Monday, Aug. 26, 2019 @ 9:41 pm
A Week in America
He drives the van up the I-5 towards home at the end of our week-long road trip in America. Gear rattles around in the back. Sun heats the air, warms my skin, and flashes off of the passing cars. I close my eyes and sag into sleep.
Moments from the trip reel through my mind as I drift in and out of sleep.
On the first day of the trip, we ride mountain bikes across the rubble of a blown out volcano, the volcano that erupted when I was an embryo afloat in my mother’s womb. Creeks cut through the strewn lava, meltwater from the glacier that clings to the north face of what’s left of the blasted peak. Purple and red wildflowers quiver in the brisk alpine wind. Up on the outwash plain, we ride quickly, chasing each other across the landscape. It’s fun and dynamic, and I hop over the hummocks and he is laughing. The sun is penetratingly bright. Dusty legs. Sweaty neck. After, we sit in camp chairs in the shade beside the van and gaze up at the dormant volcano as the sun begins to set.
The next morning, we sit together in the quiet, cool shade of old growth Douglas fir trees, drinking coffee and reading. I look over at him, placidly reading and sipping from his mug. I look up at the tree canopy, the sun filtering through and dappling the gravel campsite. The rushing of the river beyond. I get up and wander through the forest and gather thimbleberries. I bring him back a handful.
“You,” he says, “always foraging.”
We stop for Mexican food at a small town in Central Oregon. Oppressively hot, dusty. A working-class town. The waiter prepares guacamole at our table. Colourful flags flap in the wind, strung in a line around the patio. My tumbler of ice and Coke sweats and leaves a puddle on the table. I steal a forkful of beans from his platter.
We arrive at Smith Rock in the late afternoon. We change beside the van, and I stand in the parking lot in my underwear like a raggamuffin. We fill up our water containers and load up our packs. We hike down into the river valley, across the bridge, then up to the base of the volcanic crags. A hot wind blisters my skin. Heat radiates from the rock.
I run my hand across the volcanic rock. The soft, warm rock. Well-climbed and greasy around the imperfections in the rock that previous climbers have used as holds. I belay Russell up the our first route, a shady crack between the wall and an arête. The crags are quiet; not many climbers choose to climb in this kind of heat. Above me, swallows dart into their nests located in cracks in the rock. Eagles ride the thermals above the jutting rock. Sweat trickles down my back, and my hands blacken from the rock dust that comes from the rope.
I climb next, cleaning the gear that he placed: cams, nuts, draws. I remove each piece and organize them onto the loops of my harness. As I move up the route, my harness becomes heavier and heavier, and the gear clinks together like grace notes added to my climbing melody. I watch a feather float down beside me, and I climb past a swallow’s nest, the occupants bleating in protest of my intrusion. I finish the route and smile down at Russell with pride. He lowers me gently to the sandy belay pad and kisses me on the cheek.
We climb like this for three days. The eagles and the swallows and the clinking of gear from my harness. The heat of the sun and the rocks. We climb beyond sunset and hike out of the gorge with headlamps.
On the last day, I am overwhelmed with content. I reach over and hold his hand as we walk past the tourists who stand on the platforms overlooking the climbing routes. The rope slung around my shoulders, his body evenly brown and lean from all of the summer climbing. I lean over and kiss his shoulder, and then we climb until dark. A couple near us bickers at the base of their climb. Russell and I glance at each other knowingly and smile. We have both been there before, in one of those types of relationships.
Our last climb of the trip. I had picked one out on the first day, and it’s free and in the shade. We clamber over to the base of the lone dihedral. He belays me up, and I methodically climb around the rock column. The sun is sending golden light onto my shoulders. I feel weightless, graceful, and free. I rest at the top anchor and look out over the landscape. My heart full. The light magical. Russell watching me from below.
He belays me down to land beside him.
“A couple stopped to watch you climb that route. They silently watched you climb the whole thing.”
“How did I look?” I jokingly ask him, not wanting an answer.
We camp those nights in the desert north of the climbing area, in the impotent shade of a short juniper tree. The moon is full, and each night Jupiter and Saturn blaze on the south horizon before being washed out by the light of the moon.
