Posted onMay 22, 2011 by Shahla & Peter Nygaard
If you look down, way down and then you look under that, you get to the land down under and that’s where this story begins. And this isn’t just any story. It’s the story of a select group brought together to achieve the extraordinary. And it just so happens that in this instant they are brought very closely together.
“Ow, Boot, get your foot outta my face,” whined Mat. This was typical of Mat, a lime-green thermarest who at the moment was rolled up very tightly with a belt around his waist. Maybe he was rolled up a little too tightly by the humans; he always seemed to have something to complain about.
“It’s ‘sir get your foot outta my face, sir,’ private Mat,” barked Boot, “and I wouldn’t be in your face if seargent Tent wasn’t hogging all the room.” Boot was a military man but his Scandinavian history gave his barking a sing-song tone and made it difficult for the others to take him too seriously. Especially Tent. He never took anybody seriously except himself. He’s a light-weight, top of the line orange dome-tent that is quite popular among travelling humans.
“I thought we’d been through this before guys. The humans have to fit both their bodies inside me, not just their feet. Of course I need the most room.” At this, as with most things Tent had to say, there was a chorus of “yeah, whatever” from the rest of the backpack.
“Can you guys keep it down, I’m trying to get my beauty sleep. Night shift does terrible things to a girl’s skin.” There were a couple of murmurs around the backpack to keep it down including a genuine offer from Boot to stuff a sock in Tent’s mouth. Sleeping Bag was so soft and silky that most of the guys would volunteer to wrestle crocodiles for her.
Just then the whirr of a zipper and a sudden burst of light brought silence to the crew. The familiar hand of one of the humans came through the opening as all waited in anticipation. It was a daily ritual for everyone in the backpack to share their experiences of the outside world. And so it was with the return of the dinner crew. Once the darkness closed in again, silence reigned until Hat broke in with “G’day mates.” Hat is a “floppy kangaroo”. About as Australian as they come, he’s made of kangaroo hide in true Aussie fashion.
“We’re sure up woopwoop today fellas. I was sitting on the blokes head when he went for a walk with the sheila and crikey! out popped a little beauty red-back spider from under a picnic table. You don’t want to get in a fight with one of them. They’ll kill a bloke if he gets too close.”
There was an “oooooo” from the inhabitants, and a faint “what’s woopwoop?”
"Red-back’s nothin’ though,” continued Hat, “I once heard of a croc in a billabong that could snap a kookaburra right out of a gum tree!” Confusion and horror filled the backpack until Boot took command.
“Alright soldiers, fall in. Report officer!” The officer to whom Boot was referring was Swiss Army Knife. He was a determined workaholic who had it in his head that if he couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done.
“Well, once we were out, we saw what we had to work with to feed the humans. There was an onion, a couple potatoes, some broccoli and some kangaroo meat. Off to the side was a slab of dark chocolate. I wasn’t looking forward to chopping the onion because when they’re strong they can really sting, but I got it over with first and moved on to the fun stuff.”
“You might-a not look-a forward to-a the onion, seignor Knife, but I always like-a to fry-a them for-a the aroma to fill-a the room.” Pot loved food. If it was cooking, marinating or mixing in him, as long as it was food, he didn’t care.
“Hey, I like aroma too man. The aroma of smoke, ha ha ha.” That would be Stove, the pyromaniac. Sadly for him, the humans didn’t often let him burn things.
“Stand down, private Stove. Let the officer finish his report,” said Boot.
“Anyway, my next task was to slice up the broccoli and potatoes just right.”
“They mixed the broccoli and-a potatoes. I boil it just-a right. Then I fry-a the meat with the onion, little bit salt and-a pepper. Perfecto,” added Pot. The last member of the dinner crew was Spoon. She always waited until last to give her opinion on the dinner. On rare occasions, Spoon would enthusiastically run through her critique. This however was not one of those occasions.
“It was served a little too hot and the presentation left much to be desired, but the flavours did mix well and I have to agree with Pot about everything being cooked just right. The kangaroo was tender and amazingly lean with a gamey liver undertone. Also, I think the scenery added to the appreciation of the meal. Whereas normally it’s been barren and windy and it gets cold when the sun goes down, now we’re in a sheltered forest with huge trees everywhere.”
Here Boot interrupted her.
“Yes Spoon, I’ve already given an account of the trees. Remember they took me out to climb up the steel spike ladder that led into the rarefied atmosphere in the forest canopy. And I agree, the change in scenery and terrain was somewhat pleasurable. Now please finish your report on the meal.”
“All in all, I give it my Spoons up.”
A cheer went up around the backpack and Boot congratulated them on another successful mission.
There was a giggle from a dark corner that no one paid any attention to. They were all quite used to hearing Dice laugh to himself. They never really understood what was so funny and many of them secretly thought he was a little crazy.
“Shhh, – they’re coming back.”
Sure enough, the zipper swooshed again and the evening light flooded in, filtered through a thousand leaves. All waited in anticipation to see who would be chosen next. After much rustling and repositioning, the zipper closed and darkness closed in on the backpack again. And again it was Boot who broke the silence.
“Alright, troops, who’s left?” After a brief roll call, it was determined that Mat, Sleeping Bag, Tent, Turban and Dice were missing. They all knew this meant it was bedtime, and since there was so much more room now that the big guys were gone, they all stretched out and got ready to sleep. This was great for Mosquito who had been packed with his face against the wall of the backpack but now that he could, he stretched himself out and quietly began to sing.
"I wanna tear down the walls
And the borders too
Because I just wanna be free
And not just for me
I said I just wanna be free
and not just for me
They build the wall they wall the world
Just ride and watch the world
Be what it wants to be
The endless possibilities
On this floating matter marble in the sea
The collective reality
On this floating matter marble in the sea
The ball we call our Mother Earth"
Morning dawned slowly in the forest and everyone was well rested by the time the zipper opened again. After several minutes of shuffling and squeezing and pulling and pushing, the backpack was closed again.
"Report soldiers," came the usual eager command from Boot. It was quickly ascertained that the night crew was back and that Hat and Shovel were missing.
"Never mind about them for now," said Boot. "Let's hear about the night."
"Well," began Tent, "I was able to stretch out nicely and the ground was covered in leaves so it was nice and soft. Also, my pegs went in nice and easy and I was ready for anything. But the forest was really calm and we stayed nice and warm all night."
"I would have been really comfortable if I didn't have a twig in my back all night," complained Mat, "but you're right about the ground being soft."
"And he was right about it being warm too," said Sleeping Bag. "I didn't think the humans were going to use me at all, but it did get a bit chilly later on in the night and they snuggled up to me eventually."
"Mafish Mushkila," said Turban. He had been in the backpack for a while now and everyone thought he was a pretty handy fellow but no one could understand a word he said. And now, as usual after Turban spoke, there was an awkward silence. If you listened really closely, you could hear the sigh of relief when the zipper broke the silence again. This time Shovel was returned. Again there was an awkward silence. Shovel's job was to dig temporary toilets for the humans. Consequently, he always knew how their stomachs were doing and it was this that no one was really sure how to take. Since coming to Australia, the report had pretty much always been a good one, but in other parts of the world, his vivid descriptions of the colour and consistency of the humans' faeces had earned him the position of loner.
"Solid and satisfying," was all he said this time, and again the backpack breathed a sigh of relief.
"Alright troops," said Boot, "Hat hasn't come back so that means it's a beautiful sunny day out there."
"Shhh! Hey guys listen – they're talking about us," cried Tent.
They all held their breath to hear what the human voice would say. When it spoke, it said:
"Did you hear something?"