Falling Forward – Part 29

As it turns out, Aaron needs help this week arranging a way to get some of the summer vehicles back down to the shop for the end-of-summer maintenance, so he is more than willing to help me play musical trucks to get a vehicle for me to use, even if it isn’t my usual truck.  More importantly, it allows me to get back and forth to the cabin without violating any protocols about using government vehicles for private purposes.  I’m glad he’s as much a stickler for that as I am.

Other than an occasional weekend spent camping after the end of the summer season in years past, I forget how early the sun sets, or appears to set, up here in the mountains this late into the year.  When I settle into the cabin at nearly five thirty, it’s already getting dark.  Of course, we’re several weeks past the equinox, so the patterns I usually notice from the edge of the plains vary significantly at the hour of the sunset and sunrise, too.  The view when it does finally color the horizon is brilliant and the tree line carves a dark silhouette that creates a distinct view each morning.  When we are here in the summer, I must force myself to get up early to see a similar view.

Aaron waits a week to question me about the reason for being here rather than in town.  He knows Daniel is away, and not because Daniel called like last time, but because I made a point to tell him.  I easily explain that I want to enjoy as much time in the mountains as possible since the weather is unseasonably lovely, something much more challenging to do with Daniel’s need to be wired to the outside world from his home office, therefore easier to do while he is away.  He does request one compromise in helping him juggle vehicles: I will keep a radio with me so he can communicate any morning updates each day.  That seems fair, not to mention helpful since the cabin does not include cellular service or even a land line.

With the extra time I have each morning, I start my day with a cup of hot tea outside on the small porch, even if still dark.  By the start of the second week, the morning temperatures are easily at or below freezing, but with a warm blanket, the peaceful start to each day makes me thankful for the awkward exchange that led to my decision to be here.

I hesitate to call it an argument, mostly because I like to believe we are the kind of couple that never argues, but I have to accept that this travel, as difficult as it is for me, is exponentially harder on Daniel.  I need to acknowledge that I don’t know what he is experiencing.  I wish I understood better what’s going on each day, but even from my remote location at the cabin, I assume I still have better access to communication tools than he does where he is.

I am resorting to my abysmal cooking methods, and the ability to utilize the propane tank we installed gives me just enough energy to warm meals from the canned goods I brought.  We don’t keep much food here – only a handful of essentials – to make sure we don’t encourage four-legged campers in the off season.  Nonetheless, I fall asleep each night full and content, grateful for this space.

The cabin obviously still reminds me of Daniel as I am falling asleep at night, but I am not in our cavernous bed, gazing at the fireplace where he builds a fire each night, walking into our closet, visually reminded of each of my favorite outfits and smelling the scent of his clothing.  I tolerate the small shower stall.  Unlike the usual spacious room in our home, which provides me with a delectable vantage point of his showering while I brush my teeth or pull my hair off my neck as we start our mornings together, the small, square space prompts me to get in and out and not waste time.

 ~

As I enter the second week, I enjoy a steady routine after work and arrive at the cabin after dusk.  Dinner is cooking on Monday when I hear the radio cackle.

“McClure, this is Stafford, do you copy?”  By the time I cross the cabin to get to the radio I left by the door, he beckons me again.  “McClure, from Stafford, over?”

“McClure here.”

“We received a report about forty minutes ago of a missing vehicle and two individuals: male, aged thirty-seven and a young male, age eleven.  The pair were supposed to be setting up a hunting cabin over the weekend about twelve to fifteen miles south of the ranger station.  They were due back last night, but were just reported as late earlier tonight.  Copy?”

Missing campers are rarely missing, but usually just have engine trouble or something similar, but more often the concern for the unknown amplifies the situation.

“McClure copy.  Do you have a vehicle description?”

“Yes, black Ford F-250, Montana plates, K2C 986.”

“Were they known to be on 17?”

“Likely, not confirmed.  Just know they planned to head towards Shell Reservoir.  Uncertain if they arrived.”

“Copy.”  I wait to find out what exactly he wants me to do.  I have a feeling I’m going to be asked to drive into the darkness.

“Confirming you did not see a vehicle matching that description after you left the ranger station?”

“Confirming I did not see any private vehicles outside of designated areas matching that description.”

One note Archie made a point to tell me during one of our long back-woods drives, was to always be mindful of each vehicle you see or pass.  You never know when that information might be needed.

“I was back on 26 on a long stretch of nothing much,” Archie recollected, “and I passed a green truck, you know like the old forest service trucks, but without any markings.  You know, like the kind they sometimes sell at auctions.

“Anyway, I remember thinking how those used to be everywhere in the forest, but now they are mostly white.  I’m not even sure there are any of those around here anymore, but I remember when the entire fleet was equipped with forest-service green trucks.”

Even in my time with the Forest Service, I’ve only seen a handful of those green vehicle and most of them aren’t the every-day work trucks, but the ones that rarely get driven.

“Any hoo, about an hour later there’s a call on the radio reporting poachers described as being forest service employees, and it occurs to me that it might be that unmarked truck that I saw.  I remembered it was towing a flatbed behind it draped with a tarp over an odd-shaped something or other.  As it turns out, that was a male moose that they’d tracked and shot and we caught them, all because I remember thinking that the truck looked like one of ours.”

Since that day, I always say the name of the vehicle and its color out loud when I pass one on the road.  I may not remember each type of truck, but if I were called upon to remember a vehicle, the odds are better that I would.

“McClure, can you take 17 south and see if you see any similar vehicles?”

I’m not too thrilled about driving the road at this hour, but I certainly comprehend the urgency.

“Copy that.  Do we have anyone else checking other locations?”

“Negative.  Local authorities will begin a full search tomorrow at sun up.”

“I copy.”

“Can you respond if you reach the reservoir and do not see any signs of the vehicle?”

“Affirmative.  I will check in regardless of results.”

“Copy that.  Stafford out.”

“McClure out.”

NEXT: Falling Forward – Part 30

BACK TO THE BEGINNING

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