upward. No retreat.


  1. Y'a know, thinking back to 007, Mission Impossible, and all those great old thrillers -- they usually had everything under control, absolutely incredible support systems and intricate technology -- and then there'd be a little break, and James is suddenly jumping through a window, or Barney would hold the elevator up with his hands, or McGyver would explain just how vinegar and baking soda could make a can explode... and you'd know that there was absolute terror waiting there, just on the other side of that cool, calm person doing the impossible. And as long as they moved slow and steady, without screaming as the elevator stripped the skin off their hand (or whatever) -- they won. And we all sat there, holding the edge of our seats and urging them along with everything we could.

    And sometimes, just like some guy out on Flinder's Island, they would admit that it was scary under the elevator -- but it was the only thing they could do, so they did it.

    Dramatic tension? I think it comes out of knowing and acknowledging just how much can go wrong ... and then going ahead anyway. Heck, we all get out of bed and cross the road, knowing that there are monsters out there just waiting for a moment of inattention. The news is full of telling us that it's dangerous out there. But we still get up and do it.

    Which is why we sing, "We are the friends..."?

    Hang in there, guy. We're on belay back here and there.

  2. Thanks Mike. Nice to know we've got hands on the rope :-). I think I was just a bit taken aback that anyone could NOT grasp how long the lead out was, how fragile the rock. That they needed it spelled out to them. A writer's journey is always one of faith - in oneself, in the readers you never meet, in the publishing process and in luck and providence - so I suppose my career reflects the way I live ;-)

  3. Much respect to you both. You almost make it sound glamourous, serves you right for being so positive ;-)

    Retirement ? Pah, it’s over hyped.

    Mind you with a 40 knot wind, sounds like you need a catamaran for recreation ! Solo, of course.

    I can see the headline now – “Bearded chap arrives in Syndey harbour. He sailed in on a clapped out catamaran, after surviving for 30 days on the high seas armed with nothing more than a bent pin and a homemade de-salination gadget. When interviewed he begged for a PC as he was getting behind on his blog posts”. He was advised not to sit on his printer and then sent packing by immigration. Government spokesman, Bertie Nerd, said “we have to be wary of boat people”.

  4. Tantalus - I need company :-) And actually I was thinking of a kite-surfer!

  5. I think there are different kinds of terror. There is always the fear of the unknown beastie or weather condition that can hurt one...particularly here in Tulsa when the sky turns green and the wind gets weird.

    Yet they are without malice. They just _are_.

    The fear of someone holding malice against you, of deliberately trying to hurt you, lurking out in the dark, is a completely different kind of fear.

    The first kind of threat can be mitigated through awareness and experience; it also usually only exists for a short period of time and place. The second kind of threat has no answer, no way to mitigate and no place or timetable for it to fade away.

    If one gets to pick the threat I think I'd always opt...and indeed most of us have...for the first rather then the latter. I'll risk the tornado rather then live in a crime ridden east coast city. I can see the funnel cloud coming.

  6. Dave – a kite surfer, now you’re cooking on gas. They have been known to travel at 90 km per hour or better, so you could be in Hobart by lunch time, have a lekker lunch and speed back in time to help Barbs catch the dinner, clean it, light the wood burner, cook the dinner and settle down for a relaxed meal followed by a convivial burp. While you are away Barbs could plow the field, milk the sheep and replant the chickens which had been planted too close to get enough sunlight. Sounds like the high life to me. ‘Course, you’d have to get up at 2 a.m. to write a quick 5,000 words, but hey, that’s a breeze for you guys.

  7. Tantulus? Goats, that's the thing. Sheep are too sheepish for milking, but a goat is good. Good enough for Thor's chariot, should do Dave as well.

    As for those chickens, you got to plant three of them in each hill with a dead fish and then just weed out the extras and have them for dinner. Fry them up, they're scrawny when you pick them early but that's okay.