The sun didn’t come out until Thursday. By then it loomed like a foreign planet charging towards the earth. To look up and squint felt odd as a thin layer of sweat made my face itch. It rained most of the week where we worked in the cold shaded forest of the Brook Trout Trail. My tent was the only dry place. Every morning when I unzipped the door, a dense, damp chill rushed in, making it that much harder to climb out of my sleeping bag and put on wet clothes, boots, and socks.
I’m confident that sleeping on the ground will age my back. I woke up every day an eighty year old woman. Pain everywhere. Hunched and tunnel-visioned for coffee. As hours passed, I grew younger; by four PM I was a child, silly and singing Disney songs, laughing at bathroom humor; saying man, all I want is a warm cookie right now.
The first night our bear hang attempt failed because the trees we chose weren’t strong enough to hold our food. Night fell and defeated us. Our only option: send a couple members with the food back down the mountain to put it in the truck for the night. A two hour round trip. The next morning, Emily, Justin, and I got up at five AM to hike the food back up. Then we distributed the weight between two bear hangs.
Every day after dinner I collected the driest pieces of wood I could find to build a fire, which was none. So I aimed for sticks that when squeezed in my palm, didn’t drip water. Birch bark ignited easily even when wet; it peeled off the tree like tissue paper. Our flames were a hungry newborn that never sustained, but it brought us together and gave us something else to stare at. A distraction from the biting bugs. A sliver of color. Metaphorical hope. I stuck my pruned, zombie-white feet next to the coals until they were black with soot. Momentary relief is enough to keep you going.
We built two bridges designed by a long-time carpenter named John, who’s speaking voice sounds like a dog barking if the dog had slight more articulation of the tongue. Success could be measured by the percentage of Jon’s words we understood that day. But he brought us pickles and potato chips, so he was alright. He also gave me some memorable advice like, “Next time your mama asks you if you want anything, you tell her a pair of rubber boots.”
The bridges went up pretty easy, the hardest part was setting the stringers across the creek. It took all seven of us to haul it across, get them square and level. Afterwards, we nailed in the decking and railing. Bing, bang, boom. The treated lumber was helicoptered in prior to our arrival, so we didn’t have to carry it in ourselves. Still, it took hours of measuring and sawing to get the proper dimensions. Since we were in a Wilderness Area, chainsaws weren’t allowed, but the old-fashioned hand-saw is more therapeutic sometimes. Less badass, but it lets me imagine simpler times and reminds me to be patient and persistent. I can hardly wait more than four seconds for the internet anymore.
Sometimes while walking down the trail I pictured myself in a warm, dry place like San Diego. Jeremy, my boss, asked us, “Do you think there is only past and future, and no present?” To which I thought, or is there only present and no past or future? These days, I’m living in the future. Often thinking of what’s to come. But it changes. After this I could buy a car, drive to the Southwest by myself, or with whoever, and dry out for a few months. Summer in the winter for once. Even if that means living out of my car, working a job that doesn’t help my “career goals,” just to be weird. I’m too young not to push the limits of my weird.