Boots here. Your Badass Coffee Babe shooting like a star from the hip today and telling it like it is. With the advent of Father’s Day, I am reminded of many things . . . memories of life-in-general this past year concerning my own father . . . times that now feel to be long ago and quite far away. I was thinking back to the summer when my father came to visit me up at my cabin and how, bored out of his gourd with no television for a week, he split enough firewood to last me nearly a month. I can still see that stack of split wood and that look of satisfaction of a job-well-done on his face, happy he was leaving me, his daughter, with the gift of time away from the woodshed splitting block.
These memories of life, love, firewood, and family have an odd way of percolating to the surface. During my time of living in that cabin, located on that effortful and toilsome trail, I met my share of fathers who wanted to share their love of the great outdoors with their sons and daughters. You can tell a lot about human nature by the way a parent introduces adversity and misery to their children regarding clouds of mosquitoes, leaking tents, smoky fires, forgotten necessities, and squirrel-pillaged rations. One father who stands tall in my memory is a man I call Caroline-y, a father who came huffing and puffing up the trail with his son Bud on one Especially-Rainy Day.
I was holed up in the cabin and feeling pretty darned certain that no one – and I mean no one – was going to be coming up the trail in all of that rain to ask about fishing, boats, horses, directions, or firewood. No, it was Flat Out Raining — a classic Pouring-Down-Your-Tin-Pants-Straight-Into-Your-Boots kind of rain. The kind of rain that says to you that you might as well just forget about the woolly sweater, the slicker, and the rubber poncho and just stay inside.
Anyone who has spent any time working out in the woods knows that, at a certain point, trying to “stay dry” under a steaming, streaming rubber poncho actually feels wetter than just going with the Literal Flow from the Heavens Above and accepting the fact that you are going to be soaked to the skin anyway. It might as well be God’s good replenishing water, rather than your own poncho-created condensation. There is some Measure of Liberation in just going with the way Nature is funneling life’s elements your way. Sometimes life is best if you don’t fight it and you just go with the Flow.
So, there I was. Rain drumming on the metal roof of the cabin. My feet propped up on the oven door and sitting just an easy arm’s length from my cup of Joe that was staying nice and hot on the stove-side warming tray. It was a day for getting caught up on my reading and for thinking about getting started on some chores that were on the list for Needing Doing that day.
I was dreaming my way through a supply catalog when the dogs came barreling out from behind the cookstove. They went tearing out the woodbox door– setting up a violent ruckus. I wondered, Who the hell would be out on the trail on a day like today?
Now the back door of my cabin didn’t set much more than 10 or so yards from the trail – the close proximity of which didn’t bother me much. I lived on a lake in the middle of a wilderness area surrounded by Absolute Nowhere that was only accessible by float plane or by trail. The trail to the lake was steep and had a way of winnowing out those who weren’t interested in mastering some serious elevation gain and the general hiking population, at best, was quite sparse.
The back door of the cabin was also my front door, as I never quite finished building the necessary deck and steps that would connect the Hanging Front Door to Terra Firma. You can bet that I kept the “front door” barricaded and locked from the inside, not wanting Anybody’s Fool to go through it and then ass over teakettle onto the dirt below, mistakenly thinking it was the nearest exit to the Bank. (The Bank being the Outhouse, thusly named by my illustrious predecessor.)
I suspected that the dogs might be barking at the arrival of the horses. Now these horses were a wily lot. They ran loose on the Rarity of Open Pasture – meaning that their only “fences” were purely topographical features – and it was a rip-roaring, two-dog-alarm when they tried to sneak in to the homestead through the criss-crossing game trails that led to the salt lick from the Bird Meadow. These horses were smart — smart enough to resort to covert actions, knowing that the odds were good to pretty-damned-great that they would be caught and captured and then put to work packing supplies up the hill from down below.
The sneaky devils generally came stealing in at nighttime for salt – or at least as stealthily as a one-ton animal can manage. The dogs barked with the same amount of gusto in the wee hours of the night upon their unannounced arrival, but I never felt obligated to go chasing horses at night – beings as their eyes pick up light much better in darker conditions than we humans can. The odds were certainly with them escaping against me capturing, what with me giving chase and tripping through the understory with a flashlight in one hand and a halter and oat bucket in the other. It was quite the scene to be certain, me stumbling and cussing and them flicking their tails and horse-laughing their rumps off.
Well, the dogs were barking beyond their usual call of Advance, dear woman! The evasive equines are noshing up at the salt lick! (In case you hadn’t surmised, I had some seriously eloquent canines.) I had no choice but to remove my backside from my place of comfort by the fire and check out the barking brouhaha.
I looked out the window and saw no sign of the Sneaky Devils up at the barn trying to get a nip of salt before bolting back into the forest. What I did see were two people, one adult and one kid who must have been about 10 years old, standing in the middle of trail looking puzzled by the anomalous sight of the cabin. They looked more soaked than two otters who just came in off the river for a spot of dry refreshment. The father was hacking and wheezing like a dedicated smoker and the kid just looked like a miserable human being who was not rightly into this whole idea of male bonding on this particular day of inclement weather.
I grabbed my slicker from the hook on the back of the door and went outside to ask them if they were lost. They explained that they were camped down below and saw this trail and wanted to see where it led. I think that their use of the collective pronoun we was a stretch, as the kid just kept his head down – trying to keep the stream of rain that was coming off his yellow-blonde forelock from getting in his eyes. I knew that feeling of Rain Misery and I felt for the kid.
