“Do you feel like going out for a bit?” I asked her as I was shutting down my web browser and email before closing up the laptop itself.
“I don’t know, I have a couple of things to go over for work tomorrow,” said said looking up from some papers she had pulled out of her attache.
“Awww, come on,” I implored, trying to look earnest.
“What do you have in mind?” she asked.
“I wanted to go up and just check to see if the woodies are at the pond up at the chain lakes. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two. What do you say? Take a little romantic walk around the lake with me?” I raised my one eyebrow a couple of times suggestively. I knew she wouldn’t resist that.
“Oh… alright. I guess I can play a little hooky from the homework tonight,” she said, trying to act like it was a hard decision. But my asking came out more like a kid asking ‘want to come out and play?’ and her accepting was far more enthusiastic than she was letting on.
The ride to the state park wasn’t too far and I told her I needed to stop to pick up a day pass for the truck at the park office.
“It won’t take but a second,” I said pulling into the ranger station. I ran inside quick and came back out with the pass, shoving the envelope containing the receipt into my pocket. She looked up with a slight smile from the front seat, but I could see she was trying to covertly put away her papers from work. She thought I hadn’t seen her smuggle the attache in behind the seat. I pretended not to notice, hopped in and put the sticker in the corner of the window before heading up the dirt road toward the small lake.
Along the way, one of the rangers passed by in a small carry-all and waved with a small nod. I slowed the truck a bit while I watched him turn off a small service road in the car side mirror, following him with my glance as he went down the hill a bit before eventually fading into the trees. I slowed the car a bit more and began to look around at the canopy of leaves.
“It looks like they trees are just starting to change color!” I said and she nodded in agreement, but in fact she wasn’t quite noticing. No doubt still running through numbers and figures from the work papers she had snuck on board. She eventually leaned forward to peer up through the wind shield and let out a small “oooo” under her breath. She stayed leaned forward the rest of the way to the boat launch scanning up and down through the trees. It was obvious now that she was finally leaving the work thoughts behind.
“What’s that smell?” she asked as we got out of the car. I had noticed it but not really thought about it so I took a few short sniffs.
“It smells like citronella,” I said and looked back down the road a second wondering to myself. Turning back to the lake I added, “It must be coming from one of the campsites at the day use area over the hill.” But as I scanned the ground I could see one or two of the fresh holes in the mud.
A small trail headed off to the right of the dock. I knew it to go all the way around the lake and re-intersect the road about 30 yards behind the truck. She had already gone out onto the dock and was looking down into the water. While she was distracted thus, I pulled out the small envelope with the receipt to check something I had seen written on the back. It seemed cryptic but I tried to make heads or tails of it as quickly as I could. It read as follows:
Bandits seen past 3 nights … 7-ish, 50-100 yds W. of Dock
GBH – E. end – leave abt 7:45
Song still OK @ same Extra!! ‘Ole Whitey’ is back under log Good Luck!!
I shoved the envelope back in my pocket and looked at my watch. It was just past 6:30. ‘Bandits 7-sh eh? hmmm‘ I thought to myself seeking to make the best sense of the words.
“When do they usually come in?” she asked referring to the ducks while walking back down the dock.
I slipped my hand back out of my pocket. “Usually about 20 minutes before dusk or so,” I answered.
She looked up toward the setting sun shielding her eyes. “How did you do that again?” she said holding her other hand out flat, making a shadow just across the bridge of her nose.
“If you hold your hand out like that at arms length, each finger is approximately 15 minutes of daylight when the sun is approaching the horizon,” I said holding out my hand as she was. “It looks like about 5 fingers,” I added.
“So that’s an hour and fifteen minutes?” she said, half question and half her answering herself with some quick math.
“Or about an hour till we know if the woodies are coming or not.” I answered.
She turned back around to the dock, “So what should we do till then?”
“Enjoy!” I said simply, walking up behind her and wrapping my arms around her. The air was starting to cool a little and a slight mist was just starting to show at the surface of the water. ‘Before too long it would begin to get quite thick,’ I thought to myself before adding out loud, “Just look around, it’s beautiful!”
She nodded in agreement as we scanned the trees around the small pond. Just a hint of colors were starting to show. The sun, now low above the trees, was lighting the colors ablaze above the line caused by the shadow of the forest on the west side of the lake. The elms and maples always started to show the colors first, the latter being the most dynamic in the forest. Small poofs of brilliant reds, blazing oranges and bright yellows dotted the remaining, still green oaks and other hardwoods.
