I walked until I could no longer see the illumination from the headlights, perhaps an extra fifty yards beyond the trees he indicated, but this specific spot appeared more secluded from most sides and gave me a couple nearby trees to steady myself when I actually would have to use it. The Lumberjack may have been a decent chap so far, but I did not want to take at face value that the distance he indicated for my latrine was the spot where I might feel the most assured of its privacy and therefore chose a more comfortable location to drop my drawers.
Twenty minutes of digging and I finally created a hole deep enough that I wasn’t worried would cave in at an inopportune moment. It took me nearly as long to use my new facility. I repositioned the lantern so it did not shine on me while I christened the hole, then covered up the deposit with the pile of dirt I neatly saved from my digging, rearranged myself and my clothes, and gathered up the gear to return to the camp. As I dropped the roll of toilet paper into my backpack, I again thanked my brilliant, although mostly fortunate, self for also having a small tube of hand sanitizer attached to one of the zippers. I applied some of that, picked up the lantern and the shovel and returned to the truck. Darkness completely cloaked the area by this time, so I was thankful that the lantern’s glow spread more broadly than a flashlight. Factoring in my slower pace in the darkness, nearly an hour elapsed since I left our campsite.
Both tents stood fully assembled and the fire was crackling when I reappeared. He kicked leaves and twigs even farther from the flames while placing thick, broken branches around the cleared soil. Were he more inclined to conversation, I expected he might comment on the ridiculous amount of time that passed, and I wondered how one would politely inquire as to my success at constructing a rude restroom in the middle of the forest. He said nothing at all, the most gentlemanly action he could have taken.
“Thank you for setting up my tent.” A glow emitted from both of them, and I could see small flashlight dangling from the pocket near the top of mine, and a standing version near the back edge of his. “I would have done it when I returned, so thank you.”
He said nothing. Was he perturbed that he felt obligated to assemble my tent, or maybe he just returned to his default conversational style? I couldn’t tell.
Once he finished his work on the fire, I recalled his instructions to transfer the food to the cab, so I offered to assist.
“Okay,” he replied, not giving me any more dialogue than that. Since I did not know how much food he brought, I let him carry the lantern and lower the tailgate while I opened the cab door. I then positioned myself next to him with my arms extended in front of me so he could hand me some of the food items.
He grabbed a small portable cooler and one bag. He walked around me, perhaps to avoid my feeling completely foolish. I reached into the back of the truck, grabbed my bag of apples, and set them in the truck next to his items. He closed the cab door behind me. That was all the food? Dumb girl in the woods continues to be stupefied, I thought to myself, and contemplated saying aloud if it were not blatantly obvious. He likewise closed the tailgate, which I thoughtlessly left open.
I stood by the campfire, waiting for instructions, or insight, or even a lead, but he grabbed another flashlight from the back of the truck, took the shovel in hand and wandered off in his own direction, saying nothing more and leaving me alone by the fire. As much as I didn’t want to be seen when I dug my latrine, I didn’t want to know any more than his general vicinity, so I turned to face the fire and suddenly felt very alone, swollen in my own awkwardness.
In desperate need of occupation, I checked out my tent about twenty feet from the warm blaze. With nearly touching corners, then angling apart at the rear, the tents formed a nook at their entrances, with mine to the left of his as I approached. Even the anchors secured into the ground reflected his attention to detail. If a breeze were to develop during the night, he’d already prepared for such a contingency.
Looming behind the tents, the truck hid them from the rough road approaching the site, and possibly provided plenty of illumination from its headlights. His taller tent with a broader base and a flatter top appeared neutral in color in the firelight and my little, blue domed pop-up, obviously smaller but not entirely dwarfed by his, lacked its cover. Not been visible from the fire, he attached it to the back hooks only, thankfully leaving the night sky visible through the top netting.
He had unzipped the window feature of my tent entrance allowing me to easily see inside, where my unrolled, slightly unzipped sleeping bag showed its corner folded over and my pillow placed upon it. I glanced over at his tent, looking down through a similarly netted sky feature as mine, and saw his sleeping bag only half zipped, a plaid blanket underneath it, and another dark solid blanket over it.
“Extra blankets,” I mumbled, “that’s what else I should have brought.”
Next to his roll he left a book, the title of which was difficult to read as the beam of the flashlight caught just the edge of the paperback pages. His duffel bag, stuffed in the rear corner near my tent completed his gear. No pillow, but a third blanket folded near the top served in the same capacity. Both sleeping bags laid similarly arranged with their heads near the entrances, facing the flames. Grabbing my tote with my clothes, pajamas, and personal items from the truck, surprised but by no means bothered that it remained in the truck, I locked the door and proceeded to organize the inside of my tent as became my own camping routine.
When I knelt down next to my tent and began unzipping its door, a dark object on my pillow caught my eye. Unzipping the rounded opening required both hands, so my view of the object eventually became obstructed, but I hoped it would be a wayward leaf rather than a visiting rodent. The nylon door fell outward, allowing me to set the bag on the open floor inside the tent. I noticed he likewise placed a blanket under my sleeping bag as he did in his tent. It wasn’t as nice as my air mattress, but it would provide additional insulation between me and the cold earth, and I appreciated that he considered the logistics of such an arrangement, as well as his planning to have extra blankets available.
As I clumsily climbed inside, I tripped on the edge of the fallen door and stumbled into my pillow, causing whatever had been on it to slide off the far side along the edge of the tent. Relocating my tote bag towards the back of the tent and crawling on my knees, I reached across the bed groping in my own shadow, banging my head into the light, and miserably failing to retrieve whatever might have been on my pillow. I finally removed the flashlight directing its beam along the base of the tent. Tucked closer to the top of the sleeping bag wedged along the front of the tent, I found the object: a single Hershey’s bar. He left a chocolate on my pillow. How could I not smile at that?