As I added the final highlights to my sketch, he finally returned to the steady glow of the fire. As soon as I caught a glimpse of him, I was elated to see him. I tried to ignore the butterflies of excitement flittering in my gut, and reminded myself that he specifically expressed no interest in me when he left camp. If he didn’t show affection towards me, it was pointless to get excited about him in any significant capacity besides that of the morning’s food source and my transportation back to town. Or perhaps I wanted to show off what I could do without him.
He brought back a half dozen fish – more than we really needed – but I kept that to myself and pitched in to be useful. He utilized the set up I arranged, picking up the knife and cutting the first fish open. I reached out my hand and he looked at me not certain of my intent.
“Here, I’ll gut it and rinse it.” He handed me the creature and I tossed its entrails into the garbage bag I strategically placed exactly for this purpose. I laid the fish on the grill and moved on to the next one. He said nothing and I followed his lead. When he finished, he rinsed the knife and started to slice the fruit. I considered offering to repeat my usual, albeit only twice, task, but then instead decided to carry the fish to the fire and take command of the cooking leaving him with the lemons and apples. Cooking on open flame – I added this skill to my mental list of independent camping abilities, and when I came to the forest again, I would be well prepared.
By the time we ate and cleaned up our mess, I wondered what we would do with our day. He offered no information, which came as no surprise by this point, so as I loaded the clean grill into the tool box, I decided to ask.
“What did you have planned for today?”
“What do you usually do before you return home?”
“Break camp. Load the firewood.” Clearly he indicated nothing else in his routine, and perhaps he was implying that I disrupted his usual enjoyment of his last day of his weekend in the mountains.
“Do you want to leave early, or can we go for a hike? I thought I saw a trailhead on the way to the creek.” I was trying to be gracious, or to make the most of the weekend, or to eradicate the unspoken hostility that he implied.
“We can’t take that trail. It continues onto other private land and since it has new owners, I have not yet made an introduction to know if they approve of my intruding on their land.”
Okay, so no hike. I guess we’d just go home.
“If you like, there is a trailhead on the forest service land we passed on our way here. It’s about six miles long and goes up to the reservoir.”
At least he was open to the idea.
“But we don’t have to walk the entire length if you don’t want.”
If I didn’t want or he didn’t want, I wondered. I was open to hiking, regardless of its length.
“I’d like that,” I told him.
“Okay. I’m going to redress my area and I’ll be back shortly.”
Before he wandered off into the forest, I decided to do the same. “I’ll meet you back here when I am finished, too.”