As suggested, I moved into my chalet straight away, even though it was still a work in progress. So much had happened over the last month or two but now a new and exciting phase of my life was under way. I needed to get my head around things and didn’t expect I’d be able to stop my mind racing very easily as I stumbled from the house that first night and made my way across to where my bed awaited. When I entered, the room was pleasantly cosy because I’d had the forethought to light the wood burner earlier in the evening and as it happened as soon as I put my head on my pillow exhaustion enveloped me, aided I’m sure by the copious amount of schnapps and whisky I’d consumed. I was comatose almost immediately and slept for a good nine hours, the best sleep I’d had for ages. The silence out there in the mountains at night beside the Northern Cascades Highway was almost complete, only broken by the occasional drone of a car or truck, powerful headlights splitting open the darkness and illuminating my walls through the thin blinds as the lone traveller passed by. I was aware of the occasional distant bark or cry from some animal out there in the wilderness, but it didn’t really disturb me at all.
In the morning I awoke with a start, taking a few moments to remember where I was. A dull throbbing headache, equal parts jet lag to hangover accompanied a stale taste in my mouth. I took a shower, brushed my teeth and dressed. Refreshed and feeling a little better I thought I’d go across to the house to see about some breakfast. Opening my chalet door I walked straight into a picture postcard. It was a sparklingly crisp and clear day. Just a haze of mist above the trees that a watery September sun was doing its best to burn off. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. Peter and Kathleen had been up and about for a while but had allowed me to lie in late to help me recover from my exhausting journey. After a full plate of bacon, eggs and sausages accompanied by a big mug of my Horniman’s tea I felt tremendous, as good as new. I left the house to join the others and begin work. Peter had somehow managed to get the wind turbine down from its pylon and had it half stripped out on the floor of the workshop to be serviced. After a look and a quick chat with Peter I found myself some appropriate tools and went outside. I climbed up a ladder and began to rip off the worst parts of the next chalet roof along from mine. The priority was to replace any laths and shingles that looked rotten or damaged before the weather turned and made outside work less inviting. At last I felt that I was able to play my part.
Despite the time of year, as I toiled away I had to strip down to my usual garb to avoid sweating too much, a ‘T’ shirt and a pair of old combat trousers to go with my old army boots. Getting stuck in to work was extremely satisfying outside in the cool crystal clean, fresh mountain air. It was just what I needed after six years of having to do exactly what I was told, culminating in the final filthy jobs in the workshop at Bielefeld. I was finally working for myself with the prospect of building the foundations of a decent life.
Kathleen worked as my labourer that first day, tirelessly scrambling up and down the ladder with packs of shingles, lengths of wood and bags of nails. We measured, we sawed, we hammered. She was a good worker and appeared to be relishing the physical aspect of it as much as I was. She didn’t appear to feel put upon by having to take on most of the cooking and more mundane tasks either. Perhaps it was the way she had been brought up back in Ulster. From what I remembered of the rough, terraced, working class streets and the community over there it was likely that a young girl would have been expected to take on all the domestic chores, sharing them with the other women folk and to look after the men without question. Neither Peter or I were about to complain. Apart from the odd bit of clearing up after a meal or the preparation of a good fry up at breakfast time, we were both next to useless in the kitchen.
From my elevated position on the roof top I couldn’t help but pause every now and again to scan the wilderness and mountain views beyond. I was itching to get out there and explore at least the immediate area while the weather remained good. As my mind wandered I felt Kathleen’s eyes boring into me as I sat with a leg each side of the roof’s apex. Snapping out of my daydream I began hammering home yet another nail to affix yet another ridge tile.
Still she stared.
Feeling self conscious I looked over to her quizzically.
“You’re very like him you know,” she said.
“Frank. You’re very like Frank. To look at I mean. It’s uncanny. Well I suppose you already know that. You’re nothing like him as a person though, thank God.”
I continued to hold her gaze for a second before giving her the benefit of my best impersonation of Loopy Woolf, easily reproducing the accent of my father that I’d grown up listening to. She giggled and in mock horror, begged me to stop.
“Why did you leave? What happened back there in Germany?” I asked. It seemed a good time to broach the subject.
As we continued to work away she recounted the whole story. The awful situation in Belfast, the whirlwind romance and escape to the mainland and then Germany. How Loopy had changed after they moved into their own flat, how possessive he became and how trapped she had felt. Loopy’s temper, although never directed towards her, she had found scary. He had his good points, he was devoted to her but she realised it wasn’t the life she wanted to lead and had become disillusioned. She went on to explain how she had met Peter and how he’d been so kind to her, giving her some relief from the drudgery, boredom and loneliness. She summed it up thoughtfully.
“I ran away with Frank to escape from Ulster,” there was a short pause and then she continued a little more quietly, “.....and now I’ve run away with Peter to escape from Frank.”
I felt for her to a degree but wasn’t too sure what to make of that last statement. Was she just using Peter as a means to an end as she obviously had done with Loopy? More than likely but I couldn’t blame her. The opportunity had presented itself and she’d grabbed it, a bit like I had really although I wasn’t really running from anything. I was just trying to search out a good life for myself. Deep in thought I accidentally smacked my thumb with the hammer.
“Jesus bloody Christ!” I yelped. It was time for a bit of a break.
Peter and Kathleen went off for some lunch but rather than join them I said I was going out for a walk and would grab a sandwich when I returned. Earlier I’d spotted a well trodden trail behind the chalets which led up a gentle slope and continued into the nearest bit of forest just a few hundred yards away. Taking this trail I set off walking at a comfortable pace, intending to explore for about half an hour before I turned back. I was soon out of sight of the buildings. The trees thinned out as I progressed, leaving me on a fairly steep rocky escarpment. Pausing briefly I took in the panorama. It was even more breathtaking from up there. My view was expansive and I could make out cliffs and bluffs, huge rock formations and narrow ravines where fast flowing streams gushed forcefully on their way down in the direction of Thunder Creek far below. All this with a backdrop of majestic snow capped mountains reaching for an azure sky which looked unreal to me, like a mural expertly painted on a deep blue wall. I’d never seen anything like it except in National Geographic magazines or Readers Digest.
Possibly used by wild mountain goats and other local wildlife the trail I took was well defined, winding up the slope as it steepened and then after cresting the ridge leading back down into what looked to be an ‘old growth forest’ beyond. Mighty ramrod straight Douglas Firs towered above Hemlocks and smaller trees. The uneven canopy appeared to be breathing a pale blueish haze in the bright early afternoon sunlight. I spotted movement in the trees and amongst the flora several times on my way through, too distant for me to be sure what the sightings were and I wished I’d thought to pick up my binoculars before I’d set off. It was more than likely mule deer of the Blacktail variety like those I’d spotted from the bus on my journey along the highway yesterday. I saw tracks in dried mud which I couldn’t identify and others that looked like large dog’s paw prints. Coyote perhaps? I hoped to see elk, maybe even moose one day but would have to be patient and wait until I had the time to travel further afield.
This was bear country too. Black bear and Grizzly roamed the territory and would have to be given every respect. I wasn’t overly concerned though, being aware that most bears are shy and reclusive creatures, only really motivated by their relentless search for sustenance. Just as long as you didn’t leave any food lying around which they might associate with you, and made plenty of noise as you travelled to avoid surprising a bear, you would probably be perfectly OK. I had made no effort to travel quietly but just to be on the safe side I gave them and anything else within earshot the dubious pleasure of my version of ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ on my return journey back to the Kirby place to continue my day’s work.