By now, we have submitted over 300 reports of weather observations to the behemothic computers of the Bureau of Meteorology, complementing reports from the 20,000 other weather stations, most automated, a few manned, around Australia. We have considered the significance of our teeny contribution to the forecasts and weather models that so many people and livelihoods rely upon. Our station, the first after 15,000km of open Southern Ocean at 43o South is a unique meteorological site with wind and wave born so far off. In some small way, we have been a part of Tasmania’s $150M seafood export which includes crayfish and abalone from our pristine waters, not to mention part of the equation that formulates the forecasts for world regions to our distant east.
We have observed and measured, checked and cross-referenced forecast-figures and automatic readings against our analogue instruments, and where no technological aid exists, it has been our own eyes that have discerned the swell and mood of the sea, together with the types and layers of cloud. Three instruments have failed, calling for our report and remedy. The meteorological software coughed and spluttered once or twice, all justifying our human presence on this outpost island weather station.
We are now most familiar with the 100 types of weather, cataloguing at least a third of them. Our cloud identification is supremely improved on six months ago and our intrigue for cloud species, vertical and circular morphism and primarily west to east travel, is piqued. This sky is never static and I was previously blind to the hydrological drama between layers and the thirty thousand feet of vertical theatre.
By now, we must have seen five rainbows a week. Singles and doubles, full arches and quarters. Kaleidoscopic arches cast over sea and our massive rocky island outcrops, dressed in white foaming trails. My favourite of all seascapes, although I love the angry seas too, is the visual spectacular of pink, blue and mauve on a smooth-ish sea cast by afternoon pink light filtered through patchy low cloud. Opalescent, I call it, like the inner-side of a giant abalone shell. The complementing sky can bear a dozen distinct rain clouds, the type caricatured in a children’s picture book.
The lawn is mowed, the roads and tracks are cleared of fell, the edges brush-cut, the drains are running free, the buildings are mould-treated, minor repairs and structural improvements have been made, the animals and birds appear happy and we have defended the island from vandals and would-be souvenir collectors by our mere known presence. Nearing the end of our term, we are captivated by the Maatsuyker project, its conservation and care-taker experience.
If I had goals before coming to the island, they may have been something like these; to survive the elements and the mind, to read and think, to convert thoughts into words and write, mostly for personal record and intellectual artistic exercise, to live healthily and lighten the soul, to grow a winter vegetable garden into a bounty against the fierce local conditions to hand on to the next care-takers honouring a tradition of feed-forward gifting, all as if in a time before modern humanity and commerce usurped mother earth. And something about a relationship with my co-escapee. I think we have succeeded and flourished.
My nose and lungs are supremely clean, washed with pure ocean air. I have read a book a week; twelve fiction and sixteen non-fiction which have included two or three biographies, two books and three halves on weather, two or more on lighthouse history, three on anthropology and sociology, two on meditation, one on neurology, two on politics, one on economics and three on love. I must be wiser now. I have written weekly reports to our boss mixed with quirk and goings on. The odd blog and many emails, some instructional, some contemplative, many between past and future care-takers as we live and relive a common experience. We have written love-letters and short stories for our own private audience. I wrote a poem. It has rhythm and rhyme, humour, theme and progression, and a punch at the end.
Unchecked by propriety, we have taught ourselves to swear. One word in particular, applying all eight grammatical forms: as a transitive verb, intransitive verb, adjective, adverb, adverb enhancing adjective, noun, part of a word and as almost every word in a sentence. Releasing fifty years of civil obedience. Oops, got some unlearning to do. (warning: not for the delicate….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86zlSplwK2A)
Last week, Andrew followed me, perhaps foolishly, on a barefoot walk to the summit. One kilometre each way, the walk began on decades old rough concrete of rasping rubble shards, then cold dewy grass and mud to ooze between our toes giving poor slippy traction. Enter the tree-line which litters a carpet of small twigs. Our digits well numb by now, we’re unsure if the twigs hurt more than the cold. Climbing onwards there’s cute native grassy herbage, then relief across a denuded rookery, currently unoccupied, with bird-scratched soil. Forest humus, tiny leaves and fern tips. The ultimate relief, a footfall over moss! Fooled! Tree-roots and rough quartz in the bedrock, the winter run-off coursing down the track in a cold cold seepage. The final pass through the fernery and epiphytes whose soft leaves have fallen is more bearable. Sensory overload that morning left little interest to linger over the normally glorious summit view, the descent only more pleasant that warmth would conclude it. Yet I made the mistake to warm too quickly under the shower heat. Oh, the engorging yet ischaemic ache. Perhaps barefoot walking is better left for warm sandy beaches.
