Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Under The Weather

I am writing the following in the middle of a wet and energetic storm, on an island in the middle of a boiling sea that stretches to Whangerei on one side and to Chile on the other. My tent walls are flapping and heaving in the wind. My sleeping mat is damp at the edges. My toilet bag, the one pair of trousers I brought on this trip, my silk sleeping sheet, and the plastic supermarket bags in which I keep my clothes, are all soaked. Lying on my mat, both of my elbows are dewy with rain. The floor of the kitchen is churned up into a chocolate muddy ruin. Bits of wet dirt are smeared around the floor at the front entrance of my tent. The fly covers the tent imperfectly, leaving gaps at its base that are exposed to the weather, and from the inside of my tent I can see a band of dirty sequins around the base of my little room, where the rain has splattered mud over it. In numerous places the tent and the fly have made contact, so they’ve become stuck together by the wet, and you can see the cross-hatched thread of the fly through the tent walls, like wrinkles through a wet t-shirt.

When we arrived on the island there was a dry gully running up the side of the campsite on the true right. Now it is a brown, frothy torrent, and I can here it rushing away like a battery of waterfalls. The nikau palms are streaming with water. The palms have v-shaped spines that channel water toward the main trunk, whereupon it runs down the trunk in a transparent film. Touch the tree with your finger and you make a streaming parabola of froth.

This is great weather for sliding on tree roots and for leaving slick skid-marks and messy handprints in the mud. It’s good weather for athlete’s foot and for growing mushrooms between your toes and for relandscaping your hands, wrinkling up the skin into tiny pink ridges, and also for lying awake and listening to the sounds of water: water tapping on the roof; water punching on the roof, water pouring over the roof as if from a large bucket and seeping through the gaps, water strafing the corrugated plastic that sits between the food and the flood; the long wet rushing of a river, the thumping and grinding of surf, the tapping of water on leaves.

It’s great weather, too, for getting your jacket drenched on the way from the tent to the toilet, and your singlet drenched on the way back. Good for improvising jackets out of plastic rubbish bags, and for losing your beer down a river that comes up over night. The only dry things I have are my stationary, my sleeping bag, and the insides of my fingernails.

Camping tends to heighten the need for alertness, commonsense, time-saving improvisations. The rain exaggerates this tendency. Scroggin goes inside a plastic bag inside a plastic bag inside a pocket. Cellphones go inside a plastic bag inside a plastic bag inside a thick blue dry-bag that you close by rolling up the top third and securing a clip across the top, which goes inside the inner pocket of a pack. When going outside in the rain, roll up your trousers and the arms of your shirt so that they don’t get too wet. Your skin will get wet, but your skin dries quicker that cotton. Keep a towel (a pile of broad-leaves will do) at the tent door to leave the mud on when you get in. Do not put the head of your bed at the entrance-end of your tent – you want your dirty feet to be at the entrance, which is dirty already; and your want your face to be as far from the dirt as possible. Put your clothes in plastic bag and use those bags as barriers between yourself and the wet sides of your tent. Moving in and out of your tent is awkward, so you want to do these things as little as possible: before leaving, make extra sure you have everything you need for going outside; and do the same when you go back in.