On The Forest

I landed my dream job when I spent two months working on the Bighorn National Forest one summer, and an encore summer that became life changing.  As spectacularly fabulous as the experience may have been, what followed blew me away.

Wait until you feel the breeze, too.

Begin the series with The Lumberjack and see their opportunities lift in Their Secret.

  • On The Job – Part 11

    I set my lunch in the back seat, which is a cluttered mess of supplies, most loose, covering the seat and floor.  Good thing it’s just the two of us.  There’s no way anyone else could fit in there with all the mess.  It’s definitely a government-issued vehicle.  I open the driver’s door and reach up for the ‘oh-shit’ handle to pull myself up when he stops me.

    “Forgetting something already, kiddo?”  I would object to the reference to my youth since I wasn’t half his age, and also by no means young, but forgetful I may be.

    “Let’s assume I’m going to forget a lot of things today, since I’m pretty nervous about, well, pretty much everything about this gig.”

    “What the hell do you have to be nervous about?”

    “That I am not up to the challenge of filling your shoes.”

    “Little Lady, my shoes are just beat up old work boots.  It’s time they got replaced with a brand new pair that’s going to work just as hard, get just as dirty, and eventually have to be replaced again and again.”  Was he referring to the boots or to me?

    “You’re going to do just fine out here, assuming you can remember the most important part of driving a government vehicle.”  I like his confidence in me, even if I don’t know at this moment what is the most important part of driving a government vehicle.

    I stare across the truck at him as he stands in the passenger doorway.  If I just take my time, and not rush through this experience, I may just have a sound start and good memories about day one.  I take a deep breath, lick my lips to stall for time, and then remember what comes first.

    “The three-sixty walkaround.  Always check your vehicle before you even start the engine.”  I don’t sound one-hundred percent confident, but the words at least leave my mouth as a statement, not a question.

    “See?  You’ve got this, kiddo.  In fact, let’s just do the full monthly check.  It’s probably not due, but it never hurts.”

    He pulls a small clipboard out of the glove box, shoves a bunch of other papers back in, and slams it before anything else can fall out.

    As chilly and windy as the morning is, the sun is already about ready to rise above the eastern plains, and those extra layers I set out last night are serving me well this morning.

    Archie takes the time to walk me through everything, reminding me of some of the items to be checked that I only ever glanced at during our annual training when I nod as if I know to what the instructor is pointing on the vehicle.  This time, Archie and I are both on our backs under the truck looking at the brakes and a host of other under-carriage features.

    I imagine my Grandfather doing something similar with me when I was a girl.  Admittedly, it may be as much a dream of what I wish I could remember about my grandfather as what we actually did together, but this feels like a memory that would have been completely believable – the two of us under one of his cars, propped up on ramps in the driveway, and Grandma hollering at him to not let me get all dirty.  I doubt it’s even 8:15 yet, but when the sun peeks over the horizon, I am already dirty and proud to be.

    Archie and I finally start up the engine and the truck clock reads 7:32, obviously never sprung forward from a few weeks back.  I take time to correct it and as he watches he calmly mentions, “You know, if you wait until the fall it will be correct again.”

    “And I’ll change it again, then.”

    “Well, that seems like a waste, but to each his own.”  Or her own – even his expressions sound like Grandpa.

    With the vehicle inspection complete, Archie suggests a quick break inside before we drive into the mountains.  I think it’s an excuse to refill his coffee again, but it’s not a bad idea and it gives me a chance to make a pit stop and check on Monica, who arrived while we were underneath the vehicle.  We leave the vehicle running to keep it warm, and I make quick small talk with Monica until he taps me on the shoulder and reminds me the forest is waiting for us.

    “I really thought you were going to drive,” I finally say after we’re on the interstate headed towards the mouth of the mountains.

    “Do you know where we’re headed?”  Archie, much like Daniel, doesn’t even turn his head as he asks.

    “Well, yes, and no.  I know my way into the mountains, but I don’t know specifically where we’re headed today.  But I meant, I thought you’d want to drive your own truck.”

    “It’s not my truck.  It belongs to the U.S. Government.  There’s nothing in this truck that belongs to me, except maybe that bag in the back with my lunch, and what’s left of this cup of coffee, but otherwise, everything from the headlights to license plate belongs to everyone who pays taxes.”

    “Including that mess in the back seat?”

    “Especially that mess in the back seat.  Here’s the thing: everything I’m going to show you this week is about how we take care of what is entrusted to us.  That starts with your walk-around this truck and continues to the way we interact with campers at the campgrounds, and how you monitor cattle grazing on public lands, and how to respond in an emergency.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    “How many new forest technicians have you trained since you’ve been here?”  I doubt I am the first.

    “Here on the Bighorns?”

    “Well, here on the Bighorns, but overall, since you’ve been with the Forest Service?  You haven’t always been here, right?”

    “No, I started on the Gallatin right out of the army, then went on to the Kootenai.  I did a short stint on the Deschutes, but realized I was out of my element and then got promoted while over on the Shoshone, then transferred over here.”

    “Lateral?”

    “Yep.”

    “Why’d you take a lateral transfer, if you don’t mind my asking?”

