Silence can be golden against the cacophony of life.
Stillness is peace against the movement of the Earth.
Freedom is the calm; the eye of the storm.
The calm is elusive; the joy of creation.
Paul couldn’t really remember how long he’d lived in the cave now, before this he’d lived in the old house in the valley, but too many people kept coming by.
He’d found this cave on one of his many trips back into the hills. At first he’d only come up here on day trips, during the summer, to tend his dope crop, after he’d found the cave he’d started to stay overnight.
The cave wasn’t huge, but it had enough room for one person to live comfortably. It wasn’t really a cave in the traditional sense because it didn’t go back into the hillside; it was part of a large rocky outcrop on the hill above hiss dope crop. The massive rocks, jutting like huge bleached bones from the hillside, had formed a cavern with an entrance through a small grotto on the downhill side. Paul always felt safe inside his cave, it felt like he was inside the very bones of the Earth; nothing could touch him when he was in his cave.
The main compartment of the cavern was about six metres deep and two metres wide at the widest point. The roof, formed by a large rock balanced across the top of others that rose from the ground to form the cave walls, was almost flat and about two and a half metres above the caves earthen floor. Down at the back, the cavern narrowed to end abruptly in a short “V”. A gap in the rocks just above this deepest point formed a quite functional chimney and Paul soon constructed a fireplace out of rocks and clay to turn the area into a proper kitchen.
From his earliest visits Paul subconsciously set aside separate parts of the cave like different rooms in a house. The area near the entrance of the cave was soon adorned with forked branches propped up so that they could be used as hanging space for coats, hats and similar paraphernalia a person often needed when they went outside. The middle of the cave became the general living area, while the kitchen and bedroom areas shared the back part, near the fire.
A small flat area to one side of the fire became Paul’s bedroom; he built a rough log frame and stretched old Hessian bags over it to form a comfortable bed. Between the living area and this back part of the cave he stacked his firewood and gear to form a wall that left an enclosed, separate kitchen and sleeping compartment around the fire; to Paul, it was an absolute luxury that he could feed wood onto his fire without even needing to get out of bed.
During his first winter camping in the cave Paul ran a line of silicon around the edge of the roof to stop the water dripping in when it rained; he later converted this into a water catchment to reduce the amount of water he had to carry from the creek. He split a piece of two inch poli pipe in half lengthways and wedging it under the drip line to channel the rainwater into one of his plastic water containers; it took almost the whole winter for Paul to get this pipes position adjusted to catch every drop of water and drain it all into the catchment – but he had all the time in the world now that he didn’t need to keep watching all those people all the time.
Slowly, over time, Paul brought more and more things up to the cave from his house in the valley. Each year he spent more time in the cave while his marijuana crop grew and matured; he knew that most people got busted when they were seen going into the bush to tend their crop, so camping in the cave made sense. The cave slowly took on the appearance of a house, with a table and chair, a couch, his rough, but comfortable wooden and Hessian bed and an old chest of drawers he had lugged up through the trees.
After two years of living in the cave through summer he started planting vegetables instead of dope. Six months later he’d built a chook pen beside the cave entrance and moved his few remaining chooks up, most of them had died or been taken by foxes when they’d been forced to fend for themselves while Paul camped at the cave.
The next year, Paul only grew half a dozen dope plants; enough for himself. The rest of his fenced-in garden area he planted in veggies.
He found it so much more peaceful in the cave than he had in the valley. Paul could clearly remember his last year at the house in the valley; every day the Postman slowed down as he drove past the letterbox at the end of the drive, even though there was never any mail to deliver. Once or twice a week the farmer who owned the old house drove around the property; Paul usually stayed out of sight when the farmer was around so that he didn’t have to talk to him. Then of course there were the trips to town; he ended up needing to go at least once a month and everyone wanted to talk to him. It didn’t matter if he went to the Service Station for petrol or the local Co-Op for groceries, they were never happy to just tell him how much it cost and leave it at that, they had to start their chit chat. “How are you today Paul?”, “What do you think this weather’s going to do Paul?”, “Haven’t seen you for a while Paul” “What have you been doing with yourself out there on your own Paul?”, or telling him how to run his life “You need to get yourself a girlfriend Paul”, why don’t you get yourself a job Paul, then you could afford a new car”. It was all just aggravation he didn’t need; besides, his private life was nobody else’s business. They were all just sticky beaks at best and trying to get information to use against him at worst. It was nobody else’s business how he was or what he was doing or any of the other stupid things they asked; it was invasion of privacy at its worst, and Paul always suspected they did it just to annoy him.