I heard myself asking them if they wanted to come get warm in the cabin. The dad started to say Nah so I added, “I have water on to boil. I can make some cocoa for your wet friend here.” They came in and crowded around my table-for-one – a slab of wood hinged to the wall of the cabin that I pulled up and set on those rare occasions when I wanted to eat on a flat surface – generally preferring a chair leaned up next to the warmth of the stove.
They took off their wet gear — super-soaked cotton hoodies — and I went outside to give their gear a good shake and a wring before hanging it to dry on the pegs behind the stove. Having resumed their Station behind the cookstove, the dogs gave me forlorn looks each time one of them got pinged by a drop of water from the soaked hoodies. Truth: You just have to respect the look that a wronged and faithful dog can give you, so I moved the hoodies down the peg rail to a spot that did not promise future misery for the pups.
I made cocoa-for-two and managed to find a bag of wrinkly-looking marshmallows in the pantry that some long-ago camper had left with me in trade for the use of my ax. The kid didn’t mind that the marshmallows were old and seasoned. It was evident that he was simply grateful to be somewhere warm and dry.
The dad did all of the talking – giving up a string of bullshit stories from when he lived in the woods in the good state of North Caroline-y. That’s how he pronounced it: Caroline-y. He talked about the wood smoker that his Pap (Yes, he even said Pap) used to cure the venison and how they used to chop wood the same way I did.
It was midway through his yarn spinning that Caroline-y pulled a Milky Way candy bar out of his shirt pocket and started to eat it. Right there in front of the kid. The kid spoke aloud — which surprised me — as he hadn’t said a word up until then, and he asked his pap if he could have some. Caroline-y just gave him an appraising look and kept chawing away on his Milky Way while saying, “Sorry, Bud. Ate yours, Bud.”
The cabin grew a clumsy feeling – like a low-pressure Cloud of Awkward blowing through. It could have been the way I froze when I looked at Bud, who was looking mighty embarrassed for taking the chance to ask aloud. I walked over to Bud and plopped an extra handful of marshmallows into his still-steaming cocoa and said, “You’ve got to help me eat these, Bud. I’m allergic to marshmallows.”
The story really doesn’t go anywhere beyond this point, other than the rain stopping and me handing their more-dry-than-when-they-arrived hoodies back to them and pointing them back down the trail to their camp. For some reason that line of Caroline-y’s stayed with me though: Sorry, Bud. You ate yours, Bud.
In the years since, I have worked my thoughts all the way around that Sorry Bud line. I understand the concept of Real Life Tough Love and teaching young ones the value of not always being handed every darned thing that they might want or demand. Truth: the kid had eaten his own Milky Way on the trail. And just because you opt to consume your portion first, doesn’t mean that you deserve a share of someone else’s Delayed Gratification Efforts. Justice has a way of prevailing in Life when it comes to this. And it should.
But still . . .
Life does offer us a whole lot of Extenuating Circumstances as well. Take a Soaking Rain for example. Or Going Along with someone else’s Genius Plan to hike up to God-Knows-Where in a Drenching Downpour. Or not being dressed right for the weather. Or the thought that floats a little higher than Caroline-y’s brand of Sorry-Bud Justice is the one that says Why not say I love you without saying it out loud? Just hand over half of the Milky Way and everyone wins.
As you can probably tell, my feelings tip to the side of Extenuating Circumstances and saying I love you without using words. I think that there are always going to be other ways and times to teach the Real Life stuff to our loved ones. Why not extend the Magic of the Completely Unexpected . . . the warmth and the dry and the hot cocoa in a stranger’s cabin in the middle of a crazy downpour . . . just for that extra second longer and cut the damned candy bar in half and hand it over . . . all with a smile that says Ain’t life great?
I don’t know. Lest you think that I am judging here . . . I’m not. And I am. I think of that day and I hope that Bud knows that there are people in the world that will have his back, even if it’s only with past-their-prime desiccated marshmallows. Life has taught me that there’s a whole heck of a lot of grace to offer. And to be universally fair, I am hoping that Caroline-y gets his share of grace, too.
So that’s it from me, Boots the Badass Coffee Babe, on the brink of Father’s Day 2016. This is the first year when I do not have the need to send a greeting card or make a phone call to my father, as he passed away this past December. I think about the years when my Father’s Day cards were late and when I didn’t call on Sunday. It makes a part of my heart droop to the sad side, and I hope that my father understands.
That’s the thing about my dad. Even now in these Days of Loss, he lets me know. There are days when I can feel him extending me the bigger half of a Milky Way candy bar that isn’t rightly mine to have, and I accept it with a hungry gratitude and a thankfulness in my heart. If there is anything I have learned this past year it is this: Life turns on a dime. And it spins on an axis that is provided by our parents who bring us into the world so we can learn about the dizzying gift of extended grace.
It feels odd and strangely marvelous to think that I have stood on the same planet all of these years past with my father, streaking through the Milky Way together . . . and I wonder. Like looking up at a cloudless sky at all of its nightly glory, it’s hard not to wonder. I stand out under the starlight and I see the faint remnants of our galaxy and I send Milky Way love to my father, a man whom I didn’t always understand yet I loved all the same. And I know he loved me.
For all of those Milky Way moments of grace and love and forgiveness that you extended to me, I thank you, Dad. From the bottom my heart and to the ends of the Universe. Truly. I wish you a Happy Father’s Day.
This song is the BEST. Please, take a moment of quiet to listen.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there.
Remember . . . life is a lively event that will spin on a dime.
Share your candy bar, drink coffee, and get to it.
What’s stopping you?
xoxox from your Badass Coffee Babe, Boots
Dad, I raise a mug to you.