    I am taking a lateral into this job just to get the chance to do more, so I’m curious why he would do the same later in life.

    “Do I need a reason?”

    “No, you don’t.  I took a lateral to be sitting here, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a lateral transfer.”

    “There sure as hell isn’t.”  He does remind me of Grandpa.

    “But you had a reason, didn’t you?”

    “You’re pretty nosey.”  This is true.

    I take a moment to do the Daniel maneuver: I turn my head and just smile at him.

    He does the same in return.  I like Archie immensely.

    I turn off the interstate, continuing on the same route that first brought Daniel and me together.  My heart beats quicker every time I drive into the mountains, and while I know that sounds ridiculously trite, it is nevertheless true.  I still get excited just looking out the car window on my drive to the office, much less ascending the curves and turns upward.  As exhausted as I have felt this past week, I am invigorated by this comparatively small stretch of peaks on the far eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.

  • The Cabin – Part 82

    As we sleepily curled close to each other, he took my hand in both of his and clasped it against his chest.  I could feel the beats of his heart.  I added my other to the web of fingers against his skin.  Grasping his hand with both of mine seemed entirely natural now.

    “You know, the first time you shook my hand, I knew then that you were worth discovering.”  He whispered so close to my face that I again felt his breath against me.

    “‘Discovering?’ Like Christopher Columbus?”  The analogy created a distinct path of history in my mind, and I imagined the conquering of native people.  Was this weekend his attempt to try to conquer me?  I found it ironic since my intention towards him the first time we shook hands was to control the situation with him.  Assured that was not his intent, he laughed at my question.

    “No, discovering you, like a new galaxy a million light years away and suddenly I have the perfect telescope to view it up close, next to me.”  Well, crap, his brilliant optimism continued to overwhelm me and the smile that escaped unguarded let him know how much his perspective brightened my own section of the cosmos.  How could my universe be so altered in one weekend?

    “Yep.  I see those stars expanding, broadening, and us with them.  I don’t ever want to stop exploring them and learning about them and gazing upon them.”  He kissed me softly every time he said, ‘them,’ and I guessed he really meant me.  Who knew the Lumberjack could be so poetic?

    I considered how patched together the pair of us entered this weekend, broken, damaged, and ripe for the healing.  “It might be as involved as landing on a comet.”

    “Then I’m not worried.”

    He smiled and kissed me again, and the unspoken affirmative became my most favorite mannerism of his, especially when coupled with the a seal of approval from those lips.

    The blankets were completely up to my neck just the way I liked them, with just my hands and face visible, but more than a foot of his chest and face remained exposed.

    “Are you cold?” I wondered.

    “No.  Aren’t you hot under there?”  I smiled wickedly, and the blankets hid the movement of my hips confirming the alternative answer to his question, even though I knew what he really meant.  He stroked my hair.  Nothing around me felt too hot or too cold, too stifling or too exposed, too rushed or too tired.  The ambiance around his home calmed me, the softness under his blankets warmed me, his touch melted me, and the way he maneuvered our bodies together never made me question how rapidly our relationship was developing.  He waited a decade for this, and the fact that he waited for me, almost made me teary.  Every gesture and kindness he offered to me confirmed that being open to new experiences revealed itself as the clearest, most grown-up, wonderful choice I ever made.  This pace seemed perfect.  He continued to pull his large hands through my clean hair.  His touch felt even better than the shower felt.

    “Today on the drive out of the mountains as you stroked my hair, you calmed me and soothed me, and for almost an hour I could not get over how miraculous getting to know you has become.  You know, you said that to me: that what’s inside of me might be miraculous, and it occurred to me that you’re the first person who really bothered to look.”

    I realized he was awake for the drive. He hardly moved in the last forty-five minutes of our return trip.  “I thought you were asleep today while I was driving.”

    “Nope.  I just decided to relax, to reflect about the way in which you listened and responded and supported me.  And you peppered me with questions, but you were right about opening a door to you.  Taking my hand that day in the office broke me open and I don’t ever want to spend another day without holding these hands.  You know they have mystical properties, right?”

    “No, I did not know that.  How did you come to that conclusion?”

    “Every time your hands neared me this weekend, you awoke something in me I didn’t even know was still there.  Whether you were sliding matches into my pocket, holding my arm when that deer ran in front of us, or when you rested your hand on my feet during the sunset, I want that sensation from you constantly, even if it simply means falling asleep with your hands in mine.”

    Wow.  So this is what the right man looks like.  I kissed his closed fist and touched him whenever I wanted him to know how sincerely he affected me.

    Six weeks later, we clasped our hands as we exchanged vows in front of the fireplace downstairs.  He kept his hands well occupied and in addition to the other business projects he tackled during the week.  During our first winter, my husband designed a cabin for his piece of land in the mountains.  It belonged to us both and we would spend nearly every weekend of every summer in its cozy embrace, but he still always called it mine.

    The following summer, we spent our weekends building it, mostly with his hands, and a little help from both of mine.  And every once in awhile, just for fun, on a moonless night, we’d pull out the tent and recreate our first night together.

    But that night in his arms, in his bed, in his home, and every night that he was by my side, I slept peacefully, safely, and contentedly.  “I love you, too, Daniel.”

    ~ FIN ~

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