Paul came to town so infrequently it took almost two years for people to even realize that he wasn’t coming anymore. After several of the towns’ shopkeepers told the local policeman that they hadn’t seen Paul for a while he drove up to do a welfare check; he found that most of Paul’s stuff was gone and the house was deserted. The Police Report read:
“Attended a house on the property of Mr. David Fitzgerald at 302 Gree Rd, rented to a Mr. Paul Davies, a 32Y/O itinerant male for a welfare check. Several businesses in town had reported that they had not seen Mr. Davies for several months.
Mr. Davies house appears to have been deserted for some time and most of his household goods and clothing are missing.
Mr. Fitzgerald reports that Mr. Davies paid his rent ($10 a week) annually and in advance each March. Mr. Fitzgerald reports that he often doesn’t see Mr. Davies for months on end and so did not realize he was absent from the house. The rent is paid until the end of next March.
Mr Fitzgerald reports that Mr Davies is always reclusive and non-communicative and there is no sign of foul play and much of Mr. Davies’ household goods and clothing are missing it appears that Mr. Davies has resumed his itinerant lifestyle.
Advised Mr. Fitzgerald that in the event of his re renting the house he should notify me and store Mr. Davies property in a shed for one year in case Mr. Davies returns. Mr. Fitzgerald stated that he had no intention of re-renting the property at this time and will notify me if he does so.
No further action at this time.”
At first Paul had come back down to the house occasionally just to sit for a while. The last time he’d been down was last summer; he thought Mr. Fitzgerald would have new tenants in by then and was surprised to find that his belongings were still as he had left them.
It was spring now and Paul was enjoying the warmth of the sun. From his vantage point on top of the huge slab of rock that formed the roof for the entrance of his cave he could see the road winding up the valley; it was good to be able to keep an eye on the traffic without them knowing he was there. He watched the mail car on its daily journey; it no longer slowed as it passed his gate.
The cave was a nice spot and the thing that Paul liked most about it most was the fact that nobody ever came up here; it was doubtful that anyone else even knew it existed. He wasn’t scared of people or anything like that; it was just that they annoyed him. Other people always wanted to know things and Paul liked his privacy; they always wanted to have conversations and Paul didn’t like to talk.
Up here it was different; people didn’t know where he was so they didn’t try to talk to him. He knew where they were so he could talk to them if he wanted to; in the mean time he had his peace.
Paul had everything he needed; the cave made a beautiful home, there was plenty of fire wood and he now had ample water from the irrigation system he’d set up for his dope crop. His vegetable garden provided him with food and the old rabbit traps he’d brought up from the house provided a constant supply of fresh meat. The half a dozen dope plants he grew each summer provided him with plenty for his own use and he found that since he’d moved away from people he didn’t want to smoke nearly as much anyway.
Even back in his school days Paul had been a loner; he never joined in with the other kids in the playground, most of his free time was spent down the back, as close to the bush that started just over the creek as he could get. Paul never went home straight after school like he was supposed to; he always left over the back fence, toward the bush. There was a log over the creek that pointed like an arrow straight into his favourite little gully; once there he could immerse himself in the silence and solitude that he loved. Only in the forest did he feel truly safe; there was a prickly feeling up his back whenever he was around people. He just couldn’t sit still; he always needed to know where they all were. As soon as Paul was in the bush the trees wrapped around him like a protective cocoon; there were animals and birds, but they took no notice of him and he left them alone, so there was no aggravation.
