FOR A MOMENT THAT MORNING it appeared the sun would finally punch through the wet gray overcast and lift them all out of their funk. Perhaps it was only the easing of the rain, however, that gave them that small hope.
Taking a camera and stand with him, Sterling had walked down to the gravel shore to greet the big yellow sky-stranger with what he called his “Ode to Mother Earth,” and which Jason called “Ode to Sterling No. 12.” Joanie let Jason’s latest jab at the actor pass and hurried down to the shore to provide help with the camera and a live audience of one.
“Let me handle that,” she said upon reaching him. She took the stand from his hand and found a place to set it stoutly among the water-smoothed shore rocks still slippery from the high tide.
He smiled at her, then turned his eyes to the sloshing waves two meters ahead of their feet. “Thanks,” was all he said, as his eyes rose skyward.
“Don’t start yet!” she laughed. “I mean, wait for ‘Action.’”
“Just warm-up,” he said. He cleared his throat and began making those humming and grunting noises actors used to prepare their voices.
Joanie locked the camera in place on the stand and checked the viewer. “One step back. I want to get more of your face.” When he was in focus, she lowered the stand and raised the lens for more sky in the background. “They have to see how bad it is here, and what a change your song makes.”
Day Day 5 5
“It’s not a song. It’s a poem.”
“Oh. Whatever. It’s going to be great.”
She gave him a few moments to set himself. God, could a man be any more beautiful, she thought. Her eyes roamed over a face where finely-edged features rose like stone monuments from the darkly whiskered base. The already dirtied khaki pants and water-resistant jacket did little to hide a six-foot-three physique rippled with muscles. A physique she had examined during training with the intensity of an anatomy student at practicum.
She quietly turned the camera on. “Rolling.” she said.
Sterling held his gaze on the sea’s rain-hazed horizon. The subtle hardening of his facial muscles and the grim firmness in his eyes suggested the tone of his piece—a deep struggle within.
“Well, out with it!” came the shout from the camp.
Joanie looked up at their rugged shelter: a stack of cut logs caulked with spruce boughs and set on a small plateau about ten feet above the highwater line. Even from a distance of only thirty yards from Joanie, and even with the green tarps laid over its roof, the shelter blended well with the dense forest surrounding it on three sides. Jason sat on a boulder at the edge of the plateau. The smoke from the campfire floated behind him like a flag of war. She saw the other two team members step out of the shelter, curiosity on their faces.
“Shut up, Jason!” Joanie yelled back. She had taken a course in theater in college. She knew how easily actors could be thrown off by any kind of interference.
“Still rolling,” she said quietly to Sterling, who had kept his eyes forward, his expression unchanged. She looked back at the monitor as he began:
“The rain, it comes and goes,
And lovely, should the rose
Awaken to the glorious birth
Of sunlight o’er the glory of earth.
These waters of a starry night—"
“Foul!” cried Jason.
This time, Sterling turned and raised a middle finger at the man in camp.
“Dammit, Jason!” Joanie shouted.
“What the fuck!” Jason shouted back. “He’s plagiarized a Wordsworth poem! And butchered it as well!”
Sterling appeared to steam quietly for a moment, then spoke under his breath to Joanie. “If he wasn’t black, I’d run up there and dump him face-first into the fire.”
“And I’d film it,” she said.
“Fuck this,” said Sterling, walking past her and the camera and heading down the shoreline. “I’m going to go check one of the gill nets.”
“Let’s just do it somewhere else,” Joanie offered to his back as she picked up the camera and stand.
He answered only with a shake of the head and continued down the shore.
Joanie looked up at Jason, flanked on one side now by Brian and on the other by Kristi. She flashed a finger of her own at him. “You know your problem as well as I do!” she shouted. She laid the camera stand over her shoulder walked back toward camp.
“Which one?” Jason said.
She remembered and stopped and set the camera stand back down and turned the camera off. “Fuck this recording shit.”
“More trouble than it’s worth,” Kristi said from above.
Joanie groaned and loaded the stand back on her shoulder and climbed up the embankment to the camp. “Let’s talk,” she said to Jason as she passed him.
* * *
“Jealousy?” Jason said.
The two of them sat under the roof of the large but primitive lean-to that was their shelter against any and all nature would
throw at them. Later, they would add a front wall and door. The floor of spruce boughs under their butts helped to soften things a bit.
Jason picked up a small rock. “Well, I dispute that assertion thus,” he added, throwing the rock out at the cook fire. “You’re not my type. And I’m definitely not yours.”
She had been waiting for him to bring that up.
