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Tuesday
Mar022010

morning

The color of the sun, and the diagonal beams of light that glanced in through the frosted rear window, had never looked so warm and golden to him before. He could see his breadth as he yawned and pushed the chilly corner of his sleeping bag away from his chin. He was still a bit confused while he stretched his legs and arms. The day before seemed like a dream, an irritating memory, reminding him that he wasn’t as brave as he imagined himself to be.

He had driven hundreds of miles north, across strange highways and bridges and along beautiful winding roads and desolated tracts of land. And, though he had always loved to drive and explore, this particular sojourn north, however well-planned, had begun in a way he simply hadn’t expected.

Twenty-four hours earlier, the sky had changed from blue to gray, and a long hard rain had begun to beat down on his windshield. It was neither a drizzle nor a raging storm, just a consistent and unwavering pulse that weighed heavy on his tired eyes in the most definitive manner. He had planned to reach the campground before dark, but the road to it was thick with mud and grooved, which made him question the agility of his 2-wheel-drive truck. He had eventually decided to pull over, consult his map, and consider another route before the sun disappeared and the sky grew more dark and confusing. For whatever reason, the unknown had always seemed to both attract and unsettle him.

Perhaps last night had been his first test, he thought, as he sat up out of his sleeping bag and rested his elbow on the pillow he had held close eight hours earlier. It didn’t matter how excited he was while he packed his truck before he left home. It didn’t matter that he had always dreamt of driving across the country on his own. Yesterday, he decided, was simply a healthy dose of reality and a reminder that nothing real, nothing worthwhile, was ever easy.

“If you want to grow and evolve, you better get used to a little fear” he mumbled to himself, as the tailgate of his truck dropped open and he pulled a heavy sweatshirt over his head. Reaching around a small camping stove and over a pair of wet boots, he grabbed his wallet and keys that had been sitting on top of the wheel-well above the right rear tire. He also noticed the lantern and book he had placed next to them before falling asleep, and he smiled, realizing that he had already created a bedside table for the next two months.

Despite the heavy rain and darkness of the night before, he had carefully packed two cameras and an apple in his backpack. He decided to double-check their contents before zipping everything back up again and pulling the arm-straps over his shoulders. Bending over slightly, he pulled his hat down over his ears and laced up a second, dry pair of shoes. As the gravel crunched beneath his feet, he walked around the truck and down a short drive toward a clearing and empty parking area. Through the trees to his right, he could see a couple of tents in a couple of different campsites, but no movement within or around them.

The campground was located next to a small river that flowed into the lake, so he decided to walk along the riverbank until he reached the beach. It was surprising how the water spread out over the sand, becoming almost still as it emptied itself into the waves. It looked kind of like a thousand flickering mirrors had been carefully arranged and spread out in front of him. The sun really was a bizarre thing, he thought, while squinting into his camera and trying his best to capture the morning light.

Removing a map from his left front pocket, he looked both directions and decided to start walking northeast along the shore. Realizing he was completely alone, and had the beach all to himself, he paused and then exhaled deeply. He looked out over the horizon. The waves seemed quiet and considerate as they curled and fell into themselves on the sand. The beach held the weight of hundreds of large stones, rubbed smooth by the water over the years, and the trees to his right seemed to anchor him to something that felt vaguely familiar.

With his hands still cold from the chill in the air and his legs not quite used to the give of the sand beneath his feet, his stride felt clumsy at first. As he walked and slowly realized where he was and how he had arrived, for some reason, tears gradually collected in his eyes. He ignored them for a while and continued to walk forward, but when they eventually escaped and rolled down his face into the corners of his mouth, he paused and decided not to blink. Instead, he held his eyes open wide and looked upward toward the cloudless sky.

As the wind picked up a little, he looked back over his shoulder and noticed a seagull out over the water. He thought maybe it wanted some food and would disappear after a minute or two. However, several minutes came and went, and as he began to walk again, the seagull remained. Sometimes it would fly beside him just above the waves, and other times it would fly ahead and perch on a stone until he got too close. After about an hour of walking, he realized that he had made a new friend.

When he came upon the remnants of a sunken ship sticking out of the water, he couldn't help but stop to inspect it. Large beams penetrated by steel rods and mesh brackets peeked out from beneath each approaching wave. He wondered about the age of the ship and how many people had been aboard during the wreck. Allowing himself to daydream a bit, he imagined the names of the captain and the crew. He suspected that a few men died in the cold water and a few escaped to shore. He figured they were probably French-Canadian and wondered how many mariners were bachelors, like himself. He also wondered how many were married men who left their wives and families behind.

While he walked, he occasionally hopped from one large stone to another, and sometimes he stopped to study the sand and stones up close. He liked how his backpack seemed lighter whenever he leaned forward and picked up something on the beach. Many of the stones were gray, washed almost black by the water, while others were orange and tan. The prettiest stones, he thought, always seemed smooth like marble and were a deep, dark indigo blue. He tried skipping a few over the waves, but to no avail. The waves seemed to protest somehow, by making themselves just too high to allow anything to tread upon them.

The sky was changing colors as the morning progressed. The trees along the beach were becoming a lighter shade of green as their shadows grew shorter and the light around them became less dramatic. The sand and stones were warming as well. He could feel the sun starting to burn his face, when he decided to adjust his route. If he ventured off of the beach, up into the woods, he could eventually make it to the lighthouse and the dunes several miles further north.

Behind him, a few hundred yards away, he noticed what looked like a couple walking together along the water's edge. So, before they approached, he thought, it might be a good time to disappear and let them enjoy the beach together in private.

Scratching his chin then cupping his jaw in the palm of his hand, he looked into the trees to determine the best place to enter. There was what seemed like a walking path to his right and another opening to the left of that. He kept looking however, and decided he would climb a small outcropping of rocks directly in front of him. It didn’t look like a particularly easy way to enter the woods, but something about it drew him closer.

He smiled, adjusted his backpack, and walked to the base of the rocks. As he reached up and began pulling himself over the first large stone, his foot slipped, and he came down hard on his left wrist. He got up quickly, however, ignoring the pain and pretending nothing had happened. He then looked back over to his right at the open path leading into the woods. Letting out a sigh, he paused and looked back up toward the tall stones in front of him.

It took him about five minutes to navigate his way up and over the rocks. Both winded and proud, he eventually pulled himself into the shade of the trees. When he stood up and looked back down toward the beach, he noticed that his friend, the seagull, had left him and was flying out over the water. He watched and waited until she disappeared before steadying himself and turning again to the north. After a few strides, he almost started pulling the map out of his left front pocket, but then he reconsidered. The lighthouse was just a few miles away, he thought, and it was still morning.