Being from the vast wilderness and majestic vistas of old Canada, I (and probably you) can always count on being in the midst of nature being a calming, relaxing sort of experience. There’s usually birds and some kind of water body, moose honking or beavers gnawing, all that idyllic business. Usually that idea is pretty close to reality. Soothing, refreshing.
Until you’re camped in the middle of a blackened night and you realize how you’re surrounded, how much noise there is on the planet, an absolute screaming number of plants and animals, working constantly in shifts, the chirping and humming and clicking of an insect symphony joined to the howling and baying of predators and prey in the dark. The Amazon takes that and multiplies it.
I doubt any of us slept. I had hazy waking dreams, which aren’t that uncommon. Sometimes I have trouble with lucidity and waking. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference, or catch hold of that dreaming state for a few moments longer than you’re supposed to and experience some alternate reality. Sometimes I want to be lost in it.
I can’t remember what they were about this time. That’s a lie. Of course I do, but first, the trek out.
We awoke, sort of, to the calmer false light of morning, sweat sticky and heads abuzz. Eating and packing from the boat and gearing up were the same. Relatively quick and thanks to Três, really well done. I was never a scout or cadet like my friends back home, but I think she would put all of us to shame. Well, except Graham who nodded sagely as he tugged at straps and geared up.
His sleeplessness must have channeled into preparing, because he had already armed himself, smelling of gun oil, his fingers still carrying dark smudges of residue. He had a hip holster and a shoulder sling, sidearm and long gun. I’m not a gun nut, I know a few things (thanks, violent video games!), but I know enough to always treat them as serious business. I do not fuck around with them. They are a tool used only to destroy (whether for food or otherwise).
I don’t know if Graham agreed with that or not, but I kept my questions about them to myself, and he stayed the calm pro I hoped he would be.
As me and Três shouldered our packs, we heard the clattering, shuffling mess that was Lena tossing things around her bunk. She appeared a few moments later, hair in desparate flight in every direction away from her head. She had packed light, looking almost like a cliché in khakis and pith helmet. The only difference was she wore thick, long pants. Worn and stained, but intact.
She looked at all three of us in shorts, snorted, and gave us a look that read as You fools must want bites and stings, or worse. For the first time, I wondered how well my malaria innoculation would hold up out here. Were there super mosquitoes and other biting insects waiting for us? I scratched idly at my knees. Couldn’t be worse than Lesser Slave Lake right after a heavy rain.
We turned on our GPS kits, looked at Lena who was looking at her creased and ragged local map. She nodded at us, and for the first time seemed focused on the task at hand. She clutched something close to her chest with one hand, glanced at the trail beyond, and set out.