It was foggy that morning. The mist hung in the pine trees and the oaks, the manzanitas were completely obscured until you got close enough to see their red trunks and branches bleeding through the white bandage. They were following a deer trail. Well worn, lots of hoof prints from the larger stags hooves splayed a bit to the smallest fawns hoofs barely visible and looking like miniature hearts. Cupid signaling the way to a long love.
Daddy had told her to get up and come along. So she had. It wasn’t even first light, but she could tell by the way his arm brushed hers that he was wearing flannel and by the sound of his steps receding that he was in boots. And of course he’d be in jeans. Daddy always wore jeans. She remembered Mama chiding him about wearing those jeans to his own wedding and she’d laughed thinking it was a joke til Mama showed her pictures. Mama in the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen, long and white and tatted in a pattern she’d never have the patience to learn. And Daddy in button down shirt and jeans. She knew Mama wasn’t really upset about those jeans though, she could hear it in the tone of her chiding and the tilt of her lips that wasn’t quite smile. That was the tone and the tilt that meant you’d gotten away with whatever naughty thing you’d done cause Mama was secretly pleased you had the gumption.
Dressing as quietly as she could in the dark, shivering from the cold, clearly Daddy’d only just recently rebuilt the fire and the heat hadn’t made it’s way back to the bedrooms yet, she found her jeans from the day before thrown over her desk chair, found her flannel under the jeans, and her boots on the floor, the left one knocked over from when she’d accidentally kicked the chair in the dark on her way to bed last night. She hustled quietly out her door towards the kitchen not smelling anything but hoping Mama was up and making something warm.
The kitchen was cold and quiet. Whatever was happening it’d just be her and Daddy. That meant Daddy was planning on being back for breakfast. That man never missed sausages in the morning, nor coffee to boot. And if it was just her and Daddy that meant he’d already be under way, he’d have given her in his mind the time it took to pull on her clothes and then he’d have started off. Shoot. Her cold tummy would have to wait. Still keeping quiet but hurrying a bit more, her steps more like hops than shuffles she made her way out the back door and bounded off the porch.
Hitting the fog she stopped. Daddy wouldn’t leave her on her own in this. This was dangerous. People got confused in fog like this, fell off the bluff, walked into a coyote snare. She’d been told since she could remember that guns weren’t toys and fog wasn’t a dance partner. Her instinct was to turn around and return to the porch but she knew in fog like this turning around could get you lost. She steeled herself, looked down at her feet to see which way they were facing, then put one foot directly behind the other, backing up in a straight line til her boot thunked against the wooden stair. Only then did she turn and walk up the stairs to the porch and start looking around for Daddy.
He reached out a hand and tousled her hair clearly proud of her, then he reached down and took hold of her hand walking off the porch with her in tow. It would have been nice if her fear of the fog evaporated holding Daddy’s hand. She felt like it should have, if Daddy was here there should be nothing to fear, but she was old enough to know that even Daddy couldn’t save her from everything.
The deer trail led them to a meadow and it was here that Daddy stopped walking, crouched down, and gave a gentle tug on her arm signaling her to crouch down, too. The fog was beginning to lift a bit, still stuck in the trees like so much cotton candy, but no longer a curtain down to the ground. Looking out across the meadow she tried to see what it was they’d come to see. Daddy wouldn’t ever tell her what they were about on adventures like this, he always waited to see what she could intuit, what she could figure.
The first time they’d come out to the meadow it was spring. Still bitterly cold in the morning and stunningly beautiful in the evening. They’d come after breakfast, full bellies and the trail easy to follow. They’d sat down on plastic dish sleds they’d carried all that way so they’d be out of the mud. The wild grasses were just emerging but the bulbs had bloomed stunningly bright colors dotting the meadow everywhere she looked. She had assumed that’s why they were there: the bulbs. But it wasn’t so. Daddy wouldn’t say anything, but he didn’t shush her queries either. She soon got tired of guessing and sat quietly, enjoyed the beautiful flowers bouncing in the breeze, and the flutter of a butterfly on her left shoulder. And then another butterfly on her head. Turning to Daddy she saw three butterflies on his arm and one on his head, too. Turning back to the meadow she suddenly realized there were butterflies everywhere. Where had they all come from? The butterflies were emerging from their cocoons and it was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen.
Another time they’d come to the meadow in the darkest black of morning, earlier than she’d ever been awake. The kind of dark night that only comes when your sixty miles from the nearest city with no moon to speak of and knocking on 2 a.m.’s door. She’d stumbled out after Daddy more than walked. When they arrived at the meadow, grasses dry and crackling under their weight and the lack of water the end of summer always wrought, she nearly collapsed on her back when she saw Daddy lay down. She was all ready to fall right back to sleep if her heart would slow when she looked up and had a moment of panic. She was going to drift away if she didn’t hold on to the meadow, she was going to drift away into the impossibility of all those stars. And then lightning streaked across the sky and she caught her breath. It happened again! But there were no clouds, how could it be? She was beginning to think she’d imagined it when it happened again, and again! Later that morning over sausages and eggs and toast and Mama’s homemade, she learned about meteors and they sparked a whole new passion in her. She checked out everything her library had on space and worked with the librarian to check out everything the other libraries around had on space. For weeks her life was reading, returning, checking out, reading, returning. Until one day the books she opened no longer gave her new information.
And now here they were again. She searched the meadow for a clue, knew the sky couldn’t be seen, finally looked to Daddy to see where he was looking. A bit ahead and a little to the right, not twelve on the meadow clock but not one either. She strained her eyes to see.
~~~That’s one hour~~~