My place. Thursday, 4am
I know a secret cave. Only a couple of other people know it. We’re friends. Friends of the Cave. A long time ago we swore an oath of secrecy, ritually cutting our palms with the Sacred Cave Knife, mixing our blood, like stoned Sioux, to seal the vow.
Well, we didn’t actually swear an oath as such. We were just sitting in the cave having a cup of tea, watching the smoke from the fire twist and rise like an Arabian dancer up to the cave roof where it then snaked along the roof fissures to the where the mountain zephyrs swept it away.
I said, ‘This is a great cave.’
My friend said, ‘Yeah. Really good.’
‘It’s our secret cave,’ said the third friend. ‘Just for us. Forever.’
That’s a bit like swearing an oath, right? With not so many words, we pledged ourselves to maintaining the integrity of the cave by denying its location to others. Humans have a habit of destroying the eternal to create an ephemeral.
This cave will never fill with the cries of kids on school holiday excursion with harried parents telling Tristan to stop pushing Hayley and, hey, look at the pretty rock.
This cave will never hear the titter of teenagers as they smoke a joint, telling wet tales of new love and posting cave selfies on Instagram.
This cave will never be base camp for GPSed bushwalkers eating lightweight pre-cooked packs of organic lamb casserole in their suspended tents, updating their ‘Alone in Wild Nature’ blog on their iPhone Extreme.
No. This is our cave. For us. For tea. For our souls. We swore with our blood, a long time ago.
Well, we didn’t actually cut ourselves with the Sacred Cave Knife. But I did cut myself opening the tin of condensed milk. It was nasty. (I swore. That’s an oath, right?) Some of my blood dripped into the billy and, like Jesus and his apostles, I and my mates drank my blood. It was a special moment, and I’m sure the other blokes would still have drunk the tea if they’d known my blood was in it. Because we Friends of the Cave are close; we are Brothers of the Burrow, Comrades of the Cavern, Doyens of the Depression.
Since that holy First Cuppa, I’ve been to the cave many times. I’ve had tea, watched the smoke dance, heard the birds call, felt the mountain breathe, and listened to the song the Earth sings as it spirals through the universe. I often shared this experience with the Friends.
But I stopped going to the cave. I’ve got a life, right? Things to do.
The cave still called to me, like a Siren, but I am Odysseus, tied to the mast of my superficial life, called but unable to come, time’s gnarly hands ever tightening the habits and ailments that bind me.
But, this morning, lying in my bed, the glow from a waxing moon spilling through the window of my shack under the cliffs at the end of the world, I hear the cave Siren calling me, cutting through the white noise of a waning life, a demanding tinnitus, and I know I must go to the cave. (I’ll probably go alone. I miss my fellow Heroes of the Hole, but our ships sail on different oceans now.)
This morning, the Siren entices me to the cave, to once again hear the Earth’s song, to join the universal choir. I will go there. I have to go there because… well, because Sirens die if their song is heard but not responded to.
And the death of a Siren is the saddest thing in the world.