Walking in and out
It was a cold day at the tail end of winter, and after only a couple or so hours in the bush we were there, Atiwhakatu Hut. ‘Soulless,’ someone had written in the intentions book, and it’s true that inside it was a big and empty space. But then all the essentials were there: log burner, axe and candles.
With plenty of time to spare, we set about gathering wood, hacking and ripping at dead branches that lay around the hut, preparing for a cold night. We were doing that, and I had just been flicked in the face by a branch when two men came down the trail, father and son. They were heading for the next hut along, one that needed another two hours of uphill tramping. Twice they asked if we wanted to go with them. We’re just on a short walk we said, because we’d agreed we didn’t want to overdo it, and instead stick around the hut for the afternoon. Just being in the bush after too many days at home and work was our aim.
But as the day went on, there was something unsettling about waiting for the cold of the night. I hadn’t felt this on other trips, walking late into the afternoon, but it came with this, the waiting and preparing for the cold. Maybe it was because I had started to feel unwell, and by the time it was dark realised that I had come down with a bad cold. All those stubby bits of dead wood that I had collected, they put out just enough heat to make us comfortable but never really warm. We pulled a table close to it and played cards. We ate our macaroni, and drank a beer each.
That night, I lay under my sleeping bag, the down jacket on top, and read a few pages of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. A novel about the end of not only civilisation, but humanity too. In it, a father and son travel across an apocalyptic wasteland, pushing a shopping trolley and hiding from roving thieves and cannibals. There’s hope, but it comes as faintly as light shone through engine oil. A great book and also the worst book to read when sick and trying to sleep huddled under a coat in a cold hut. All night I had the sort of crazy dreams that come with sickness and restless sleep. Every creaking branch, every groan of the roof struck me as sinister. I was pleased to see the morning, and to head off, back toward our car. It had been a short trip, as short as they get, but it was enough that I could see all the small miracles in my home – the dry firewood and hot water, the cat pleased to see us – for the first time again.