Whilst on a Trip
Whilst on a trip to the remoter northern regions of Western Australia I became very attached to a very kindly old Taoist monk. He was camped on the edge of the rest centre, away from other people and behind some shady bushes and trees where it was cool and private. We often shared our evening meal together and spent many a pleasant evening together discussing the philosophy of the way. The state government made no secret of what was in store for hermits and vagabonds if they continued to free camp. Weary explorers could now only stop for a while and rest their tired selves before moving on, but they were not to stay overnight. – even though most travellers would stay in the one place for a night or two at most and only very occasionally a bit longer if they had car or health problems. It seems that this breed of freeloader made the place scruffy and the state politicians in conjunction with park owners quoted how well their new policy of herding these wanderers into conformity and restriction was working. Half of the amount of road tourists and very few of the poorer traveller namely the back-packer and people like my friend. Rest stops were being closed and the ones that did exist were few and far between. To people like my friend living in a regimented, overpriced caravan park would be no different than living in the suburbs.
“What will you do master?
I asked, saddened at the thought of that poor old man being driven away from the life he had lived happily for more than half a century.
“You are sorry for me, John?” He answered. “Why? Wouldn’t it be laughable if in a lifelong pursuit of learning the way to enlightenment I were to be afraid of change? I am too old to be put to work and these people care too much for the look of things to let me starve in a country that has so much”
“How will you live, master?”
“Let me tell you something. At my age, I can see into the future much better than I can recall the past. When they drive away the others, they will leave us old and useless ones stay on until the end, living as best we can… From kindness? Not exactly. These places where we camp are too remote for them to be in a hurry to use them for some other purpose; and as three or four of us are so very old they will look to death to relieve them of the problem of our disposal into an aged-care facility. The Silent one and I propose to leave this world together on the evening of the 6th August next year. My face contorted at the ugly thought of this. How would they get enough drinking water?
“No, no be calm. Do you suppose we will commit suicide and hang ourselves? Preposterous!”
“With wine, incense, a little food and other things we intend to move away onto the hills and trees away from the roads and pursue our final preparations for eternity. We shall perform our daily rites as usual, wake up in the crisp morning air to admire the disappearing moon and the birth of the sun and there sit down. Passing in meditation to the very source we shall plunge together in to the ocean of the void.
Though he laughed so merrily he could see that I was visibly upset.
“Are there herons in Sydney?”
“Herons.. I don’t think so.”
“Good; rather than have you sad for us we shall gladly postpone eternal bliss for an hour or so. Be sure to remember what I am going to say. Next year, at the hour of the boar on the night of your birthday go to a high place and watch the sky just above the ocean that surrounds your island. I have a great desire to see the sea by moonlight never having seen it in all my years. There we shall meet and bid each other at a joyous farewell.
Knowing he was trying to comfort me I nodded but did not take his words seriously. Then we said goodbye.
The following year when my birthday came round, I accepted a dinner invitation from some family friends who lived in an apartment overlooking the ocean at Queenscliff. Although wishing in a sentimental way to do as the old man had asked I easily allowed myself to be dissuaded. And I went to the dinner party.
The meal started late and was a long noisy drawn-out affair. We are still at the table when the clock struck 10. Suddenly I felt strangely dizzy and was advised to go out onto the balcony of the flat away from the stuffy air and get some fresh air outside. The balcony was large and long and being three stories high, quite windy. The aspect faced directly out to sea and showed off the beauty of water and sky inlaid into a sameness of blue that differentiated in shades making it somehow different. It was a lovely clear night with a brilliant moon shining down and reflecting upon small foam-capped waves. Presently two of those foam-caps rose strangely into the air and sailed or was it flew rapidly towards me. I put this down to my giddiness until I realised that what I had taken for foam caps were two large, white herons! Flying very low, they came almost up to where I was sitting and flew round and round uttering what I can only call happy sounding cries long sustained and beautiful. While this was happening a sensation of extraordinary bliss made me tingle from head to toe. Instantly I knew that my Taoist friend had not only kept his promise, but had even touched me with something of the ecstasy that would be his for ever in his union with heaven!