How to Not Get Shot while Visiting Friends

Later the phrase, “Man on the range—hold your fire!” popped into my head but I had called out the friendly “Hello!” one uses to track down vanished shop clerks.


I took the Spirit of St. Agnes (the local launch) over to St. Mary’s today for a visit. Andrew and his girlfriend Lucy extended an open invitation for me to use their guest room and this weekend I took them up on it. It was very nice of them really. I welcomed the change of pace. They’ve got a nice place: wide-planked, wooden floors, little, wood-burning stoves, and lots of hand-woven, willow baskets (a hobby of theirs). Two roommates, a cat, some guitars, a few laptops, and stencil-painted walls and wallpapered ceilings, left by the last tenant, round out the picture. We talked for a while about island issues: a new round of EU funding, the shortage of housing, and the declining student population both on St. Mary’s, and in the off islands. They’re both quite involved in the civics of the archipelago—they are Citizens. It’s inspiring to see.

The Spirit of St. Agnes, photo by the author

After lunch I headed out for what is quickly becoming my new hobby, walking. This island, though it’s only three miles across its widest point, as opposed to mile-wide St. Agnes, felt huge as soon as I set off. I couldn’t see the sea, nor did I even have any idea where the closest shoreline was. I walked past guesthouses and through farms, one with an old, outboard motor housing working as a mailbox in its waning years. I climbed over hedges and slipped down muddy paths to eventually reach what looked like a mangrove swamp. A fork presented itself.

Ah, the old fork in the path… They always crop up, don’t they? One fork bore a sign urging would-be hikers not to proceed unless they were absolutely fit and suitably well-equipped with proper boots. The sign didn’t stop there, throwing in some other seriousness that I can no longer recall. The other path made no stern forewarnings about itself, or the potentially arduous nature of my afternoon. It just stretched out before me, tree-lined, and confident in its own appeal. I confidently chose it instead.

As it turned out, the cheeky, little thing was blocked off only about a hundred meters further on. No matter. During my backtrack, a fallen bough caught my eye. So I set to work freeing the walking stick trapped within its branches. Walking stick in hand, I started down the other path, thus newly equipped, only to stop short, like a deer (with a curly wig on) when I heard gunshots suddenly crack in the distance. They seemed far off though, and I kept walking.

The trail, a raised, narrow catwalk through the marsh, rode over and among the roots of trees growing up from either side. I couldn’t resist leaving the trail and made for an algae-covered pondlet a stone’s throw away. Gwooooorrsch... with one step I sank to within an inch of the top of my knee-high (and waterproof) boot. My resistance to leaving the trail returned in a flash. Schwoooorrrk... I extracted my foot and, luckily, the boot resurfaced too, though it was now covered in a thick coat of swamp.

The path wound its way through the marsh, through thickets of willow, and, disconcertingly, through ever louder volleys of gunfire. My brain very quickly shut down its “Afraid to Feel Like a Dork '' behavior inhibitor, and I began calling out, “Hello! Hello!” Later, the phrase, “Man on the range—hold your fire!” popped into my head. Of course, under duress there’s no accounting for what phrase will dash to one’s tongue first. So I called out the friendly “Hello!” one uses to track down vanished shop clerks. I was also walking hunched over now as a feeble precaution. Rounding a bend I spotted a hunter through the willow and, after a few paces, he noticed me as well, lowered his gun, and called a cease-fire to his partner. I thanked God for my bright-yellow rain jacket.

Luckily their prey had been nowhere near me. And to their credit, I hadn’t heard any lead shot whizzing past my head. I passed by with a nod and another friendly hello. The one hunter nodded back, shotgun under his arm, the open breach still smoking. I picked up the pace.

Through another marsh, and past a gaggle of teenage girls singing “Dancing Queen,” I again reached the ocean and began to follow the path along its shore. Here the rocky arms of the island were even mightier than on St. Agnes. Again I paused to watch the sea. Huge rollers approached like locomotives. I sat at the end of the platform and watched one glide in, like it was on rails, not fast, but too fast to stop. Then came the dull, subsonic thud and splintering crack as it hit the end of the terminus. The front stopped, compressing in slow motion, abandoning its integrity along the length of its form. The rear, still moving as before, now piled in and dashed everything into a million pieces, each free and flying, then falling and dissolving, as the next wave came into view.

Erosion near the shore on St. Mary’s, photo by the author.

I could spend hours doing this. I have the feeling of tapping into tens of thousands of years of genetic code that has transferred to me, through hardwiring in my brain, the appreciation of simply watching nature.

I continued past old burial chambers and eroding cliffs and wandered up a grassy slope bedecked with signs and flashing lights advising me to go no further for fear of being hit by a plane and/or prosecution.

The sky was fading as I rounded the airport and crested the hill overlooking Hugh Town and the harbor. A dull, gray mist had shrouded the little town, hypnotizing it. It resisted. At first its storybook lights fended off the twilight and haze but then it was too late. It would be consumed by darkness again tonight.

My walking stick and I wandered the unlit streets and asked for directions back to Andrew and Lucy’s. A woman, struggling with the wind for control of her evening shopping, surprised me by not knowing them but was able to point me in the right direction after hearing my description of their corner of the island. I found my way back, went inside, peeled off my coat, and stoked the fire. The two of them had plans for the evening, so I sat down with their cat and wrote this account.

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