Prior to Daniel’s departure, I contemplate what these two weeks could be like, moment to moment, and after the first three days, my guess barely misses the mark. During his travels, he checks in as he moves from airport to hotel to airport, and once he arrives in country, his communication nearly drops off.
Of course, the construction project moves along at its own pace, like others before this, and his supervisory presence, as if he’s a screenplay writer on set, offers perspective more than leadership. We don’t talk about specifics, but since he took the helm, he became more willing to discuss his vision of leadership, his role in a bigger world, and other high-level aspirations that I would expect from a senior partner in a firm with possible future DOD projects. Again, no details, but I see him reaching higher and it doesn’t surprise me.
Nonetheless, I hear little from him as his days last longer than the sunlight, and in April, I don’t actually know how much sunlight streams onto the Afghanistan streets. I simply know the silence from him isn’t uncommon.
For me, my days offer little in the way of surprise, either. While I only journey into the forest for a portion of the week, the snow depth prohibits me from burying myself in the mountains as an escape from our empty home, but there are small signs that spring is considering making an appearance. During a couple days we even enjoy temperatures in the mountains near freezing, which means summer is practically here in our terms, although still weeks away in practical likelihood.
Whenever possible, I prefer to be up here, in the elevations that surround me with images of granite and evergreen, occasionally assisting motorists stranded along the road, stuck in a snow drift, engine overheating despite the cold, or a simple inquiry as to when the campgrounds will reopen.
‘Soon,’ I might offer in response to inquiring travelers, even though I know it won’t occur until after Daniel returns home safely. Even that date feels like a short eternity, much less an actual entry to summer.
Overnight and into early Monday, a fresh layer of snow reverses all efforts the mountains have made to welcome the opportunity to get a jump on spring, and the U.S. Highway conditions make travel uphill treacherous. There are few activities and responsibilities that take me off road during the off season, particularly after fresh snowfall, so I merely make sure the road is passable, that the lodges have power and that there are no avalanches of note. I have yet to see one in my years here, as the blowing winds that accompany most storms don’t allow deep, packed snow to accumulate on the steep slopes outside of the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Even the areas that look as if they have been impacted in years past are more the result of bark beetles and clearing than the force of snow rolling downhill, swiping away the forestation.
In the process of turning around once I reach Granite Pass, I manage to get the Forest Service truck stuck in a pile of deep, hard, leftover precipitation pushed aside by past plows, but now coated in clean whiteness of new layers from the most recent contribution. I remind myself to take the correct steps to release the truck from its unfortunate positioning, and while the process takes more time than I would like, I extricate my vehicle without having to leave the warmth of the cab to dig away the snow under the wheels. Again, I am thankful that Daniel walked me through this process many times so that I wouldn’t panic in moments like this.
Knowing there is little urgency to return to the office, I park next to the pile once I free myself and think about Daniel and where he might be at this moment. Sleeping, likely, but also spread thin from all the responsibilities facing him on this final trip. I realize as I feel the truck rocking from the higher elevation winds, slightly complicating my driving skills as I prepare to return to Sheridan, I expected that trip last fall would be his last abroad. But given his new responsibilities on site with Mitchell’s departure, it’s not out of the possibility that this may not be his final journey to Afghanistan.
It’s been thirteen months since his first voyage into the risky center of his firm’s government contract, more than two years since they inked the agreement. If he needs to return there, it could be three years just to get past this one project, not to mention future projects that might surface. I’ve spent these separations focusing on its completion, and without considering until now that Daniel’s travels abroad could be just the start of a longer commitment to his company’s success.
I’m grateful for his work – work that he loves at that – but the prospect of worrying about him and his safety year after year makes it difficult to continue to support his professional prospects.
A strong gust reminds me that I should move along and get back to the city, a drive which in normal weather would take more than an hour, but given the slick conditions and the slower speeds at which I ought to travel, more than two today. While the days are noticeably longer than a couple months previous, this weather system fails to depart completely and the sun has yet to make its appearance other than to illuminate the road through the layer of low clouds. The lack of direct light makes it even more questionable as to whether or not spots on the road are snow or ice. Going downhill can be treacherous if speed gets the better of the drivers, so I keep the truck in lower gears, and throttle back when I begin my descent out of the mountains.
Somewhere near the straight away before my descent, I hear my phone chime, and while I expect this may be a text from Daniel, I debate whether to pull over to read it, or focus on the pending twists and turns of the road as the steepest curves – the ones he and I navigated on our first journey out of the mountains, when I maneuvered his truck and the load of wood safely back to my little house. I intend to focus on my driving, even when the second tone reminds me that a message is waiting.
When I finally reach the stop sign before merging onto the interstate, I excitedly check the message hoping for news about Niesha. While not what I expect, I am thrilled to see a selfie of Daniel – an image he rarely allows to be snapped – with his project in the background. I’m shocked, but terribly excited, that he shares a glimpse of his work with me. It definitely looks like a construction site, but it also appears to be near completion. I realize I am over-analyzing the photo for these details when I ought to keep travelling back to the office. In fairness, I will gawk at the image the remainder of the night until I fall asleep, phone in hand.
NEXT: Proceeding Onward – Part 52