I’m sitting by a fire, in a cabin, on an island. My job for the next four days is to make sure that the wood-burning stove stays warm. It’s not a hard job, in fact I like building fires. There are two types of fires that I make, I explain to my girlfriend. There’s the textbook fire where I stack logs that are all relatively the same size. I stack them in a shape of a number sign. It’s when you need a fire that you know will light, and it will burn fast and it will burn hard. The other type of fire that I make is a personal fire, that’s where I take different types of pieces of wood, different sizes, different shapes and I try to do something with it. Sometimes I’ll make a triangle, sometimes I’ll put them into a point. I’m usually unsuccessful with these types, about 80 per cent of them, maybe even 90 per cent of them, don’t turn out. But the 10 per cent that do turn out look kind of nice. My approach to making fires can also be compared to how I take pictures. I won’t get into the boring parts of the textbook side of taking pictures, but the other type of pictures, just like the other type of fire, they don’t always turn out, about 80 per cent of them, again, don’t always turn, but the ones that do, I enjoy.
I notice whenever I put a new piece of wood on the fire a tiny spider is running around looking to escape. I love spiders. I also understand that they serve a purpose. That they’re sort of guardians of the bug world, that they get rid of lots of nasty insects. I put my hand on the wood, hoping they might run onto me. I can’t take the log off the fire as it’s already in place, lit on one side and smoking at its edges. I don’t want to burn myself. I’m waiting for the spider to get on my hand. None of them so far are taking the bait. This is getting to me. I turn to my girlfriend and say, right now there’s no individual spider, there is only a re-occurring universal spider so if this one dies it doesn’t matter because I’ll see another one and I’ll try to save it and if I can just save one it will be alright. I guess this is also a way of thinking about being an individual, maybe someone who takes pictures, yet belongs to some sort of universal group. Again I won’t get into the boring parts and speak metaphorically about much more of this. I’m looking at these hot coals now in the stove. They’re glowing, I can see the heat waves and I can see air coming off them. I cleaned off a layer of soot from the inside of the stoves glass door this morning. Now when I close the door I can see the red hot coals. I think about Peter Sutherland’s photo book, Hot Coals Only. I think what a great title for a book. I wish I thought of that.
I’m leaving. I’m leaving the small island, going back to the bigger one now. In order to get back home I have to go to the mainland first, but only for a moment. Some of our friends came too, they are now sitting in the water taxi which will take us to the mainland where our car is. One of my friends brought a saxophone with him, he thought it would be good time to practice. Four days on a small deserted island. I’m sitting up at the front of the boat waiting when the water taxi driver says to me, is that your clarinet case that you brought on board? I turn to him and ask, clarinet, why would you think I play the clarinet? A woman with two small dogs sitting behind me chimes in, what’s wrong with the clarinet, it’s a perfectly fine instrument. The water taxi driver explains, you look like a jazzy kind of guy. I reach into my backpack and pull out my rangefinder, no one says anything. It wouldn’t do them any good. I’m looking straight through the windshield of the water taxi now at these two trees back on the island, looking across 100 feet of still green ocean water, much different water from when we first arrived. It’s so calm you could walk across it. I take a picture, the boat starts to move. The radio set to the CBC is blaring some interview with an expert on the state of international policemen security. There are two men at the back of the boat sitting across from one another trying to talk over the radio, along with the woman and her dogs, our friends and my girlfriend sitting beside me. I look out the window and say, isn’t it great? Isn’t what great, she says. Isn’t it great how our brain figures out what depth things are? For instance way out over there there’s that small island. And behind that there’s another island. And behind that there’s another island, and behind that another island. And you can tell that they’re all different depths based on how big they are and how small they are, and you can see way off in the back that that one is the farthest because it has the most haze in front of it. And our brain can process that whole thing and tell it to us in seconds flat. She doesn’t say anything. And then I realize that I’d killed 15 spiders this weekend and I had no control over it. I had to keep the cabin warm.
Chris Taylor lives in Victoria, B.C. His work has been exhibited at The Banff Centre, Gallerie Mycroft in Paris as well as published in Vice and The New York Times. His first book, on musician Bill Callahan, is due for publication in 2011.