At times during Paul’s school years he had to join in group activities in the classroom; during these times he’d always found it hard, his need to know what was happening around him meant that he couldn’t concentrate on the activities that where taking place. Always on the move, always vigilant, always needing to know what everyone else was doing made Paul a disruption in every group.
It didn’t take long for Paul to get a reputation among his teachers and classmates; every time the class sat down, the question was “What will Paul do?” Paul soon realized that the best way to know what everyone was doing was to make sure they were all watching him, even if it made him nervous when they were looking at him. Through his school years Paul spent as much time in trouble as he did in the classroom; the corridor outside the Headmasters office became like a second home to him; but it was also a sanctuary where he could immerse himself in solitude for a while. For Paul the punishment meted out by the Headmaster with his leather strap was a small price to pay for the time spent away from the clamour of the classroom.
Disruption became the focus of Paul’s life; if he played up in class everybody was watching him, so he knew what they were all doing. If he played up it also stopped the class work and Paul couldn’t do the work because he needed to pay attention, to listen; the trouble was that then he couldn’t see what the others were doing. If he paid attention the prickly feeling came back; it was little wonder that when Paul left school he could barely read or write.
Paul’s problems weren’t restricted to school; at home his interaction with his brothers and sisters was similar. Whenever the family were gathered together, be it for meals or watching TV Paul would start; Paul would do anything to stop that prickly feeling. Large periods of his childhood and adolescent life were spent in his bedroom; either in self imposed isolation or sent there as punishment by his parents; he liked being punished because it always meant time on his own.
Paul was only eight the first time he was brought home by the police; he’d been caught shoplifting from a Milk Bar; this was the start of something that soon became a regular part of his young life. Unable to interact with people the way the other kids did, Paul skulked about town; he found it easier to steal than to face the shop assistants and their incessant prying into his life: “How are you today Paul?”, “How’s school?”, “Shouldn’t you be in school today Paul?”. Why did they have to interrogate him whenever he bought something? It soon became evident to him that he was better off just to steal the things he wanted.
If Paul had been into celebration then his fifteenth birthday would have been the day for it; that was the day he was legally allowed to leave school. It was really just a formality; he hadn’t been to school for two months. The staff never worried about Paul’s absence; it was obvious from the talk at the staff meetings that his absence from school only went to improve the opportunities for the other kids who really wanted to learn.
Now that Paul was out of school he had to get a job; with no meaningful education, the only work he could get was seasonal work picking tobacco on the local farms. Ten to twelve hours a day going up and down the rows of tobacco, bent over double, carrying up to five kilos of the big flat tobacco leaves under one arm as he ripped the ripe leaves from the tall plants with his free hand. It was dirty work; the black juice that made the leaves sticky coated every exposed part of his body. The thick black sap covering his body meant that Paul continuously absorbed nicotine and the poisons that were sprayed on the tobacco through the pores of his skin. None of this worried him; all that mattered to him was that while he was working nobody approached him or tried to talk to him.
It was while he was working on the tobacco that Paul was introduced to marijuana. He found that it helped to ease the prickly feeling up his back; he could even sit down to lunch with the other men after a joint. When he smoked, for the first time in his life he could spend time with other people without the constant vigilance and that damned prickly feeling up his back; even with the drugs he didn’t feel comfortable in groups, but at least he felt less uncomfortable.
Soon all of Paul’s pay was going on bag after bag of marijuana; he found he was spending all the money he earned mixing with other people so that he could buy the drugs that meant he could mix with other people. It didn’t take long until he started growing his own; instead of spending all his money on drugs he now started to make money from it. At last he could avoid the aggravation of working with other people to earn his money; he only needed to make occasional trips to town to sell his dope and then he only need to see one person.
This change also meant Paul could spend more time in the forest and less time with the angst of being around other people; it also meant that he could be as stoned as he wanted to be when he did have to mix with others.
Renting a house right at the edge of town made things better for a while; it put him closer to his beloved bush and dope crop; and it meant he was further away from people.