“And just smell! I love the smell of that fall air.” She breathed in deep and just began to notice some of it herself. The citronella smell still lingered a bit, but well over it you could smell the damp mosses and fresh fallen leaves, the turned earth from foraging animals and the mists of the swamps. She hugged my arm where I had it wrapped around her and twisted side to side causing us both to pivot playfully about. She leaned her head briefly to kiss my arm.
We just stood there for a good five minutes taking in the sights and sounds. The frogs, crickets and other creatures had started to take up song and the air was full of the noises of the marshland. Small birds fluttered about and we tried to identify as many as we could, each taking turns pointing out a new one that came into view. An occasional fish rose at an emerging insect on the lake and eventually I asked her if she wanted to make a few casts?
She wasn’t as avidly interested in fishing as I, but she enjoyed it considerably when she got the chance so she nodded enthusiastically. I went around to the back of the truck to get out the small ultralight I always kept back there. Tying on a small Rapala, I made my way back to the dock. She motioned for me to take a few short casts but I told her I’d gotten the pole so she could fish, so I only made a cast or two into an open spot of water where only a few nibbles from some small pan fish came, barely enough to jiggle the lure in the water.
I handed her the pole and pointed to the end of a submerged falldown sticking out of the water a few yards down from the dock. “See if you can get it to land up near that fallen tree,” I suggested.
She made a few awkward casts but wasn’t quite satisfied with them and reeled the line in almost as soon as it hit the water. Finally she turned to me with a frustrated look holding the pole out in my direction. Rather than grab it outright, I again wrapped my arm around her, taking the pole with my right hand after doing so and made a single cast putting the rod right back into her hands. It landed right on the part of the log that was sticking up, out of the water.
“Smooth move ex-lax!” she said but I told her it wasn’t a problem.
“Just give it a short tug, and it should land in the water right next to the log.” She reeled in a little line and lightly tugged, it almost hung up for a second but then rolled off into the water. “Now just give it…” I began to say, but I could already see the water moving around the log as I said so and before I could get out the word ‘twitch‘ the water exploded around the lure. I quickly changed mid sentence to an exclamation of “SET IT!” instead, uncurling my arms around her and stepping back a few feet.
She gave the pole a jerk upward and it immediately bent over into a half-crescent. Her eyes lit up and she almost lost her footing but reset herself and began the task of hauling the monster in. The fish put on quite a show too, coming up to rise and dancing out of the water 3-4 times. She continued working the big-mouthed leviathan in toward shore just like a champ, side stepping a time or two as he turned back toward the deadfall, allowing the drag to feed out line when he dashed away. But after a good 4-5 minute effort, she had him almost to shore.
I had my shoes off by then and waded into the shallow water to help her get the fish up onto shore. I grabbed it by the bottom lip and pulled it out of the water removing the hook as I did so. She set the rod down on some short grass.
She was a little spent from the fight but was still wound up with adrenaline. She ran right back down to the water to mock pet it in awe of her accomplishment. Still it was obvious she didn’t want to touch it tonight. (she didn’t have a problem with touching fish, but why bother when you don’t have to? was probably her thoughts on the matter)
“Ooooo, he’s a nice one! Aren’t you proud of me?” and I was. I nodded in acknowledgment! “And look at that big white spot around his eye. That’s unique!” I just held in a smile to myself as I winked at the fish where she could not see.
I held him up a bit longer for her to admire her catch before laying his belly back down in the water. “I’d put him probably about three pounds. At least a good 22 inches. A real nice bass indeed!” She gleamed at the thought.
“Bye bye fishy!” she said as I motioned it into deeper water. ‘Bye ole’ white eye’ I said half under my breath, ‘until next time…’
I looked at my watch and it now read 6:50 while I slipped back into my shoes. She walked with me to put the fishing rod away. I washed my hands in the water back down by the dock, dried them on a towel I kept behind the seat of the truck and we clasped hands to begin the walk around the lake trail.
Not too far down the trail I knew there would be a small bench were we could sit for a few more minutes and watch the sun set. As we approached the bench she noticed something and let go of my hand. She eyed me suspiciously as she ran forward to pick up a single purple wildflower that had been cut cleanly at the base. “How did you get…?”
“It wasn’t me,” I shrugged, “I’ve been with you the whole time.” She lifted the flower to her nose to smell it. “Someone must have forgotten it and left it here,” I stated as she did so.
We sat down on the bench and marveled like a pair of school aged kids when the fireflies started to show up all about us in the fading sunlight. The mist was growing thicker above the water now and the shadows from the trees stretched out to all but the very tops of those above the opposite shore on the far end of the lake. The sky was a deeper blue than before and not a single cloud was in sight.
