As the days passed, the transformation of the Kirby place continued apace. The three of us threw ourselves into it with enthusiasm and gusto. The relationship and respect between us all grew stronger and we became a good team, working like Trojans in a race against time to get the exterior work finished as soon as possible. We were all aware that once winter took a firmer grip on the area it would become much more difficult to continue working outside and I didn’t relish that prospect. But in the forthcoming inclement weather, having weather proofed the place we planned to concentrate on fitting out the interiors and getting it looking better than it had ever done since it was built.
Very soon after my arrival I took to getting up really early, before first light. Donning my usual camouflaged combat trousers and old army boots, slinging on a sweat shirt and jacket if the temperature that greeted me warranted it, I went off every morning for a run come route march up into the nearby forest and beyond before returning for a shower and breakfast. I wanted to maintain my fitness level for one thing, but it was also important to me to get to know the area well and fulfil my interest in the local natural history.
I began to formulate new ideas for my future, not wanting to find myself tied to the day to day running of a small business for ever, although I kept them to myself for the time being. I had plans to soak up knowledge of the wilderness, hone my outdoor skills to the point where I could one day offer my services as a guide, maybe even get involved in the conservation of the area when I felt it time to move on.
There is a cliché included in a well known song which states that the darkest hour is just before dawn. This is so very true literally and the first part of my early morning trek was always a bit tricky, negotiating the rocky slopes and the dark shadowy woods with just the aid of a small pen light to help me thread my way up into the vast rugged landscape. But it was well worth the risks because as dawn broke and the silvery monochrome of the night turned gradually to glorious technicolour, the true majesty and splendour of the Cascades was revealed to me in all of its breath taking glory. Every morning the scene that greeted me appeared untouched as if I was the first person to have ever trodden those paths.
With the light continuing to improve I would start to see the signs and tracks of other inhabitants of the territory. I might spot a paw print on a flat rock damp with dew showing where a wild cat, maybe a lynx or even a cougar had slunk away just seconds before upon hearing me approach. A marten or mink may have abandoned a large fish carcass on the bank of a stream and a raven or some small hawk would be gorging itself on the still wet flesh. I often caught far off glimpses of coyote, shyly disappearing into the undergrowth as I hiked and jogged noisily on my way.
Dawn was also the time when the place came alive audibly. One morning I heard for the first time, far off in the distance, a sound that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Wild wolves. It began as a single, haunting, mournful wail before growing in volume and pitch. After several seconds it reached a crescendo then cracked and faded to almost nothing. At that point another joined the first, taking the lead, and then another. Soon it was impossible to tell how many voices had joined the choir. In perfect harmony the wolves performed an unbroken melody which I swear they were singing for me alone. Carried on the gentle morning breeze, uncontaminated by other sounds it was the call of the wild I had read about in books but never dreamed I would experience first hand. In these surroundings the chilling lament seemed to connect with my very soul. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and stood up. The almost extinguished remnants of a primeval instinct somewhere deep inside me was urging me to run but I ignored the sensation and stood still, listening in awe and completely enthralled.
My descriptions of my experiences, retold each morning over breakfast didn’t seem to impress Peter very much. He was really a city man, more concerned with building a successful business out here rather than fitting in as part of the local community. He was a petrol head through and through and only took a partial interest in the great outdoors. I failed to see how he could live in this environment and not be seduced by the splendour of the Cascades, but it wasn’t my place to try to change his outlook. Each to their own.
Kathleen however, despite also being from the city, showed a much greater enthusiasm for our surroundings and began to accompany me on some of my early morning forays into the wilderness. She wasn’t as physically fit as I was but keen to improve her stamina and maintain her well being. I was happy to make allowances for her, travelling a little slower and not quite so far on the occasions that she joined me out there. The pay off for me was the pleasure of her company and the warm feeling I got from explaining what I could about the things we saw. I could see that she thoroughly enjoyed our outings together and I began to look forward to them more and more.
In the space of a couple of weeks Kathleen’s fitness improved dramatically. Her muscles hardened and her skin took on a healthier glow. The changes might have been caused by the physical work on the Kirby place that we had all vigorously embraced as much as the voluntary exercise but it didn’t matter. In my eyes she became more beautiful than ever. I frequently had to give myself a damned good talking to, well aware that it would not be the best of ideas to rock the boat by getting too friendly with her. Easier said than done though.
One particularly bright morning, Kathleen and I were resting in the cover of some trees after a hard slog up a steep track. There had been a light dusting of snow during the night. Not much, just enough to have settled into some of the cracks and recesses and to icily coat the northern side of the rocks which littered the exposed expanse of the escarpment. Lying on my front I was meticulously surveying the view ahead through my small but powerful binoculars which I’d now got into the habit of carrying with me whenever I went out. Not for the first time I sensed Kathleen’s gaze on my back. I lowered the bins and turned just as she settled beside me.
“What have you spotted?” She asked, taking the binoculars from me and looking in the direction that I had been.
“Right over there,” I replied, pointing. “Just where that trail comes out of the trees by that big rocky outcrop.”
“I’ve got it. What am I looking for?”
“I thought I saw a person there, some weird looking old bloke with a bushy white beard leading a donkey. I think he’s disappeared again now though.”
“Really.” Replied Kathleen, taking the binoculars away from her eyes and turning to look directly at me. “Do you think it might have been Father Christmas?”
A smile played at the corners of her mouth as her eyes locked on mine. She was lying very close to me, unbearably close. I could feel the warmth of her breath on my chilled skin. It would have been the most natural thing in the world for me to have leaned even closer and kissed her mouth. Instead it was she who kissed me. A delicious kiss. Her mouth was soft and tasted slightly of salt, a residue of the dried sweat lingering on her top lip after our brisk trek up the mountainside. There was no resisting her, not for me. I don’t think any red blooded young man would or could have done. A voice was yelling at me in my head telling me to stop but it was too late, I had no intention whatsoever of stopping. My blood was up and I was consumed by the situation entirely. Without hesitation we became locked together in a sublime, passionate embrace and made love right there under the trees, among the rocks, under the huge sky in the fresh invigorating air.
It was sensational. It had been a good few months since my last sexual encounter and looking down at that beautiful face, framed by the mass of thick dishevelled hair and flushed with excitement as I entered her, things came to an explosive climax far too soon but it didn’t seem to matter. I already knew by then that there were going to be many more liaisons like this to savour. I didn’t have any feelings of guilt afterwards and I was pretty sure that Kathleen didn’t either. What we’d just done had seemed to be the most natural thing in the world and during the relaxed aftermath of our love making, as passion subsided and I came back down to earth I could only revel in the feeling that I was the luckiest man alive.
It would have been perfect if we could have stayed there a while, had the time to make love together a second time but more slowly and with more feeling but we couldn’t. It was time to make our way back down the mountain to where another gruelling day’s work awaited us. I was going to have a smile on my face all day though that was for sure.
“Perhaps it really was Father Christmas heading into those trees.” I said as I pulled my sweatshirt back over my head.
“Well if it was, I hope he didn’t mind me opening my present early.” replied Kathleen as she reached over and zipped up my flies for me with a flourish.
So it began. The roller coaster of a life I had been leading over recent years appeared to have reached its zenith and was poised to plummet out of control to a destination unknown. I had the feeling that I was going to have to hang on very tight.