We met at the sink. I had forgotten to put the lid on the air-popper. With bike-grease blackened fingers I scoured the yellow countertops for runaway kernels. My padded shorts bunched like a diaper, my sweaty, helmet hair flattened to my head, and I smelled like the compost after you scrape away the wood chips. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled, left side a little higher than the right. Tall and thin, he stood with his chin forward and down, denim ball cap on a little crooked to match the grin.
Act cool, I told myself. See if something blossoms. You’re new to this world. Unfortunately, I’m not cool. In my crush-drunk stupor, I opened my 2003 flip phone and called to ask him out. He said yes.
We went into the mountains to escape the noise – the people and the parties and the talking. To be simple, to be deliberate, to be at peace. Because even one single night under the stars gets you close to the heart of life. I tried to beat down my creeping self-consciousness – will I be good enough at camping to keep dating him? He’s a professional! What if I’m tired and hungry and cold? There’s nowhere to hide out there.
We take kissing breaks to catch our breaths. They don’t work.
Walking on trail, I place a pine needle in my mouth and chew. It tastes like a gin and tonic. When the path widens he stops and stretches his arm like he’s feeling for a wall behind him. Stepping forward, I take hold of his hand and we move together. Instead of water or snack breaks we take kissing breaks to catch our breaths. They don’t work. My heart beats faster.
The Wyoming sun coats the mountains in a warm, yellow light. Through three meadows, past Big Sandy Lake, up the mellow slab, we arrive at our campsite. Two, three fishers cast flies to the east and west. Stripped down to our birthday suits we step into Clear Lake and sink into the silky bottom. I cross my arms across my chest and hope the sun will still be strong enough to dry my goosebumped skin. The cold steals my breath and I can feel my pulse in my fingertips.
Worries vanish, restlessness settles, and I can better see the importance of decisions, actions, words. Insecurities still rattle – am I imagining this? Is it too good to last? Powerful and beautiful and fleeting like one of those shooting stars with tails? Turns out they’re just asteroids crashing through the surface of the earth. I want us to be a satellite – consistent, bright, even-not a hurtling space rock.
Later we fall asleep listening to the marmots whistle and soft wind move across the water. The stars appear slowly as night falls on the Wind River Range. We ditch our tent fly for a better view and pretend to be astronomers. See the big horn sheep? Look to its left and you’ll find a tortoise. You can always tell it’s summertime when the land animal constellations are easily visible! I take the mountain daisy from behind my ear. Daisies usually have an even number of petals so you’ve got to start on “He loves you not” to end with “He loves you.”
Smiling like a Cheshire cat, I fall asleep. A gentle kiss on my forehead rouses me in the morning – “Look! We made the sun come up.”
Drawing by Kathryn Sall