30.07.2008 - 24.08.2008 17 °C
Last Sunday I completed my winter field season and returned to civilization after twenty-seven days living on an uninhabited island and twenty-six nights spent listening to seal and penguin serenades. After all of this time in the bush I've come to the rather firm conclusion that every person should have to spend at least a week or two of their life in a tent, roughing it without their accustomed comforts. It isn’t just an experience for over-zealous outdoorsmen (and seal researchers), but an exercise in self-exploration and survival skills from which everyone would benefit.
Here are a few lessons that one may learn from such an experience:
a) Pack and prepare well, for anything forgotten you must verily do without, to your own discomfort, illness, or injury. In the same token, never pack more than you can carry, for few will be willing to shoulder your burdens.
b) 'Boredom' is not a function of the world around you, but reflects only the dullness of your own mind. Lengthen your attention-span, time alone is a gift that will allow you to discover a multitude of overlooked entertainments, to channel creativity you never knew you had, and to learn remarkable secrets from the tiniest insect or blade of grass. Otherwise your 'boredom' can be easily cured by hauling gallons of water up the cliffs.
c) Nature is a force to be reckoned with. Always be prepared for the worst-case weather scenario, your regret at carrying a few extra items will be much less than your regret at not having those items if they're needed.
d) Negativity does little good, no matter how long you whinge to your companions, your sodden clothing will not dry any faster, your basic fare will not taste any better, and the wind and rain will most certainly not let up on your account. Likely everyone is suffering the same ills, and they don't want to hear how miserable you are. A joke, story, or a cup of tea will go much further in distracting everyone from their troubles. If you have to vent, keep it to a minimum, and a solid yell or some hard physical labour might do you just as well.
I know a lot of these things may seem inconsequential in every day life – who doesn't enjoy a good long whinge on occasion? – but when you're trapped on an off-shore island for weeks, all of this becomes indispensable wisdom. We take many simple things for granted, I know I have for most of my life. But when I’m weathering a cold winter storm in a flimsy tent, there is very little I wouldn't trade to have solid walls around me, to hear the rain pounding on impenetrable windows, and to curl up in front of a crackling fire with a good book and a furry friend. Please take a moment to stop and savour your creature comforts, you may find unexpected joy in them.
Aussie slang of the week: bugger (exclamation: darn), stubby (noun: small bottle of beer), when everything goes pear-shaped (when everything goes wrong)