“Yes, you are a black man, and I am a white woman. We are both single, living for the moment in close circumstances. We are both physically attractive. A natural pairing might be expected. But it’s not going to happen, and that’s not because of race. It’s because you can be an absolute ass, even though I don’t think you are normally like that.”
Jason hesitated. “Hm, I might be like that normally. Don’t give me too much credit. But jealousy isn’t it, even if it’s only something in passing. I just don’t like that guy. He’s phony to the core.”
“You’ve known him for less than two weeks,” she said, her voice rising a little.
Kristi and Brian moved away from the fire to where they wouldn’t hear the conversation at the lean-to. Brian picked up his bow on the way.
“I had him pegged after the first training session,” Jason said. “Others would agree with me.”
“Doesn’t say much for giving a guy a chance.”
“Plenty of chance. I’m open to a change of mind. I’m stuck here with him and watch him and listen to him all day long. Haven’t seen anything to put me off first my impression.”
Joanie decided to go candid. “You say it’s not jealousy. Do you want to sleep with me, or not?”
Jason stared at her briefly, a little bit shocked, it seemed to her, then pulled his knees up into his arms. “In different circumstances, if I was clean, and it was a one-nighter staring me in the face, then, yeah, I guess I would. You are pretty hot. But no way we get along for more than a one-time go.”
“Beautiful,” she said. “Lovely picture you paint.”
“Oh, I can be romantic. Hell, I know Wordsworth when I hear it.”
She hesitated to go there, to open another avenue of attack for Jason, but said it anyway. “He practiced that piece. I heard him off in the woods early this morning. He really wanted to film it. It’s a side to his work, to himself, that people don’t get to see on TV.”
“Uh. Well, art is a gift to others. Performance for attention, or ratings, or whatever isn’t art. It’s just self-serving crap. And that piece of crap wasn’t even original.”
“Does that really matter? Does your master’s degree in English sanction you as judge and jury? Who else cares?”
He nodded. “Probably very few. But that’s a social problem, an educational problem. What isn’t seen can still be ugly or harmful.”
“Ah!,” she said, growing frustrated. She stood up and brushed debris from the back of her pants. “Maybe you could just leave him alone and let the social world deal with it.” She left him and walked up the slope behind the shelter to check rabbit snares at the base of the high plateau.
* * *
It was only two weeks ago that her application for use of all of her vacation time at the Department of Natural Resources had been approved. Two days later, she was on the plane and flying to Vancouver Island for training. Most of her gear she left at home in Wisconsin; the TV people would be supplying what she needed, or at least what she was allowed to take with her on this “adventure.” Even her clothing, except for underwear, was part of the package. Her surprise at being chosen to join a team was topped only by her surprise at being granted that much time from work.
Chosen as the Team Naturalist, her expertise in matters of animal behavior and habitats was deemed critical by the show’s producers. Jason filled the role of Bushcrafter, Kristi that of Nutritionist, and Brian that of Hunter. Each had either the education or the experience to fulfill their role. At least that was the
theory. All were strangers to Joanie until they met at training camp in Victoria twelve days ago, and she suspected immediately that few of them were true experts. They were just too young, including her. The TV people no doubt thought youth would stand up better to the rigors of weeks in the wilderness, and probably also provide more drama, than their graying mentors back home. Same for adding the Celebrity spot to each team. With none of that group even a little experienced in this kind of wilderness survival thing, drama of high order was soon to follow. She had just experienced an example with Jason and Sterling.
The TV people seemed most concerned with the recording of such dramatic events. Training in Victoria had concentrated on the technical and aesthetic aspects of proper camera work and sound capture. Each participant shared in that general responsibility once they were helicoptered into their survival sites.
Thus far, Joanie had located plenty of elk habitat and elk tracks within easy walking distance of the camp. Some of the team wanted to keep camp near the channel and rely on fishing. Fishing had been pretty good, with great success from the gill nets. But in her opinion, which she let them hear every day, it would never be enough to sustain a group of five people. In the woods of Hawkesbury Island, only elk, musk ox, and bear, on a regular basis, would provide enough protein and fat. Perhaps some blacktail deer. Kristi agreed with her, but nonetheless felt more comfortable near the shore. They were all spooked to some degree by the bears and wolves back in the woods.
* * *
None of the rabbit snares had been tripped that morning, despite the presence of so much sign. It was merely a matter of placement and patience. She reset a couple in what she thought better locations. Brian, the Hunter, appeared to be quite sharp with the bow, but not much of a trapper. She headed back to camp to help with improving the shelter. That was Jason’s thing, and it might be wise to patch things up with him some.