Tag Archives: tent

In the House of Tom Bombadil

The trail winds through new and second growth foliage, their branches stretching like eerie arms onto the skinny trail, refusing to be thwarted by mans’ fruitless trials to contain them. Rocks thrust out of the mud, their surfaces slick with moisture. The continual December rainfall creates a steady trickle downhill, creating mud poles that go halfway up our boots. The forest is quiet besides the steady drip of rain bouncing from one leaf to another as they plummet to the trail and moss. We push further and further into the middle of Hanson Island, a weak winter sun battling the clouds.

After fifteen minutes of steady uphill hiking we round a bend and are met with a fence composed of a brilliant maze of branches. A gate sits partway open and we slide through and step onto the well trodden ground of what the weather beaten sign nailed to a tree announces is the earth embassy, a small crown of willow branches hanging above it. A few small buildings and a woodshed dot the clearing as we approach slowly. It’s a peculiar thing, to march into someone elses isolation. With no way to warn them that you’re coming. After months of solitude, the echo of our feet pounding up the trail had to sound like thunder.

Passing the door to the first building we hear a call from inside, a growl, a bark, and the door creaks open, giving way to a massive mountain of orange and white fur. The fur ball is recognizable as Kessler, the Hanson Island dog that had been exiled from Alert Bay, and now lived with the man we’d come to see. A man known to me only as Walrus.

We step out of the rain and around Kessler and into a library. Books cover a massive shelf in the entrance and litter the walls, meticulously categorized by subject. Conservation, religion, and history with subcategories such as: Greenpeace, Animism, and Mayan culture. There’s just enough room for a desk nestled right next to the door where Walrus sits, a journal out. He’s everything an old man living in the woods should look like. A massive grey beard coats his face. Even his eyebrows are preternaturally long, sticking almost straight out as long as my pinkie before finally succumbing to gravity and curling at the tips.

A sweet, musty, woody, smell permeates the tiny shelter and stepping behind the massive bookcase reveals an open space with a wood stove and table covered in fruit, crackers, and a bottle of rum. While I’m sure somewhere out there lives a reclusive old hermit who cringes at the very thought of social interaction, Walrus is not that man. His life in the forest seemed to give him remarkable preservation, and despite having reached an age where many would be comfortably retired, he’s bouncy and quick witted with an easy laugh that seems to go on forever. He is a marvelous cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi and any assortment of bearded, woodsmen, Tolkien characters.

His house was a jigsaw puzzle of scrap wood that he had scrounged from the surrounding woods. Small and efficient it was easy to keep warm when the temperature dropped below freezing. The site had been picked for him he explained, when he’d pitched his tent directly on the path we had just walked up. Decades ago it had been a logging trail and Walrus had stood resolute, refusing to allow them to have the island.

Wielding an education in anthropology Walrus had scuttled over every nook and cranny of Hanson Island, learning the island’s history and secrets, searching for a way to save it. Culturally modified cedar trees (CMTs) cover the island, evidence of the first nations presence here long ago. They would cut long horizontal strips of bark from the tree, using the wood to form baskets and string. Their cutting encouraged the trees to grow even faster, creating a resource that renewed faster with use, a concept unheard of in our modern day “advanced” world.

Citing the CMTs for their cultural and historical significance, Walrus helped save the island from the carpet bombing that had befallen the nearby islands of Swanson and Cracroft. His camp quickly became something of a heritage site in addition to his year round home starting in the early 90s. A place where he welcomed grade school kids in the summer to learn about the history of the forest, and showed them around a massive garden where he grew everything from kale, to potatoes (if he can keep the jays out), to garlic. Garlic, he said, he’d give away as gifts. What a stocking stuffer.

There seemed to be little that he hadn’t done on the conservation battlefield. He’d fought wolf hunters in northern Canada, been a cook aboard the early Greenpeace boats that put themselves between whalers and their cetacean targets, and become something of a legend. His quiet manner and humbleness hid all of this though as he enthusiastically showed off his garden, Kessler constantly bumping against our shins waiting for his ears to be scratched.

We walked back down the trail toward Orca Lab a couple hours later, inspired and motivated. Someday I hoped that I could look back on the decades of my life and see the world a better place from my actions. I imagined the feeling of gratitude and joy Walrus had to feel when he woke up and looked about his forest home. Hearing the birds call, the deer trampling through the undergrowth, the leaves whispering in the wind, and knowing that it still stands because he had. His feet planted firmly on the trail, loggers and equipment barreling up the hill, unaware of the man they were about to face.