I heard some rustling in the brush not far down the shore and pointed. A raccoon with half a dozen little ones was coming down to the water’s edge to forage for crayfish. She clenched onto my arm with one hand, the flower still clasped in the other. You could just make out their purring chatters over the growing sounds of the frogs and crickets. ‘Bandits!‘ I thought to myself.
It was about then I caught sight of the fowl, wings curled down, coming in over the trees to land. I again pointed and she turned to watch as a small flock of wood ducks came to land in the open water surrounded by thick aspens and tamaracks down at the swampy back corner of the lake.
“Is that them?” she inquired.
“Yup!” I said, standing up again. It would have been nice to sit longer, but I knew the walk around the small pond would still take a good 30 minutes if all went well. “If we can remain stealthy maybe we can get up close enough to see them.”
“Do you think they might sing for us?” she asked excitedly, rising up herself and being careful not to bend her wildflower.
“We can hope so,” I said holding out my hand again. She moved the blossom’s stem to her other hand and took hold of the outstretched hand in hers as we again resumed the walk down the lakeshore path. Not too far ahead, I knew the trail would turn away from the lake for a short distance and I craned my neck a bit to see. Sure enough, the mist was almost pouring over the edge of the lake down into the shallow alley and a small beam of sun was breaking through an opening in the trees to the left, lighting up a small area in the middle.
As we came down the turn, the both of us ended up emitting a slight ‘ooooo’ this time. The mist was beginning to collect in small droplets throughout the small ravine on every wild plant, low hung limb and small alder bush. The beams of sun were almost solid lines pouring down through the narrow opening in the trees and the glow from where they struck the ground lit up every little droplet with bright reds and yellows. They looked like little crystalline jewels everywhere they precariously hung.
We both marveled again like little children at the wonder of it all, walking along slowly to be sure as to take it all in. The mist parted way about our feet as we occasionally snuggled close to one another along the way. The trail turned back up the slight grade toward the alders and tamaracks at the back end of the pond. I pulled my finger to my lips in a gesture to say ‘be as quiet as you can.’
As I did so, a sound of crunching leaves erupted in the small alders to the left and we looked up to see a mother deer and her yearling fawn running across the trail in front of us. They hadn’t detected us but I could see the mother’s tail twitching as though she had caught wind of something out of sorts. I felt the pressure again squeezing on my arm tighter, almost crushing the flower as a hand upon my cheek pulled my face down to receive another a gentle kiss.
We again continued slowly uphill out of the mist filled swale as we watched the two deer disappear further down the ravine into the forest. I guessed the time to probably be somewhere around 7:30 now or shortly after.
Before we breached the small rise, a new sound began to ring out over that of the crickets and chirping frogs. It was the melancholy song of the wood duck. I felt her squeeze at me tightly now almost like a kid at Christmas time and could sense her all but bouncing up and down with her pent up excitement.
“It’s so pretty!” she said under her breath. “Even prettier than you described it! And so sad too!” I turned to see her making a wounded puppy face as I put my finger to my lips again to keep her voice low.
As we tip-toed up the trail, suddenly another whistle cried out it’s sad song just over the edge of the water. In the darkening light of the sunbeams now fading to but a sliver in the trees behind us, we could just make out a pair of wood ducks weaving in and out of the small wetland brush covering shallow water. I could feel her trembling with excitement now, her gentle embrace on my arm ever increasing just the slightest any time they one of the fowl let out their sad song.
I spied out across the lake, and right on queue I could see a large bird stretching out it’s wings on the far end. I crouched down a bit and gestured for her to do so also, then pointed so she could see it too. The great blue heron (GBH) began to flap and slowly lifted it’s massive wingspan up off the water. As luck turned out, it was coming right toward us and eventually passed right over head as it flew off above the trees. I could hear the muted sound of an elongated exhale and wondered if it was because she had forgotten to breath as the magnificent bird flew by.
The moon was just starting to appear above the lower line of trees back near where the truck was parked and it’s long reflection stretched out through the misty fog on the water. It’s blue-white light slowly replacing the fading red glow from the setting sun to the west. We continued to walk around the trail, quickening our pace as the mosquitoes began to make their presence known.
Before too long we had made our way back to the dock and the truck and we stood one last moment looking out at the now darkened sky full of millions of sparkling white stars. An owl somewhere out in the darkened trees let out it’s “who-cooks-for-you!” hooting.
She looked to me inquisitively to which I replied simply. “Barred owl!” She nodded in a modest thank you, smiled and again kissed my lips. “Let’s get before the bugs get us!” I said finally, but not before briefly savoring the taste of her lips on mine.
She squeezed my arm one last time, still clinging to her purple wildflower and nodded. Her intense and ever deep-dark eyes reflected the light of the moon now higher above the trees behind the truck.