One night, a wind blows across the desert. Russell is engrossed in his novel in the van. I go outside and take off my shirt and stand on the picnic table and let the wind wash over me. I dance in the wind on my tiny stage, a desert ballet, with the moon as my spotlight.
“I watched you out there,” he says when I crawl back in beside him under the blanket, “I could see your silhouette in the moonlight.”
We leave the desert and drive west until we hit the coast. We arrive near sunset, and we clamber for beer and supper from a pillaged market near the shore. We set up on the beach and grill sausages and tomatoes, watching children frolicking in the tidal pools and the birds flocking on the offshore sea stacks. Pelicans ride along the breaking waves, fishing for herring that are tossed up in the spray.
The sun sets. I pull the blankets up around us. We lay back in the sand. The calming roar of the Pacific Ocean breaking on the endless length of shore.
A shooting star.
“Did you see that?” we say at the same time. He hugs me tightly and kisses my head.
“What did you wish for?” I ask him.
“I’ll only tell you if you tell me what you wished for,” he bargains. I pause to gather my courage.
“I wished for you to live a long and happy life,” I say. He makes a small noise and tightens his arms that are already hugging me. “So, now, it’s your turn. What did you wish for?”
“I wished for us to continue to have amazing sex in the future,” he responds. I laugh and punch him gently and wrestle with him in the sand.
We fall asleep on the beach and wake a while later, chilled and sobering up. We stumble into the van, covered in sand, and quietly park in a pullout beside the beach and fall asleep listening to the waves.
The next morning, we make coffee in the van and carry it out onto the beach. We walk along beach holding hands. We find a large cave, overhung with black columnar basalt. We go into the cave, and he wants to take a photo to show his students with me for scale. I walk up to the rock wall, place my coffee mug on the ground, and carefully rise into a handstand with a cheeky smile.
“I didn’t know that you could do that,” he says as he takes the photo.
We drive north to a campground located in the dunes. We ride our bikes into town for ice cream. I lick the salted caramel ice cream that drips down my wrist and watch children flying kites. We ride down the middle of the road of the sandy, colourful beach town. My hair wavy and streaked with gold.
Back in the campground, we pour gin for happy hour. The other campers are watching major league baseball on flatscreens installed on the sides of their RVs. Russell puts on a jazz song from the 50’s. Takes my hand. I kick off my flip flops.
We dance on the trampled grass of our campsite. He swings me out and catches me around the waist, and I am laughing and a bit drunk and making things up but also following what he’s taught me in the past. He teaches me a few more things, and my face hurts from laughing. I love it each time he pulls me close, and I never want this to end. The music and the warm summer evening and watching him dancing and smiling and encouraging me. A couple across the road watches us as they eat their dinner and sip from glasses of red wine.
After a BBQ dinner, we haul firewood over the dunes to the beach. He digs a firepit in the sand, and I construct the fire in the shallow depression. I light one match, and soon the fire is crackling. We sit together and drink, the stars infinite and the ocean a constant roar.
We lay down and he wraps me up in his arms. Runs his hands over my body, across my bare stomach, and down my thighs. He kisses my neck. The fire is warm on my legs. The stars bright above, Vega and Arcturus. The waves thundering against the fine quartz sand.
“Is this real?” I ask.
“Yes,” he whispers in my ear, “It’s very real. You deserve this. You do so many things to make me happy.”
We remove our clothes; there is nobody else on the three-mile long stretch of sand and dune. We make love under the stars, slowly and at length and after he stands up beside our blanket. His body glows in the light from the fire. I stand up beside him and feel the ocean wind against my bare skin. I run down towards the beach and do three consecutive cartwheels on the firm sand. My hair is a wild mess. He runs after me and grabs my wrist and we press against each other and dance. He swings me out, and I see his smile in the flickering light from the fire. Wild. Free. Alive.
All of this wild freedom; all of this wild love. This is the best summer of my life. This is the best everything of my life. Everything vivid and intense and sensual. I move slowly through each moment, savouring beauty and sensation. There is nothing beyond the now.
A lady comes into our campsite in the morning. She is beautiful and vibrant and gentle. I can tell that she teaches yoga and writes. She is a listener.
“I watched you two dancing last night. Lindyhop, right? It was beautiful.”