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.

  • Falling Forward – Part 31

    I slow down, as if I expect the missing truck to be ahead of me suddenly.  I am delighted when I do approach a Jeep and an off-road vehicle, two tents, and the fading remnants of a campfire.  I turn off my headlights, but leave the parking lights on to illuminate the area and the truck not pointed directly into the campsite.  I turn off the engine, but before I can exit Daniel’s truck, a young man steps out from the closer tent.

    He puts his hand up near his eyes as if the yellow glow is too much light for him to see.  I expect he is just trying to make out my shape.

    “Can I help you, sir?” he asks before he can possibly recognize the uniform.  Of course, being in a private vehicle may be a bit deceptive.

    “Perhaps you can,” I answer and he moves a step closer.

    “Oh, sorry, ma’am.”

    “No worries.  But yes, I could use some help.”  I approach the fire, so he knows I’m not interested in him at all, and to avoid an interaction like the one this summer.  There’s not really anywhere to sit except one stump on which he rests his foot, and so I just hunker down opposite it.

    “I’m looking for a vehicle that was supposed to be up this way over the weekend.  How long have you been up here?”

    “We’ve been back and forth from the Ranger Campground for about four days now.  Haven’t been up here all the time, but we did camp here Saturday night.  We’re leaving at sun up so we can break our other camp and get home tomorrow.”

    “Where’s home?”

    “Outside Gillette.”

    “Any chance you saw a black Ford pick-up with Montana plates?”

    “Yeah, we might have.”

    “Is your friend awake?” About that time the other tent unzips and I see a second man buttoning the top button on his jeans. “Oh, hey there.”

    “Ma’am.”  While I appreciate the courtesy, I really would rather not be ma’amed.  Why can’t people just address me as ‘ranger?’

    “I was just telling your friend here that I’m looking for a black Ford with Montana plates.  A father and son that would have been out here this weekend.”

    “Oh, yeah, we saw them.”

    My insides stir excitedly.  “You did?”

    “Yeah, they camped here Saturday night and left yesterday.”

    “They left?  Headed back up the road here?”

    “No, they crossed Shell Creek, drove along the reservoir and headed farther into the mountains.”

    “Did they say where they were going?”

    “Not really, just that they were going to take a drive on their way out of the mountains.  I mean, I presume they didn’t arrive from that direction, but like I said, we were up and back from our main camp, so I just assumed they turned around at some point and headed back out of the mountains while we were gone.”

    I can’t believe I stumbled upon someone with an actual sighting.  I wasn’t sure if I should radio Aaron and let him know or drive a little farther and see if I see anything.

    The roads were dry, which made my drive a hell of a lot easier, but it also wouldn’t allow me many clues if the truck were somewhere up ahead and turned off the road.  I would need to cross Shell Creek, which this time of year, was a fairly simple task, as long as I keep moving across and avoid any muddy spots.  The time was still early enough that I could explore a little farther.

    “Thank you, both.  I appreciate your help.”

    “Do you need us to join you?”  The fact that the first man offers this reminds me that there are plenty of good people in my mountains.

    “No, I don’t think there’s much you can do tonight, but can I ask one favor of you?”

    “Sure,” he offers.

    “Don’t crawl back into those tents until your campfire is fully extinguished.”  I could probably site them, but the night was calm, and the fire nearly out.  They may have even thought they extinguished it.  I notice how chilly the night has gotten from not only last week, but earlier today, and I certainly can’t blame them for retreating to their tents rather than sitting here hoping for a bit of warmth from a single flicker from their campfire.

    “Yes, ma’am,” he smiles, and I suspect they aren’t going to make sure the fire is out before calling it a night.

    “Glad you guys were here tonight.  Thanks for your help.”  Despite the fire, they deserve my appreciation.

    I return and restart the truck and once the engine turns over, I roll up the windows half way to help keep the heat inside, but still see out into the darkness.  I turn the truck slightly, and dip into the creek before crossing the straightaway holding back the water.  I’ve never gone farther than this when not on foot, so I am almost surprised when I am suddenly on a downward slope towards another body of water.  It occurs to me this must be Adelaide Lake, and despite the lovely evening, I stop abruptly and opt not to take a swim, truck and all.

    I back up slowly, realizing there’s a cabin hiding in the dark, and I use its approach to turn around and head back towards the fork in the road that I passed.  This appears to be the dominant route, and given the structure I see, probably the more frequently used, but I retrace my drive and make a hard left at the previous junction.

    Just a few feet down the road I see the dark openness of the lake, thankful that I am driving next to it, rather than into it.  I continue to parallel a far longer straight stretch, curving a little, but guessing I’ve arrived at an alpine meadow give the lack of trees in the vicinity.  Suddenly the road takes a sharp left of at least ninety degrees, and I remind myself to take it a little slower, skidding a bit as I turn.  More curves follow and quite frankly, I’ve not certain even which direction I am headed now.  I expect it wouldn’t be surprising to get turned around up here and not know from which direction the journey originated.

    In places the road widens significantly, and I expect I might be headed towards a former logging camp.  I’m always amazed at the operations and equipment that reaches these tight crevices.  I even sometimes cringe as I pass between narrow trees or over questionably large rocks in the road.  When faced with a choice similar to the last Y in the road, I usually take the natural curve, and yet those big trucks find their way into these nooks of the forest.

    Another small lake to my left, one that I don’t know, and can’t see other than more darkness, leads me to believe I’ve driven around Adelaide Lake, until I see a few trees on its opposite side.  The road becomes so rocky through this stretch, I am driving only a few miles per hour and realize another nearby road appears wider, but just pointing my lights towards it, I can see far more boulders than I am willing to tackle.  I stay as close to the center of the road as possible, knowing it’s really more of a broad path given its condition, until I reach a cluster of rocks that I just don’t want to traverse.

    Perhaps this is my stopping point.  I leave the engine running and lights on, but grab a flash light and shine it to see if there are any alternatives that could be less rocky.

    As I walk around the side of the trail, I suddenly lose my footing, fall onto my palms, pressing against one of the larger rocks and a sharp pain grabs at my ankle.

    “No, fuck!”  I yell into the dark abyss of the Wyoming night.

    “Is someone there?” A voice calls towards me, soft and distant, but the sounds carry a bit further in this still, dry night.

    BACK TO THE BEGINNING

  • 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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