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New Zealand Thanksgiving

We were hot, sweaty, and exhausted. Sand and dirt coated our arms and legs. My skin that had been browning was beginning to look suspiciously red. We were miles along the Abel Tasman trail on the northern tip of the south island of New Zealand at the end of November. It was paradise with gorgeous tropical beaches falling into the turquoise waters of the channel between the two islands. Palm trees and ferns dotted the trail as we wove over the hills and along the beaches, never too far from the picturesque view of the water. The aches in our backs had long ago gone numb and we moved with the hunched postures of those with perhaps a little too much weight on their backs.

But despite the beauty and the freedom, it was hard not to feel homesick as we finally dropped our packs at the end of the day. It was Thanksgiving back home, and it was hard not to think of houses packed with friends, family, food, and football. Brittney and I knew this day would come when we had put together our three month trip to New Zealand. That we would be, first the first time, away from everything that made the holiday memorable. We sat on the beach watching hikers trudge up and down the beach and kayakers scooting back and forth at the mouth of the bay.

Digging through our packs we debated what should do the honor of being Thanksgiving dinner. There was a couple packages of some pre cooked pasta, and two boxes of curry; one red, one yellow, complete with compressed zip-locks of chicken and the smallest servings of rice I’d ever seen. We decided nothing could be more traditional than pre cooked curry as we had sadly polished off the macaroni and cheese two nights before. Unceremoniously we dropped our dinner into water suspended perilously on top of the camp stove and watched dinner roar to a boil.

We stretched out in the shade of the trees and polished off Thanksgiving dinner in about five minutes. Slowly the sun began to fade, and the stars, devoid of artificial lights began to creep out, the trees casting shadows from the full moon rising over the ocean. Exhausted with another 15-miles on our legs we crawled into our tent, putting an end to our first southern hemisphere Thanksgiving. Or at least, so we thought.

I was asleep before my head hit the canvas floor of the tent, my eyes felt like they had just closed when I felt Brittney shaking me awake again.

“Did you hear that?” She asked sitting upright in the tent, her head grazing the roof. “It sounded like an animal screaming outside.”

Groggily I listened for maybe half a second, muttered, “no,” and promptly fell back asleep. Minutes later something pulled me out of my sleep again, but this time it wasn’t my wife’s hand on my shoulder, but something outside, rustling around our tent. Our tent had an extended fly, allowing you to be outside the interior while staying out of the elements. It was in these small gaps that we’d been keeping our backpacks with our food, wallets, clothes, and everything else vital to our survival in this unexplored frontier that was New Zealand.
Just on the outside of the fly on my side, was the rustling. A million worst case scenarios begin rushing through my sleep addled brain. Was it the gruesome threesome from The Strangers? The aliens from Signs that had terrified me since I saw the movie when I was 11? Or just your typical escaped lunatic dead set on murdering innocent Alaskan raised hikers in there sleep? No, it had to be that German quartet that had set up there tent across the clearing from us. As my mind slowly slogged through the possibilities, the sound grew closer until the fly moved, whatever it was, it was inside the fly. I’d propped my pack upright, leaning against the tent, its’ silhouette dark against the light background of the fly. As I stared at the outline, it suddenly fell away from me toward the opening, the collision muffled by the grass.

I could hear the pack being rummaged through as I’d left the top open. Camping in a land devoid of bears, my packing had become plenty lazy. This was beyond fear now though. My trail mix, the elixir of life was in the top of the bag, it must be saved. I sat upright, my fingers fumbling for the zipper, and bellowed with as much intimidation as I could muster, “hey!” In a spasm Brittney came awake, flailing her arms and legs as she threw the sleeping bag from her.

I finally locate the zipper only to realize my legs are still pinned within my own bag, I kick, trying to free myself. In the moonlight I can see my bag of trail mix, seemingly pulled by an invisible hand free of the back pack.

“What is it?” Brittney asks, her voice filled with terror.

I search for words of comfort to reassure her, to let her know that I had the situation under control, that her husband was here to protect her. “I… I don’t know!” So much for bed side manner.

I break free of the sleeping bag and spring from the tent. A small shadow was dragging the bag of food toward the forest, with another yelp, the creature dropped the trail mix and retreated to the woods. Brittney was clambering over my shoulder trying to see, unsure if she should fight, run, or laugh at me. “It’s ok,” I say, searching for something reassuring “it’s… it’s kinda cute,” still with no idea what the heck it was.

Trail mix securely back in the backpack we dug out head lamps and looked into the trees to find at least seven pairs of glowing orange eyes emitting from the forest. We stare at each other, “what are they?”

“They don’t have lemurs here do they?” (Hey we were still basically still asleep).

Whatever they were, they were clearly not aliens, masked murderers, or lunatics. Food securely at our feet behind the impenetrable zipper we crawled back into our bags and tried to fall asleep to the pitter patter of the, “lemurs” (ok they were opossums).