A Beach, A Hack, A Hawk

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‘For a long time I was a reporter on a journal, of no very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is all too common, with writers’ says Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden; or Life in the Woods, ‘I got only my labor for my pains’. I hear you, brother.

There’s a lot in our trade who, like Thoreau, have gone to brood in woods. It’s not just that newspapers are paying half the money for twice the work. Or that flair and originality is regarded as a risk. Or even that enormous expense accounts and liquid lunches are a thing of the past. No, I think it’s that old hacks reach a point at which they’re tired of hearing and writing about other people’s lives, and want to live one of their own.

Walden also mentions the preoccupied man, accustomed to ‘survey the world through a telescope or a microscope and never through his natural eye.’ He would have added cameras if he’d known what was to come. There are a lot of prisms and buffers and barriers and distractions out there, but very few here. Not even glass in the windows. When the rollers are pounding the rocks out front, the air in the house is salty.

It’s all very refreshing. I’m enjoying the world so much, I can hardly even be bothered reading a book – and certainly not writing one.

The puma – because now I’m convinced it’s the puma – has left what used to be a bird under the palm tree in front of the house. Almost all the bones have gone. Small feathers stick to the mesh screen of the bedroom. I’d rather he  didn’t bring anything else.

Halfway along the beach there’s a brown hawk, sorting through stuff on a sandbank. I stop and stare at him, and he stops and stares at me. He’s got fat thighs; it looks like he’s wearing ridiculous golf trousers with yellow socks. He watches me – like a hawk actually. He’s indignant, waiting for me to make the first move, to clear off actually, but I’m not moving because I don’t want to scare him, so we’re both left standing there as the waves come in, and the waves go out one hundred times, and the sun gets up to the temperature that fries eggs.

Eventually I’m too hot and bored to deal with these niceties. I move on, and he flies off. I head to the end of the beach to inspect tapir prints, the bat cave, the waterfall, some hermit crabs. I try the camera out on timer and take a picture of myself from a really long way away. Pelicans do a flyover, scarlet macaws crack into wild almonds, howler monkeys do their hoarse, blood-curdling call from the jungly heights, frigate birds drift by, the king vulture circles, blue morpho butterflies the size of plates flap past. It’s like I’ve been photoshopped into a painting by Henri Rousseau. It’s all going on. Anyway, pausing by the bank where I’d seen the hawk on the way back, I’m having a poke around, trying to work out what he found so interesting, when I get the feeling I’m being watched, and turn to see him eyeing me from a few feet away. I feel pretty low, really embarrassed for being caught snooping. I back away under his imperious gaze.

So that’s my one social interaction of the day. I take a luke warm shower, put on clean damp clothes, listen to the iPod (Song of the Day: People Magazine Front Cover by Get Well Soon, flick through some notes and lists. Later in bed, I turn off the torch, and the night dissolves into light. Suddenly there are the stars, there are the palms, the rocks, the boats. Around 3am I think I hear the low thrum of a distant speed boat, maybe drug traffickers, way off the coast. I stand by the window for a bit looking for movement. Nothing.

I once sat cross-legged under a mosquito net most of the night at Il Ngwesi, Northern Kenya, prepared to protect George (about six or seven at the time) from a circling pride of lions. Off was my weapon of choice then, and it’s my weapon of choice again now. Although I can’t help feeling a tranquilliser gun would be quite handy.

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