While being at the edge of town meant less people, there was still a constant stream of traffic going past his front door. Every time Paul heard a car or truck go past, his skin crawled; it was worse when there was no traffic. Paul soon found himself sitting on his couch listening, waiting for the sound of the next vehicle. He spent hours each day waiting for that illusive next car, wondering who it would be, where it would be going and worst of all, would it stop to invade his world. All day and night, every day and even at night, they came and went; they never stopped at his house. But what if they did? Even if the motor didn’t wake him the flashing headlights did; it just never stopped.
For three and a half years Paul lived with that fear before he found the old house in the valley. He had been looking for a new place to grow his dope crop; exploring all the smaller valleys that ran up from the river valley like the barbs of a feather. It was a dream come true, a small, dark old house with a veranda running right round it. It was at the edge of the veranda that the real wonder began. Trees and bushes surrounded the whole place; rather than surrounding the house the garden merged with the veranda so that in places it was difficult to see where one finished and the other started. It was like the garden had grown as part of the house. The whole effect was more an oasis of serenity than a house.
The farmer who owned the house turned up just as Paul was leaving; he wasn’t in a good mood, he’d had people pilfering from the old house before. He jumped from his Ute demanding an explanation “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”, “What did you steal?”, “I’ll call the coppers!” Paul frantically fought against the urge to run as the fear welled up inside him and threatened to overcome reason. Almost in tears he managed to force out the words; he knew that somehow he had to make this man understand, firstly that he meant no harm and secondly that he wanted to rent the ramshackle old house.
After several minutes of frenetic explanation the farmer, Dave Fitzgerald, had calmed down enough to discuss renting the old house.
Dave’s parents had built and lived in the house when they first bought the farm just after the war. Since their death in the 70’s the old house had stood empty; inhabited only by swallows, whose mud nests littered the veranda, a hive of bees that had set up home in a side wall and a wombat who had pushed a hole through the fence and burrowed under the lounge room causing a couple of stumps to collapse so that one corner lurched downwards like a drunken sailor.
For a house that had been empty for many years the inside was still in excellent condition; Dave’s parents had been good farmers who saw maintenance as central to successful farming, and that included the house. While the garden was now overgrown, the house itself was as solid and weather proof as the day it was built.
Dave had never thought of renting the old place; he didn’t think anyone would want to live way up here and he was surprised that anyone would want to rent such a dilapidated old house no matter where it was. It was finally agreed; Paul would rent the old house for $10 a week and maintenance of the house and garden. For Paul this was heaven; within a week he had moved out of his place in town and was happily settling into his new abode.
Heaven was probably too small a word for how Paul felt; before now he had had to go for a long walk to get to the bush. In his new home he could sit on his own veranda and instantly be wrapped in the cocoon of the forest that he loved.
Energy like he had never felt before swept over him; Paul’s days were spent preparing his veggie garden, fixing the dilapidated chook yard and generally pottering around the old house. His evenings were spent out on the veranda; wrapped in the protective embrace of his own personal forest; even in summer when he had to fend off the swarms of Mozzies this was Heaven.
Paul had been in the house for weeks before he even thought about making a trip into the hills; finally, the need to find a plot for his precious dope crop motivated him. For the first time in his life there wasn’t the drive to get to the bush that he had always felt; in fact there was a pang of regret as he left the sanctuary of the little patch of trees that surrounded his home. Several times on the walk over the paddocks to the old fence, where the open grass of the farm met the tree line of the bush, Paul almost turned around and went home, but doggedly he kept going.
It wasn’t until he was deep in the forest that Paul started to relax again; that familiar old feeling of belonging gradually seeped through him like the warmth of an open fire as it slowly drives away the chill and warms you to the bone on a cold winter’s night.
Without thought or planning, Paul’s feet had taken him to a small natural clearing near the creek. This was the sort of place that called to him, both spiritually and professionally; an area that provided the solace of the bush combined with the opportunity for a good marijuana crop without the heavy and telltale work of cutting and clearing the scrub.
