Instead of lying about smothered in blankets, trying to find the best position to curl into in order to be able alternately drain my clogged sinuses while feeling sorry for myself, I will tell you about my friend, Martha. (Martha had arranged for 48 photography seniors in her High School classes to go to the big public art gallery downtown, as a field trip today, to see two exhibitions of contemporary photographs. I was to accompany the group as one of the chaperones, which, to my dismay was not possible for me to do because of this dratted flu that has layed me flat.)
Martha is a storyteller, in her photographs, in her conversations with friends. Every occasion and happening she finds herself embroiled in provides raw material for her many engaging stories and reports. Last week she kept “Rumpole” and me in stitches by reporting on the rat problem in her dark-room at school. On other occasions she elaborates on chance odd situations she finds herself in on the many walks she takes with her Jack Russel terrier. For the past three years, she has taken to carrying a little can of bear spray on her excursions in her dog’s favourite place to walk. A product similar to Mace, it is useful during berry season when the bears amble along the same trails dog-walkers do. She has never had the occasion to use it yet, much to her (and the bears’) relief.
Seven years ago, Martha took a year’s sabbatical from her teaching, and she and her friend Naomi (from Brooklyn, a rabbi’s wife and a wee bit of a Jewish Princess) took an extended holiday in Australia. For adventure, they signed up for a Camel Safari in the Outback (this must have been their Florence of Australia romantic trek?). They rode camels during the day, moved through the landscape at a relaxed plodding pace, stopped regularly for decent and varied meals and camped at night under the starry Southern sky. With her capacity for curiosity and wonder, Martha immersed herself completely in this experience, and took many photographs from her perch on the camel. She thought it was great fun to wear the “Crocodile Dundee” hat with many corks hanging from the brim. The bugs didn’t bother her, the heat of the sun didn’t add too much discomfort – she was just fine with it all.
Her friend, Naomi, on the other hand would by far have preferred an air-conditioned, bug-free and luxurious safari, not being particularly outdoorsy. She really had great reluctance to go to bed at nights in the spacious tent she and Martha shared. Now, they were not sleeping on the ground but on very comfy cots equipped with foamy matresses. The tent had good screening to keep bugs and other night-crawling vermin outside where they belonged. Each tent was equipped with a can of Mace so if any unwanted night visitors would encroach on the inner sanctum they could be driven out with few well-aimed blasts from the spray can. Naomi was completely undone by the prospect of strange hairy creatures crawling over her sleeping and unaware body. She took possession and control of the Mace every night and slept with it right next to her pillow so if needed it would be ready at hand. Fearfully vigilant, she slept very badly during the week of the safari.
One morning, Martha awoke with a sore throat and found it difficult to open her eyes which felt scratchy and very swollen. She lay on her cot awhile, listening to Naomi’s light snores. Finally, she emerged from the tent and groped over to the guide’s tent to ask for an anti-histamine. She explained to the guide that she might have had an allergic reaction to something, but after taking the medication she found it helped her not at all, and her swollen eyes remained that way for the rest of the day.
Short time after the safari had ended, Martha and Naomi were sitting in an outdoor cafe in Melbourne, taking a load off their feet recouping for their next tourist exploration. Sipping her cappucino, Naomi mentioned she had a small confession to make. Surprised, Martha patiently listened to her admission.
Apparently, on the night before the incident of Martha’s “allergic reaction to something in the Outback”, Naomi was so terrified of the creepy crawlies she expected at any moment to intrude into their tent that she was unable to fall asleep. She sat up on her cot clutching the can of Mace in her hand, sleepless and exhausted, waiting to be attacked by un-named slithering small beasts. She sat; she waited; she was armed and ready. She listened to the sounds of the night, sure that the slightest whisper was cause for alarm and action. Suddenly, she thought, believed, was certain that a small shadow moved near the closed entrance. Yes… there was a small pool of darker dark near the edge of the floor. She scrambled to the end of her cot, aimed and let off a series of Mace blasts, then realizing the spray might cause her difficulty as well, ducked completely under her sleeping bag and covered her face. As she sweltered under cover, she felt secure that she had dealt well with the putative intruder and fell asleep. In the morning, on awaking she found out that the “intruder” was only Martha’s hiking boots, carefully placed by the entrance zipper on the floor. She was too embarrassed to admit to having forgotten that Martha was sleeping peacefully, her face exposed to the noxious fumes, in the cot next to her. She had Maced her friend of many years, completely unintentionally!
Martha seems totally unfazed by strange and unexpected occurrences. Amazingly, she holds no grudges. She can see the humour in what befalls her. And she tells the tales of happenings and her reactions to them with great relish. Odd things keep happening to her so often, and she views them with humour and amazement.
“Rumpole” and I treasure her friendship and presence in our lives. I can hardly wait to hear of what happened on her field-trip excursion with her bus-load of charges today!