I mentioned that I wanted to stop into the ranger station again real quick and in response she openly dug out her attache again, turning on the small map light on her side. ‘Duty calls,’ I thought.
The small green carry-all had just pulled up to the station as I turned the truck into the driveway and I waved to Steve as he got out of it. He opened the door for me to the ranger station as I walked up.
“How did it go?” he asked.
“Good!” I said nodding and smiling.
Closing the door behind us, he put a hand on my shoulder with a half chuckle. “Those damn woodies made it hard on me. You owe me,” he patted my shoulder. “They went right down to the third wet spot just like you said they would, but I had no choice except to come in from that side. They had me working up at the camp grounds just before you got here.”
I smiled and re-assured him it was quite alright. “I had to circle around the other trail and get out on foot to get them to head back up to where you two were at without spooking them away entirely. So they sang on queue I take it?” I nodded an affirmative, turning now to Marie.
“Was it your idea to bring the tiki lanterns up there Marie?” She blushed and nodded. “The whole damn area smelled like citronella!”
“Oh my!” she said holding a hand to her lips. “I hope it wasn’t too bad! I didn’t want you two to get eaten alive by the mosquitoes up there.”
“Nah,” I said, “I just said it was probably coming from the day-campers over the hill.”
“Good thinking!” she responded.
“Oh, and Steve… thanks for the tip. She really got a kick out of hauling in ole white eye! And the raccoons even showed up too! I owe you an extra donut on opening day.”
“With sprinkles?” Steve asked slyly.
“Done!” I said.
“But walnuts if you can get them, no peanuts.” I just rolled my eyes. “Oh, and by the way… did that momma dear and her fawn make it up to you?”
“That was your doing too?” I asked amazed.
“Well I saw them when I was walking up to the third pond. I was already on the back trail so I just followed it around a bit in hopes I could kick them up your way as well.”
“Definitely walnuts then!” I said returning his pat on the shoulder before I turned back to Marie.
“And I suppose it was it your idea to put the flower on the bench Marie?” I asked.
“Flower? What flower?” she said trying to hide a self-satisfied smile.
“Fine, if that’s how you want to play it. But try not to over do it if there’s ever a ‘next time‘, ok?” Marie had turned away but I could sense she was again blushing a bit. “But if it’s any consolation, she absolutely adores it.” Her blush faded and I could see her raise her shoulders a bit proudly, no doubt in a gesture of ‘I told you so!’
“And let Mark know that the extra emails on the dew point were quite helpful. His tip on the swale was just like he said. Jewels on everything.”
“Will do!” said Marie, waving a hand behind her head and pretending to be working on something. Likely hiding her smugness still.
“We were afraid you were going to miss the window on the sun shining down through that opening in the treetops out there!” added Steve.
“Well I had to wait for the wind to be coming out of the north west for the mist to pour down just right didn’t I? That’s what Mark said at least. Anyway, I have to get. Be sure to let him know I’ll have his special coffee ready opening day too. I owe all you guys, big time! Thanks a bunch!”
We waved our goodbyes as I closed the door to the ranger station behind me. I glanced briefly around the side of the building and thought I could make out among the wildflowers planted there, a single cut-off stem in the faint glow from the patio light around the back.
Walking back to the car, I made a mental note to myself to delete the extra emails from Mark off my laptop just in case and to clear my recent browser history and the handful of new bookmarks on moon phases, sunrise/sunset schedules and migratory bird observations. As I climbed back into the car, despite having her work out on her lap I could tell in the dim glow from the downcast map light that she was just sitting there quietly sniffing her flower.
“Thank you for talking me into coming. It was absolutely magical!” She put her flower down for a second to lean over to give me another kiss. “And I thought you said that magic doesn’t ‘just happen’?” She eyed me a moment suspiciously but affectionately.
“What?” I said, “You say that as though I had something to do with all those things happening tonight?” I thought briefly to myself, ‘magic doesn’t just happen, but if you know of seemingly magical things that happen on their own, you can predict them, react to them, and even subtly influence them a bit in your favor.’ On the outside my poker face held.
I rejoindered with, “What was it you said to me once? ‘I don’t have powers over the vocabulary of singing birds’?”
She continued to look at me both affectionately and half-suspicious before saying quietly, “True, but if there was some way to get them to sing in their own words, you no doubt would be the one to figure out how to get them to do it.”
I struggled to maintain my poker face saying simply, “Yeah, I guess — for you I probably would.”
I smiled sweetly and genuinely and gave her one last kiss before pulling back out onto the road. She resigned to setting her work aside, turned off the maplight and continued to smell her flower all the way home.