A Nature Study In The Woods
Human nature, that is
It was early morning on the second day of their long weekend getaway. The first day hardly counted since they got in late and managed only to put away the groceries, grill a couple of burgers, and go to bed . The bed wasn’t the best, Monica reflected. Who has a double bed in this day and age? But, if the bed was any larger, there wouldn’t even be room for the one small chest that was the only other furniture in the bedroom. Hugh had described his family’s cabin as ‘rustic’ but ‘primitive’ was more apt.
She didn’t sleep well. She was used to city noise and she found the deep woods silence to be louder than urban cacophony. Did she have tinnitus or was that whine really an enormous insect infestation in the towering pines surrounding them? There was some kind of distant yowling and she was amused to learn that just as reputed, the owls do go “hoot, hoot”. When the dawn light finally shone through the moose patterned curtains, she flung off the sheets and the hideous crocheted afghan and got up to get dressed.
When Hugh told her halfway through the drive yesterday there was no internet signal in these parts, she was incredulous.
“How is that possible in this day and age?” she asked. “What do you stream on TV? How do you blog?”
“Simple answer is you don’t do either,” he responded. “ You swim in the lake, you hike, you cook, you read a book, and talk to each other, just like in the olden days. When the folks would take us up in the summer my sister and I acted like we were being kidnapped into another century. They had to practically anesthetize us to load us into the car. Two weeks later, we were screaming just as hard when we had to go back home. We’ve got two full days left. See how you feel then.” He turned his attention back to the iron skillets he had going for the eggs, pancakes and bacon.
Monica took out her tablet and began laying out her first posts for her blog and Instagram account for when they got back. She was a medium-hot social media personality, close to breaking through to hot-hot. In some ways, she was glad that she had been given the perfect excuse for a brief media blackout, because she was going to have to take some ingenious shots in order to camouflage this exceptionally humble cabin as anything even close to befitting her ultra-hip presence. Normally she would do scathing satire and belittlement, but this place was special to Hugh and she didn’t think he would appreciate that kind of commentary.
Hugh was different. He wasn’t really her type, but she thought he was excellent raw material that could be molded over time. I think I really love him, she realized. She saw most people as expendable guest stars or extras in her life movie but Hugh was close to becoming a permanent co-star. She imagined that he may have taken her here this weekend in order to pop the question in a place of special significance for him.
It was annoying that he would not participate in almost anything to do with her media presence and forbade her posting any pictures of him period. He did allow pictures of his feet and that was it. He also would not tolerate being named, so she called him ‘Huge’ in her posts, which she totally loved because of the double entendre and sexual connotations. But even though she could live through a private proposal, there would be no way that the rest of the process could be under wraps. At some point he would have to give in if he really loved her, which she was pretty sure he did.
“You’ve hardly eaten anything,” he noted. “You need some calories to fuel your body for the hike - one strip of bacon and a spoonful of eggs will get you about 50 yards.”
“I don’t eat that much, you know that. Especially breakfast. Coffee is my fuel. I’ll be fine until we get back for the salmon later. I’m gonna change up. Give me a couple and I’ll be ready to go.”
“Don’t forget the sunscreen,” Hugh said. “Meet you on the porch in fifteen. No longer. There’s no one watching you, Miss Fashionista. Just me and the black flies.”
Fifteen minutes later as promised, Monica appeared on the porch, ready for her inaugural hike and commune with nature. She had on very cute cargo shorts, a midriff revealing tee, quirky Nordic patterned knee socks, and a lightweight cardigan that was knitted by the same artisan responsible for the socks. She had featured the knitwear in a fashion post called Crafters of the Midnight Sun, responsible for a large bump in her Scandinavian followers. It would be good to follow-up with her newfound appreciation of the hygge lifestyle - cabins, hikes, mountain man boyfriend, cozy fires, etc. She had also styled Pippi Longstocking braids for herself, minus the flying aspect. She sighed contentedly. Life was good.
Hugh looked at her skeptically. “Shorts, bad,” he said. “You’ll get the crap scratched out of you. I know the weather seems really nice right now, but Indian summer is when we get the most tourist fatalities around here. They start off in their tee shirts and shorts, lose track of time, end up out after dark, winds kick up and then they die of hypothermia.”
“Quite the morose tour guide,” responded Monica. “ Well, after my demise, you can stuff me and put me on display at the ranger center with a sign that says ‘Wore Shorts’. We’re only going for a half day anyway.”
“Okay, but I put a parka of my mom’s in the backpack. There’s a 70/30 shot you’ll use it .” Hugh gave a sly smile as he hoisted the pack and they set off into the forest.
When they had been out in the woods for close to two hours, the skies darkened and the wind picked up. Hugh stopped, opened the backpack and took out the woman’s jacket folded on top and handed it to Monica. She winced.
