Dan and I met in the fall of 1995 at The Steaming Bean coffee shop; I was eating a pumpkin-ginger muffin and scanning the classifieds for work and housing, he was spinning stories in his notebook, his pen speed-skating across the page; we were both new to this elevation, 6512 feet.
He commented on my hat; I offered him a bite of my muffin; we talked for the next two hours.
Finished with my summer gig working for the Forest Service, I was looking to stay awhile in this place that snagged me like a firm, steady hand.
Dan was washing dishes at a Mexican restaurant three nights a week, then hitchhiking alone to the doorstep of wild country, slipping into the wilderness through a spruce door and disappearing until his next shift at the restaurant.
His face was shaven; my legs were not.
Dan told me how he recently returned from a desert trip, in which he ceremoniously cut off his spindly white boy dreadlocks and burned them along with his resume.
I told him of how I had just returned from a five night solo backpacking trip in the San Juan Mountains where I toted the bulky Field Guide to Colorado Plants so I could greet new flower friends by name. “Alpine buttercup: it’s you!” I swooned through a sloppy downpour.
I asked for his phone number.
Next time we met, for a hike, we exchanged—unplanned—homemade peach bread (his) for a jar of plum preserves (mine). We were like two skiers swooshing down a black diamond on a first date, thinking “Man, she can ski.” Except in our nerdier case it was “He knows where to pick peaches and what to do with them.”
Before the hike, Dan pointed a small bottle of saline drops towards his eyes. “Contacts,” he groaned. “They dry my eyes out.” “Me too!” I laughed. “Can I get some of that?”
I threw out my contacts that night and the next time we met we were both sporting glasses, frames: circa high school.
That fall we picked apples together, certain that we could live off foraged apples and day-old, soup kitchen bread; we read Zen books and meditated–stiff-legged and numb–on the banks of Junction creek; we wrote in our journals, side by side, at downtown coffee shops that no longer exist.
That winter we kissed for the first time, in the bedroom of my southside rental, my housemates’ forest of pot plants hissing fragrant scents below the trap door in my bedroom closet.
The next spring we tapped a box elder tree for syrup, took a two week camping trip in the Sonoran desert and wondered what the big fuss was over working and money.
We never picked up the obvious mountain town habits: skiing, climbing, biking, rafting, warming bar stools.
Instead, we fawned over flats of tomato seedlings, took elusive plant samples found on mountain hikes to the college herbarium for identification, and kept close tabs on the local birds. We put all our mental powers towards sussing out beaver dens, extracting the secrets of the town’s fringe characters and writing our stories—ballpoint to lined paper—warp speed in our tattered notebooks.
On Valentines Day, 1997, over a deliciously greasy breakfast at Oscars, Dan gave me this, all 2138 pages of it:
It is thirteen years later. Thirteen! So much has changed that sometimes after the kids go to bed Dan and I play remember when? (Remember when I canned 6 quarts of yucca-fruit chutney and made you choke it all down? Remember when a snowshoe hare spent the night under our tarp during that rainstorm on Bald Knob?). Sometimes we need these reminders to shake loose the outer shell of parenthood that feels so solid I begin to wonder: did I always sing this boy to sleep? Did the sound of this girl’s voice always flit about my ears?
Even as the memories rush in thick as July mosquitos it’s a little like peering through the wrong end of a telescope, distorted and fuzzy and small; the parenting shell won’t shake off. It’s just as well, the love is even stronger now.
Happy Valentines Day.