I start Sunday morning after several hours of restless sleep – the price I pay for napping my way through the funk created by his absence and my overwork. But I want to be excited about my new responsibilities, so I motivate myself enough to get to the office and complete the outstanding work from the past week that I neglected while training Monica. She’s going to be amazing at her job, possibly even more levelheaded after her first week than I was during the same period several years ago. She has nothing to prove to herself like I did, and her personality is warm and welcoming. She’ll be a great addition to the forest.
Working undisturbed in the office, I find my timeframe for completing the bulk of the items on my to-do list improves over my usual performance, and with a few hours of daylight still remaining in the afternoon, I knock out a few errands and get home just as the sun hides itself behind the tops of the mountains. By the time I get my lunches portioned and packed for the coming week, I am more prepared mentally to begin my new scope of work and I am one day closer to Daniel’s return.
I cap the day with a shower, I lay out my clothes for tomorrow, including an extra layer underneath for warmth, and even take time to make sure I have extra layers at the ready for Tuesday and Wednesday. Spring just won’t commit to staying just yet. As I leave the closet and pass the perfectly made bed, exactly as I left it when Daniel made it more than a week ago, I think about how much more comfortable I would be here rather than in front of the downstairs fireplace. Instead, I choose to curl up with a pile of blankets on the carpet inside a tent where, if I stretch my legs to their fullest, my toes brush against the nylon walls. I decide to sit near Daniel’s pillow and lift it and smell the faded, yet distinct, aroma of my husband.
While the softness of the pillow beckons, I imagine him lying here, as if I were sitting close to his waist, his topless body positioned with a hand near my leg and another under his head propping himself up to look at me. As usual, he would say nothing, just look my way, and I would be unable to do anything more than return his gaze, not wanting to ruin the moment with my silly musings. Our quiet moments without talking, perhaps with a fire popping randomly from the bedroom fireplace: these are the moments I miss.
My days are too busy to spend endless moments daydreaming about him (not that it doesn’t happen for a brief moment here or there), but the long, dark nights, alone in our home, knowing he’ll be back here with me in just one week, prompt me to get up and walk away, and not focus on how much I miss him next to me. I opt for the tent again, balled up in a position of fetal security, in an oversized home that overwhelms one person. How did he live here in such isolation and not go mad?
Once I settle into my tent, I set my alarm for fifteen minutes earlier, just in case I need to shovel snow. The forecast continues to call for temps close to freezing, so any precipitation could go either way. I almost hope for the snow because I prefer it to rain that then freezes on the ground. Mostly I prefer for spring to arrive and stay. No, that’s not true. Mostly I want Daniel here to help me navigate winter’s remnants, and in a few months, be back in our mountain cabin, cozy and secure, away from the world.
The extra time in the morning gets spent just dragging myself out of my tent. In my mind I am elated to begin this new adventure, building on what has become a fresh and fulfilling career the past few years, but my body does not feel the impetus to emerge from my cocoon of warm blankets. When I finally get up, I move with more energy than my laziness implies and I still manage to make it out of the house on time, including eating breakfast (and admittedly leaving the dishes in the sink).
I am meeting Archie at 8:00, which probably means he’ll be there at 7:30, so my aim of arriving around 7:45ish keeps me at least on the schedule I set for myself. I don’t shovel the snow, but rather take Daniel’s truck to tackle whatever precipitation awaits me on my commute.
Archie is old school. He’s the type of forester that I imagine would have been good friends with Gifford Pinchot were they not born more than three quarters of a century apart. He knows trees and plants at a glance, and he appreciates the work of the timber harvesters – when the work is done to his specifications – because his personal religion is giving back to the forest in equal measure as what is taken from it. But in that vein, he won’t tolerate for anyone taking advantage of his beloved acreage without showing it the respect it deserves.
I cannot say I practice my forest faith as devotedly as he does, but I hope by shadowing him this week, I will glean the goodness and godliness he sees in his everyday footsteps through the forest.
He’s sitting half on my desk, the other leg stretched to the floor, coffee cup in hand, when I arrive.
“Well, there’s our new little ranger!” he bellows as if I am either eight years old or four feet tall. “You ready to go?”
“I’d like to think I’m ready for whatever you plan to throw my way.” I thought about adding, ‘old man’ to the end of my sentence to poke him back, but although I know Archie, I’m not sure I know him that well. Maybe by the end of the week I can get that kind of comment to fly.
I carry my lunch in with me, assuming we’ll be saddling up in the government truck, but I left my purse in the car. I do plan enough to bring my ID and government driver’s license, not that I imagine he’d let me drive. It’s not sexist. It’s his truck, unofficially, and until he hands me the keys, he’s in charge and he drives.
“What do you need me to bring along?” I ask, to appear prepared.
“Anything not already in the truck,” which, I presume is everything. “Do you have your coffee?”
“I’m not a coffee drinker.”
“I cannot believe they even hired you,” he jokes, heading to transfer what’s left in his mug to a travel version, and, of course, to top it off.
I am at a loss for a witty retort, so I just smile, happy to even have this opportunity. I take a few moments to glance around at the neat piles complete with sticky notes and reminders I left for Monica yesterday. I wish I could be here this morning when she arrives to answer any last-minute questions, but one of the notes reminds her that I am reachable by radio. Given the few opportunities last week to relay messages to those working up in the mountains, Monica sounded at ease with the back-and-forth lingo. She definitely came off more capable than I feel this morning as I embark on my new assignment.
“Alright, kiddo, let’s go.” Archie walks into the office and out the front door in three quick steps. Sure, he is taller than me, but not by much, but he walks with big strides, driven more by purpose than by his feet. I follow him out the door, and lock it behind me, since we aren’t officially open yet.
“You got your paperwork?” he asks as we near the truck.
“Your government driver’s license and what not?”
“Yes,” I reply in the long, drawn-out manner I still use with Daniel since that time he asked me to go camping with him. I love that every moment here reminds me of him.
“Well then, here you go,” as I see the small collection of keys fly towards me. My reflexes respond accordingly and I barely catch them with my left hand. “Decent catch.”
NEXT: On The Job – Part 11