“It’s pink. It doesn’t really go with anything I have on.”
He laughed. “Does that matter out here? It’s just you and me.”
“But I know. It’s a little Walmarty if you want to know the truth. Maybe for Christmas we can get your mother something less . . .” she trailed off as she realized further elaboration was not necessary.
She thought she saw Hugh’s jaw muscle slightly twitch which was a rare sign of extreme annoyance. Well, she was getting annoyed as well. Enough of this stupid forest! It was getting cold and she was getting hungry and she was ready to go back to the cabin, have a bath and then some wine and then a romantic dinner concluding with the presentation of something sparkly. She hoped he had paid attention when she had pointed out specific styles online to him, although she never felt he really focused. She could probably exchange it for something nicer if it wasn’t up to speed. She thought that jewelers were only recalcitrant when someone was trying to downsize and she doubted that would be the issue. She put on the parka.
They were around twenty minutes from the cabin but he planned to take her to his favorite dell by the lake with a big flat rock where they would sit and watch the afternoon sun dapple the water and drink the wine in the knapsack with the chill-blocks and eat the chocolates he had hidden in her parka pocket. Then he would pull out the two chocolate cake slices from the Tupperware in the backpack and hand her the one with the red rosette that had his grandmother’s ring buried in it. Originally, he planned for her to find the ring in the cake after dinner but this morning he decided that he really wanted to propose in the dell. Plus, she would never be expecting that.
“How far are we?” asked Monica. “ Back to the cabin please.”
She was slightly behind Hugh on the trail and bent down to swat at a bug on her leg. When she stood, she put her hand in the jacket pocket and felt something. There was a zippered pocket inside the outer pocket. She unzipped it, looked in and saw four Hershey’s kisses. Probably ancient, she thought. Hershey’s kisses, how plebeian. But still. She was starving. She unwrapped one surreptitiously still inside the pocket, turned slightly aside and swept it into her mouth with in a single fluid motion.
“Doing all right?” asked Hugh, pausing and waiting for her to catch up.
“Mmm mmm. Fine. ” Monica mumbled back. She was frantically swishing and using her own saliva as a mouth rinse. For some reason, she didn’t want Hugh to see or smell the chocolate.
“I thought we could take a little detour and I could show you one of my childhood haunts,” he said.
Monica groaned internally. “Sure, that would be great,” she said brightly. Would this outing from hell never end? She felt in her pocket for another foiled drop.
“Right through here, “ he shouted and pointed to the clearing.
She had to admit that it positively looked like some Hobbitty secret shire meeting place. The quality of the light was a weird luminous chartreuse and the lake sparkled like its bottom was a million jewels. It would not have been astounding if a unicorn with a crown of marigolds had bounded up.
“Oh my God,” she breathed. “You have to take some shots of me on that rock. Just let me get this hideous thing off of me.” She was ripping off the pink parka as she spoke and bounded onto the rock platform.
For the next twenty minutes she pirouetted and posed while alternately pouting, or smiling mysteriously. When she was finally finished with her photo session she said “All through! Come join me,” and patted the ledge beside her.
Hugh stooped and picked up the discarded jacket by its hem. Four bits of crumpled silver foil dropped out of the pocket. “She ate them all, “ he thought.
He had made up a funny little poem called Four Kisses which he was going to recite when they ate the candy together. He was surprised she had discovered them and then he was surprised she didn’t say, “Hey! Chocolate!” since chocolate was one of their shared passions and then he was surprised she hadn’t offered him one. Wow, he thought. He sat next to her on the rock.
“What a backdrop!” she exclaimed. “I can’t wait to do another shoot. Maybe a Four Seasons series. What do you think?”
“I don’t think so,” said Hugh. He gave her a look of some emotion she found hard to quantify - disappointment? No, it was more than disappointment, it verged on some inconsolable sadness. It made her feel naked, like she was sitting on the ledge and her clothes were piled into a heap on the ground beneath her. He is looking into my soul, she thought.
“This ‘backdrop’ as you call it is a lot of my childhood, not some set piece designed by nature to show you off to best advantage.” He stood up and picked up the knapsack with its still corked wine and it’s unopened Tupperware. “Let’s head back. I think we should go back to the city tomorrow. You’ve been a trooper, but your fans await.”
That night, after Monica had gone to bed, Hugh fished the plastic container out of the knapsack and reclaimed his grandmother’s ring from the cake. He rinsed off the chocolate icing, dried it and then laid it in a small antique ring box which he put into his dufflebag.
Copyright 2021 Valerie Kittell
About the Creator
I live in a seaside New England village and am trying to become the writer I always wanted to be. I focus on writing short stories and personal essays and I hope you enjoy my efforts. Likes and tips are very encouraging.
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