Sunday, Jun. 02, 2019 @ 2:05 pm
Leaning back against the hot metal, I pull my hair through the back of my hat, snug the brim down to shield my eyes, and at that moment the ferry horn blasts and the ship loosens its grip from the shore. A man plays a saxophone in the atrium of the sundeck. Another man, who like me is also with a large backpack, stops to talk with me. I listen to music and watch the ocean and mountains and the passengers for ninety minutes. As the ferry nears the far shore, my insides butterfly. I’m excited to see him.
After the ferry docks, I walk down the gangway and into the waiting room. I scan for Russell. Through the closed glass doors, I spot his lean and brown calves. The doors open, and I walk towards him. My pack falls to the ground, and we hug.
He drives us over to a smaller ferry dock. The sun is falling lower, a wind picking up. We lean our bags together on the wharf and stand out on the end, wrapped up in each other. Small fish - herring - leap from the water.
Cruising across to the small island. His arm around me, and he pulls me close beside him. The water beautiful with sparkles. I point out the sailboats that I like. He kisses my neck.
We walk to the campsite through a stand of junipers. I pull a juniper berry from the tree, crush it in my hand, breathe in the resin.
We put up the tent together. A natural rhythm. I hold the end of the pole in the grommet, and he pushes the pole into place. And again. And again. And again. We unfold the fly, and as if we’ve done this a dozen times, flip it over, rotate it, and pull it over the tent. We just built our first home together.
I put together a bag of supplies, and we walk out to the shoreline. Arbutus trees, Garry Oak, sea spray. The remaining sunlight is ethereal. Eagles wheel overhead. Herons still in the shallow waters. We walk out onto a sandstone ledge, take off our shoes, open the wine. A family of otters fishes offshore, their snuffles and huffs loud in the quiet moments of sundown.
“Look,” he says. His gesture leads to a deer stalking through the salal and Oregon grape. A raccoon scampers down to pull mussels from the exposed beds of seaweed.
Later, in the dark, we remove our clothes and a warm wind feathers against my skin. The stars above in the clear sky. The otters still fishing off shore. Waves pulling and sucking through the cracks in the sandstone shore.
His hands move across me, and I revel in the moment. I shift my focus momentarily to the sky, and a meteor blazes a thick trail through Cassiopeia.
I lay my head on his chest and say quietly, “There’s nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be right now. This is the perfect moment.”
He places his hand on the back of my neck, kisses me in the dim starlight.
“Are you seeing anyone else?” I ask.
In the morning, we fall easily into a camp routine. I haul water, he makes coffee. Bowls of oatmeal. Strawberries. I warm my hands on the enamel mug.
We leave the island and go to his friends house. I set aside my nerves and allow my curiosity to surface. We drink coffee around the family’s long table - sticky and strewn with toys - the kids and mother at the beach. We wander out the back of his property to the creek. A leisurely walk, the setting so very Wes Anderson. I knees beside the creek, point out crayfish. We walk past a stand of yellow iris, and I notice a herby plant intermixed. I pull a leaf, rub it between my fingers. It’s wild mint. I pass it to Russell and watch him breath in the volatile oils.
After the walk, I watch Russell and his friend make breakfast in the kitchen, two men at the stove. They serve me a plate. His friend says a few things that makes me realize that Russ has told him a fair bit about me. I don’t know how I got here, but I am so grateful. I eat my eggs slowly; I don’t want this moment to end. I look around at this family home, at Russell and his friend interacting with humour and ease. I feel cared for and a part of something beautiful.
We leave the house and drive out up a river to the bluffs. The sun presses down, hot and dry. A strong river courses through massive house-sized rocks below. I buckle my harness, pull my pink helmet over my head, cinch it tight. We spend the afternoon climbing together, at times lazy and laying like marmots in the sun. Other times working so hard that my muscles shake, sweat drips down my back.
He works his way up a crack and suddenly the rope is yanking me up off of my feet. I slam my hands down on the brake side to ensure the rope doesn’t slip. Drop my knees out to squat and add more weight to the rope. My god, his life, the rock face, fourteen meters of bluff height. All my weight to balance his lean body, and my hands burning on the rope. It’s him on the other end, and we hold each other like this for a while he once again finds traction on the rock. I couldn’t bear to fail to catch your fall.
He finishes the route, and I lower him to the dusty ledge beside me.
“You worked that crack differently this time,” I say.
“I know,” he replies, “I was trying something out. I knew you had me.”
I start up the same route. One of the holds is literally a finger hole. I chalk up my right index finger and tuck it in. I work up the pitch using just that one hole, first to pull from below, then to push from above.
I find an eagle feather as long as my forearm on a ledge and tuck it into the end of my braid. Further up, I reach the crack. I tuck both hands, side by side, into the crack, and lean back to the left so my body is alongside the rock. I work my feet up small holds on the wall beside the crack. This - the layback - is my jam. I am strong in my arms and back, and I work the crack to the top. Along the way, I hear the wispy sound of the feather brushing against my back.
When we are packing up, dirty and tired and overheated with the relentless sun, I go to say goodbye to the three guys who were climbing near us all day. One of the guys asks about the feather, tells me a local legend about the feathers and luck. He has a gentle demeanor and intelligent eyes. I can tell that he likes me. I bet a million dollars that he’s an engineer.
“This was only her second day on the rock,” Russ says proudly to the guy. I blush and send him a look.
“You are strong,” the guy says to me, “I watched you work up that crack at the top. I was impressed.”
I am strong. And nothing is hard anymore. Show me a rock face, show me a cold ocean, show me a stranger. I will climb up, dive into, and deeply love them all.
Russ drives us to a lake and indulges me in a swim. The water stings in all of my scrapes, the grazing across my back from my one fall. My hands are inoperable, tired to exhaustion from grasping at the conglomerate bluff.
I swim up to him, tread water, and kiss him. Then dive down into the cool green water, turning and rolling like a seal, and surfacing a ways beyond.
Back at the house, the kids are home. I smile slyly to the 18-month-old, my favourite age of toddler. He makes eyes back. I sit down beside him, drive his toy truck up his arm with sound effects, then pull him into my lap. I’m not sure if Russell is watching, I don’t care. I love this babe and I press my nose into his thin blonde hair.
We eat dinner, and then after dinner, I spend more time with the babe. I am in the kitchen with a beer box on my head, and the babe is laughing up at me in ecstacy and wanting me to put the box on his head. And then a moment later, he’s gesturing at me to pick him up.
I tuck the babe onto my hip, and he clings to me as if I’m his mother. How quick children this age are to bond; he trusts me within minutes. Conversation is carrying on, and I’m standing there with this beautiful child, soft and warm, tucked around me. I love this moment. I know I look radiant and natural. When I’m myself, when I’m open and loving and happy, children are effortlessly drawn to me.
“Well, he sure warmed up to you quickly,” remarks this child’s father.
We take the last ferry home. It’s late. We go up onto the sundeck with a sleeping bag and tea from the cafeteria. We lay together on the deck, warm and cozy under the feathers and down, pull out the star chart, and learn new stars.
I am so effortlessly happy. There are moments when I look at Russ and my heart jumps. He’s starting to show me this hilarious and quirky part of his personality that is so very attractive. At times I wonder how he could be interested in me, but then I think about tucking that eagle feather into my braid, working up the layback crack, the babe on my hip, and the moments under the stars on the warm sandstone. Of course he likes me.
You, you make me beautiful.
You, you I can love.