Paul was home; he now had the best of everything. While the garden at the house wasn’t really a forest, it felt like it from the inside. Now, Paul found, at walking distance from his house, the Garden of Eden of drug plots. It was easy to settle into a routine of regular trips to the bush and occasional trips to town for supplies; these trips to town were the only low points of his life and over time he learned how to reduce his needs and so extend the time betweens between his forays into town. The veggie garden helped and he cleaned up some rabbit traps he found hanging from hooks on the veranda and they provided him with fresh meat.
The final move had been more of a growth than a conscious decision. Slowly, Paul had grown out of living in the old house and grown into living in the cave near his beloved dope crop; now that he was here he knew that he belonged nowhere else. Paul was not a religious man but he believed that a higher power must have led him to the cave; it could not all have been just a long line of coincidences that ended in his being here. Some guidance must have come to him; that was the only logical conclusion he could come to.
Paul spent time each day contemplating this guidance and the chain of events that had brought him to his cave. Each day he also collected small, special things on his walks; these objects he arranged at a spot near the entrance of his cave where the early morning sun first shone. It didn’t take long before a shrine grew on this spot and more and more of Paul’s time was taken up tending to it and collecting new artefacts to put in it.
Every morning each individual piece was picked up and carefully cleaned before being returned to its allotted position; fresh flowers and leaves were scattered about and new inclusions positioned. At first this had not been a shrine, but rather a collection of knickknacks; like the small ornaments that gradually accumulate on the mantelpiece in most family homes.
As time went by Paul came to realize the significance of this collection; as he had been led to this cave, so he had been led to each of the small treasures he placed, as offerings, on his altar. The feathers, rocks, bird’s eggs and strangely shaped pieces of wood were all gifts from the same power that had guided his life to this point. Each gift was now treated with the reverence a gift from the gods deserved; that spot near the entrance of his cave now became a spiritual focus for Paul, rather than just a place where he put nice things he found on his daily travels. Each day he asked for, and received, guidance in finding new artefacts from the gods. On days when he didn’t find anything he worried that he had offended the gods and so spent more time attending to his altar. When a fox got through the fence and killed all the chooks because he had neglected the fence to tend his altar he worried for days that he had offended the gods. When most of his veggies died because the creek that fed his irrigation system dried up in the middle of summer, Paul accepted that the gods thought he was eating too much and resolved to eat only one small meal a day. Finally, the last blow from the Gods, a bush fire came through at the end of summer; it was devastating.
Sheltered deep in the back of his cave Paul survived the onslaught of the flames and only a little smoke penetrated into the depths of his haven. After the fire had passed, when he emerged from the safety of his cave, Paul’s whole world had been razed.
His garden, his irrigation system, everything was gone. The world Paul had built over the years had been destroyed; even his altar had been seared by the intense heat.
Inside the cave the basic furniture he’d carried up from the house had been safe; the few clothes that had survived the ravages of his years in the bush still hung neatly along one wall on the rack he had built for that purpose. The kitchen utensils scattered around the fire pit and eating area were all safe; even the small amount of food that he had already harvested and brought into the cave remained untouched. But, past all this, Paul knew that his life in the cave was over. Without his garden he could not live here; without his irrigation system he could not rebuild his garden.
Paul expected all those old feelings to come rushing back as he left the tree line and crossed the open paddocks to the old house, but they didn’t come. The prickly feeling up his back was replaced by a calm acceptance in his heart that just as the gods had led him to the cave, now they were sending him back to the world of people. Paul knew in his heart that the gods who guided him would never desert him or send him into danger. The gods had decided that it was time for him to go back and so he knew that it was safe; there was nothing for him to fear, there never would be, the gods would keep him safe. He had been guided to the cave to learn, and he had learned. As their final act the gods had led him through an inferno and shown him the way to rejoin society; now all he had to do was accept their gift.
Dave Fitzgerald had ploughed a quick fire break to save his farm and this ran like a jagged line across rhe paddock above Paul’s house. Stepping over that line, where the blackened grass stubble was replaced by the churned earth of the fire break was like stepping into a new world for Paul; he realised that the main gift he had been given was not the power to rejoin society, but the inner calmness that allowed him to do so without fear or trepidation. Paul knew that everything would be alright, simply because it could not be any other way.