One of the more unexpected finds I made at Paradise was the discovery of a small door in an outer rim wall skirting the far north eastern boundary.
I’d been living at Paradise for several years before I even ventured out that way. For the first few years of my residency I was utterly content to spend my days ambling through the thriving thoroughfares sampling the fare at atmospheric little cafes where artisan bakers made delicious pastries and some of the world’s finest baristas made rich mellow coffee.
Hours would pass as I discussed contemporary art and poetry with like minded others. Our open mike nights were an absolute hoot. There we would treat each other to our refined verses and carefully wrought haiku. The more avant garde of us mixed their spoken word presentations with digital image configurations projected onto the cafe walls.
I lived, at that time, in a comfortable apartment at the end of a cul de sac off a tree lined avenue which was an easy walk to the city centre. For months on end I ventured no farther than the cafes, galleries and theatres in the town centre. After the difficult years that had preceded my move to Paradise such pleasures filled me with exquisite delight. For the first time in ages my nerves relaxed and I allowed myself to come down from the highly strung feeling of always being on red alert. At last I felt safe and at ease.
The contentment of this state was so soothing that the eventual re-awakening of my old restlessness took me by surprise. I’d always been a seeker and had never settled anywhere long. I’d always thought my restlessness stemmed from a desire to feel safe and contented. Now, when I finally achieved those things I found that, after a time, they bored me. My creativity had dimmed and the haiku I delivered at the open mike nights had grown stale, repetitive and predictable.
Unbeknownst to my cafe companions I took to exploring the area north of the city centre. I found the district quite enchanting but, when I mentioned to my friends that I was thinking of moving there, they cautioned against it. They’d heard the area was a law unto itself. Any poetry that emerged from there was raw, unbridled and free form. As for the art – well it was strange. Sometimes it was backward looking and mystical. In other instances it was unsettling and disturbing.
Just what I need, I thought. I did not want to insult my erstwhile companions by arguing with them so I slipped away unnoticed one dreary day in midwinter when they were all safe inside their homes crafting their newest creations. I left a note on the apartment door saying I was on a creative retreat and would be away for unspecified length of time.
Into the wild and rainy weather I went with minimal provisions. As the wind whipped at my clothes I made my way to an old, unfashionable shack I’d found in Paradise’s outer reaches.
There I set up house. The neighbours were friendly enough but distant. All were pre-occupied by their own pursuits. That suited me fine. Once I’d taken care of the basics and made the shack comfortable I began exploring. The streets of the area were rambling and inconclusive. Destinations became instead openings and invitations to journey further. I took to carrying a day pack filled with energy bars, wet weather gear, a compass and water bottle. My delicate city shoes were replaced with sturdy walking boots and, as my muscles grew stronger, I ventured further and further.
It was on one such ramble that I came across the door the rest of residents of Paradise appeared to have forgotten about. On that first sighting I did no more than test the handle to see if it was locked. Finding that it opened freely into a wild forested area where narrow tracks ran hither and thither was both disconcerting and exciting. I had no idea Paradise encompassed such a region.
Over the coming months I explored the wilderness beyond the door. As the days lengthened and winter turned to summer I stayed out for longer. Often it was late twilight before I wandered back to the little shack I now called home. Always I carried with me little bundles of found objects – the smaller bones of long deceased animals, feathers, curious seedpods and other forest finds. My mind too was filled with creative possibilities. Early on in my explorations I had added a notebook and pencils to my day pack for often the whispering of the trees and the calling of birds would inspire me to jot down ideas and half formed lines of poetry.
As the summer grew warmer I felt ready to attempt an overnight stay. On previous journeys I had come across the occasional fellow rambler. Some were fugitive and smelt of danger. The street wise cunning I’d learnt during the wild years before I came to Paradise kicked in and I gave these types a wide berth. Such characters were in the minority though and most of the souls I met on the wild outlying trails were, like me, explorers of the unknown and seekers of the uncharted. Often we would pause on our journeys and exchange information. It was from them I learnt of a camping ground a good day’s walk from the door. Beyond they, they said, lay even wilder country and trails that wound their way down to rugged coastline of the deep north.
On midsummer morn I shouldered an overnight pack and set out for the campsite. I carried with me a small lightweight tent, a sleeping bag and enough food to keep me going for a week or so. Notepads, pencils and collecting bags were also included. I had a strangest feeling this journey would gift me with some treasure I had forgotten about and would need to carry back.
The weather was balmy and I made rapid, easy progress to the campsite. There were a few other campers. We greeted each other cordially but each set up their tent quite some distance from the others. All, it seemed, were on their own missions.
The night passed uneventfully. The moon was just passed full and cast its pearly glow over the campground. Night birds sung harmoniously and all was right with the world. In the morning, after a simple breakfast I decamped and set out for the coast. Apparently there was another, even smaller, campground further out.
Once again the walk out was easy enough but my pack hung heavy on my shoulders by the time I reached this more remote site. Even fewer were camped out there. Just a couple of surfers who grinned amicably at me over their bong and an older couple who were intently making notes about the vegetation they’d discovered that day.
Quickly I set up camp and made my way down the sandy trail to the shore. There the vastness of the sea stretching out to a hazy horizon made me gasp involuntarily. After the days spent in the depths of the forest the expansiveness and dancing light chased away everything but an awareness of itself.
I camped out there for days until the gathering clouds had the surfers muttering about a change in the weather. I knew they were right but lingered on as long as possible. The others left but I stayed on for a last commune with the sea before I too would retreat. For a brief while I sat there alone in the vastness contemplating the void beyond the horizon. Breathing deep I came to understand that all my staying safe within the confines of Paradise had been holding me back. To fully experience myself as a creative being I needed to take risks. I needed to explore the far edges of possibilities. I needed to gaze into infinity. This was the treasure I had journeyed so far to find. This was what I had forgotten.