Josh wandered along the riverbank carrying his fishing rod and tackle box. Around him the day began to awake. Birds tweeted, frogs croaked and sunlight sparkled. It was all a refreshing change after the grind of the city and the constant cut and thrust of his work environment. Lately the place had been getting to him. Spending a weekend away had felt like a necessity for he was stretched to breaking point.
Slowly the tranquil environment calmed him and he looked around with interest. It had dark when he driven down to the random Airbnb he’d found online so he hadn’t seen much. Now an unusual purplish light played across the water and spilled over the vegetation. He’d never seen anything like it before but, he reasoned, he’d never been in this part of the country before.
Up ahead he spied an older bearded man leaning back against a tree trunk. A fishing rod dangled loosely in his hand. One seeing him the fellow gave a beaming smile of welcome.
“G’day, nice day for it,” Josh said hoping he was striking the right colloquial note.
“Aye, that it is,” said the man. Josh couldn’t quite place the accent but assumed it was English. It grew thicker as the two exchanged pleasantries. Josh usually shied away from conversations with strangers but there was something about the fellow that made him want to stay and chat.
“The name’s Robin,” the man said after a minute or two. “I was about to have a bite to eat. Care to join me? ” He gestured to a rustic meal spread out on a cloth beside him. Wholesome brown bread was cut into thick slices, wads of cheese, bunches of ripe grapes and a mound of brightly polished apples sat alongside.
Josh’s mouth watered for he’d skipped breakfast. His palate was dulled from too many rushed meals of processed food and the simple fare looked appealing.
“Don’t be shy,” Robin grinned. “There’s more than enough for two and I’m curious as to what brings a smart young man like you to this out of the way spot.”
Josh needed no further encouragement and was soon hungrily devouring his fair share of the food. Robin ate more sparingly, a gentle smile playing around his lips. For Josh the older man’s non-judgmental attitude was like a balm. Without much conscious thought he found himself speaking of his fiercely competitive work environment, the long hours he put in and of his difficulties in finding a compatible partner. All the women he met seemed more interested in his career prospects than his deeper thoughts. They were quick to advise him of their own career achievements too as if it was some kind of contest. Everyone he knew was like that, he reflected. It wasn’t a gender thing, or even an age thing. It was just the way things were.
“Maybe you’re mixing with the wrong people,” Robin said mildly. “Maybe you need to live in a different way.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Josh said. A bitter note crept into his voice. “There’s so much pressure now to succeed. What people aren’t considering is the cost to the environment.”
“That’s exactly right.” The older man seemed lost in thought. Looking at him Josh realized the fellow was far older than he first thought. The purple light somehow cast greenish shadows on his skin making him appear ancient and almost as if he’d grown out of the trees around him.
“Some people are changing their lifestyles,” Josh said thoughtfully. “A guy I knew at school suddenly announced on Facebook that he was moving down this way to build a straw bale house and develop a self-sufficient farm.”
“I like the sound of that,” Robin said. “The economies of the future will have to become circular if people are going to survive.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Josh thought of the months he’d spent at work wrestling with the issue of recycling now that China had stopped buying Australia’s waste – not that you could blame them – the stuff was totally contaminated. Separating re-usable plastic, paper and glass from the mess would be a filthy and dangerous job. Telling Australian householders to reduce their use of plastic and to store their glass containers didn’t really solve the problem though. He and many others in his workplace knew that the deeper solution lay in convincing industries to take responsibility for their excess packaging and their reliance on single use plastics. The planet had to come before profit but that kind of systemic change had to be enforced by legislation and there wasn’t the political will to make such changes for most political parties were funded by big business.
It was these kind of convoluted problems that had led Josh to this weekend away. Seemed like he could not escape though, even on such an idyllic riverbank.
“I guess societies did have a circular economy once,” he said slowly as he thought it through. “Resources would have been used and re-used. Waste would have been minimal and essentially organic anyway. It would all eventually decompose without polluting the environment.” Such a world was so far from his current reality he could barely imagine it. “That would have been centuries ago,” he mused. “We can’t revert to horse and buggy days.”
“Aye, it were a good while back,” Robin agreed. “And no, going back to that would not work. Besides there were problems then too. It was back breaking work and disease was rife. No, what I’m suggesting is a new holistic approach.”
“Where and how do you live then?” Josh asked, his curiosity getting the better of him. Robin’s old timer ways of speaking mixed with contemporary expressions had him confused. The man’s manners were from an earlier gentler time and his clothes, in indeterminate shades of green, seemed to have been spun from the forest itself.
“Oh hereabouts,” Robin was noncommittal. “I keep a finger on the pulse of the times but I live by the old codes. I abide by the lores of nature.”
Josh was intrigued. Maybe this fellow could help him find his own way back to nature. “Where did you grow up then?” he asked thinking it might shed some light on the man’s unusual world view.
“I’ve always been here,” Robin answered. “I am a man of the forest. I am in the forest and the forest is in me.”
“Haven’t you ever worked in the city then?”
“My work has always been here in nature. For me that is the most honest toil a man can do. The way I see it humans are the children of the Earth. It is nature that sustains us. She provides the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink even, in more natural times at least, the resources to clothe our bodies and build our homes. Now more than ever people need to realise that. The way so many live is unsustainable.”
Josh nodded slowly. The man’s words echoed thoughts that bounced around his own own head in the wee small hours but which were swallowed up in the rush and roar of daily life.
“You’ve given me a lot to think about,” he said. “Thank you for the meal too. It was delicious” He stood up as he said goodbye. Thoughts he had been repressing for too long crowded into his mind and he needed to sit alone and process them.
Robin smiled fulsomely and gave brief nod. Josh felt almost like he’d been dismissed from the presence of a god. An Earth god to be sure but some kind of deity nonetheless. Collecting his fishing gear he continued on upstream his own head bowed in thought.
He found a pleasant spot to sit and for the rest of the day idly cast and recast his fishing line but caught no fish. Half the time he forgot to bait the hook he was so pre-occupied. At some point during the day he decided to track down that old school friend and visit him while he was in area. He wasn’t sure a complete back to nature lifestyle was for him but maybe he could apply some of the principles of self sufficiency to his own life. He needed to change jobs as well and work in a more pro-active field. Banging his head against the brick wall of governmental hypocrisy was destroying him. Perhaps he could find work in some organisation that was actually implementing environmentally sound principles.
Towards evening he bundled up his gear and retraced his footsteps along the riverbank. There was no sign of the green man now. Some little birds pecking at the crumbs from the picnic were the only sign their meeting had actually taken place and not been a figment of his imagination.
In the coming months as Josh implemented real and lasting change in his life the memory of Robin came to assume the significance of a life changing event. Its significance was overshadowed only by his meeting the bright light who was to become his life partner, the like minded and utterly gorgeous Marion.
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