Images via Australia Geographic
I used to be an A-grade tea addict. Tea was my go-to: morning upper and evening downer, elevenses break and afternoon fix. Outside those times it was available on a needs basis. Bored? Procrastinating? Feeling the slightest emotional discomfort? Float that tea bag.
However a few years ago, much to my dismay, tea began to lose its efficacy. No longer was it a guaranteed relief or reprieve. Something about the ease of it – a mere flick of a kettle switch and puff it appeared – felt increasingly unsatisfactory.
Tea wasn’t the only thing losing its magic.
Once a passionate environmental advocate, my job with The Wilderness Society was making me passionless. I had become one of those office-pale greenocrats, the ones that say the right words but in a hollow voice. It wasn’t just the job – the whole package of partner, social life and community was getting to me. It was just the busyness of it all. The onwardsness of everything.
I felt like a tourist of my own life. The shortcuts were short-changing me. I wanted more than 10-second media grabs and instant hot water. I wanted to know the underbelly of things, to know in my bones what it actually takes to make a cup of tea from scratch; to live life off my own steam, literally.
One day an email popped into my inbox – a year-long 'Independent Wilderness Studies Program' on the north coast of NSW. My heart did a cartwheel. This was it; my invitation to whittle life down to its barest of essentials, to taste the purity of existence without the convenience.
The image of myself sitting under a thatched roof, watching a billy of tea bubble on a bed of flames I created with my own hands clinched the deal. I signed up and left my city life far behind.
Although there were no hard and fast rules about life in the bush, running with the 'greater the need, greater the result' theory, I decided to surrender all matches and lighters. No more instant fires for me. However, despite following the technique I had learnt for the indigenous 'hand-drill' method to the letter, I was lucky if I produced a bum-puff of smoke. What I did produce, though, were two enormous and painful blood blisters on both palms. And there was no cup of tea to comfort me.