I’ve been practicing handstands and headstands, an off-shoot of the yoga videos I started to follow. In my second half century now, one of those books instructed trying new things, so I’m practicing my balance and improving my shoulder strength. I’m nearly good enough for a photo.
As photos have hinted, we’ve grown our hair long, not only in response to the practical absence of hairdressers, but another rebellion against our civil lives. I’m not sure which of us looks more silly – my fly-away super fine threads that part over a bald scone, or Andrew’s curly grey locks, the temples of which brush forwards and outwards like koala ears. I’ve had to learn how to roll over in bed without pulling the hair under my shoulder or eating a cheek full of hair on the pillow, and how to brush out knots twirled by 100kmph winds – oh, those poor young girls who suffer such brushing trauma every morning before school.
Our pantry has proved sublime in size, variety and durability. We’ve not missed much and have managed a large repertoire of tasty meals. We over-catered on just a few absurd items like 2.2kg of sesame seeds (granted, Andrew has made some great lavosh, but we must have 1.9kg left) and thirty-six 440g tetra pack tomatoes. Our twenty dozen eggs have lasted with weekly turning. There are just 6 blocks of chocolate left for the remaining 3 or 4 weeks – yes, if we had more than 64 at the outset, we (I?) would have eaten more – got to keep up the calories for our higher basal metabolism in this cool climate.
In the meantime, half a million short-tailed shearwaters flew off in March from Maatsuyker Island to Siberia and Alaska, and are well on their way to return, 15 000km each way. We’ll probably miss the first to arrive, due 20th September. Apparently, some make the journey in just six weeks!
Returning? How will we return to the throng?
I am here on a remote island. I am here with one other soul. The absence of other people changes my mind, changes me. The presence of one other soul co-existentially effects my experience. But how?
Solitude on a deserted remote island uncloaks ego, I think. Without rivals, competitors, contemporaries, superiors, subordinates, heroes, idols, spectators, disciples, fans, followers or foe, in solitude there can be no ego.
I am here on a remote island. I am here with one other human. I could reject that being, obliterate a potential annoyance, just as in all good movies of encounter with alien kind. Or, we could unify in our survival, share food, water, shelter and warmth, share the requisite toil of our existence, and amplify our pleasure by twosome.
What of that other soul? Do I have to like her? Could he be anyone, so long as there is mutual vision enough? Would that person simply be a curiosity amongst otherwise unsophisticated, insentient life around me, and my toil, and as the incessant wind and waves grow monotonous?
I had concluded, or so I thought, that the void of normal distraction and daily employ and momentum of modern societally-centred life fostered submission to pleasure with the equally curious other soul who is also faced with saturation of interest in his surroundings. Was it only me who was numbed by the demands and momentum of modern societally-centred life, with necessary armour against self-indulgence in love and affection. Too tired. Too spent. Or is he changed too?
I find myself on an island with one other human soul. What if that person is affected by a softened pursuit of ego – how would he be changed by the island, more appealing, more lovable? I think so. And what if our union held no interest or standing in the eyes of others? What if, without ego, there was no embarrassment that my chosen partner looked a particular way, did stupid things, wasn’t classy enough, nor credentialled, nor wealthy, was terrible at spelling, occasionally superior or overly self-righteous – who would care? What if there was no-one to see me be over-shadowed by my partner’s achievement or personality or earning-potential, likability, gregarious humour, assertiveness or forthrightness – would not I be more relaxed?
Yes. I think it is diminished ego that is an experiential gift of solitude.
But, hark! It is not so. We have not fully escaped a need for applause. We jest, but perhaps with only half-heart, that we intend to leave our mark as the best care-takers in twenty years. Ego! That our drains are the cleanest, our winter garden the most productive, our grass track the most manicured, the improvements to irrigation most functional, our two seats most convenient and of the finest craftmanship, our buildings the cleanest and most sweet devoid of mould. That our weather-observation hand-over training is the most salient, our spreadsheets and computer files the most logical. We want people to remember us as fine care-takers and speak our names in fond regard.
No ego here.