Archive for the 'Longer Stories' Category

I had been writing stories for a lady who had to go visit her family and get in some great shopping (one of her passions) for the Christimas holidays. Since it was cold both here and there, I offered to provide warmth over each of the days that she was gone, in this case from Christmas eve and for the next 8 days.

Day 1 – Deserted Islands

It had been a joke, a reference to an old email story I had written, but we had decided to give it a try, and now, as the small boat chugged towards the horizon we found ourselves on a desert island in the middle of the pacific for 7 days. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and laughed, mostly in disbelief that we would do something like that.

As we had been warned, there was no housing, no facilities, and our only connection with the land in case of emergency was a satellite phone safely stowed in a waterproof case. This was the first thing we had checked when the packsacks containing our supplies were offloaded.

Walking a bit inland from the beach was a tour into the past of our species. We were not allowed to cut any of the trees (and there were other rules that we had to read and sign as well), so we did a quick reconnaissance for a cave. Others had been here before, and from the testimonials on the web page, had enjoyed it thoroughly, so we figured there would be no lions and tigers and bears…. As a matter of fact there was a path that led up, and it was up to us how far we wanted to get away from the beach. We settled for a flat area flanked by two valleys that came down from the mountain above. The peak was obviously a volcano, and you had asked on the boat when was the last time it erupted. All that got was a shrug from the boatman, but, looking at the dense forestation of the island it was obvious that the last one had been many years, if not centuries, ago. No smoke, no worries….

I asked you why we were not going to camp down near the clear stream we could see running through the valley, and you looked over and gave the correct answer “Because I do not want to go through a flood like the one we saw in St. Lucia”. Satisfied with the educational part of our journeys, I turned, as you explained to me that the valleys must have been carved out by water rushing down from the mountains in a rainstorm. I just smiled. I enjoy when we can connect the dots and go back to a previous voyage and join it up to one of the current ones. Makes me feel like all this travelling is worth something.

The sun was starting to go down, and I hustled a bit to put up the light spring form tent, and run down to the spring for water. The walk back up was going to be my exercise for the day, and I fully intended to bring down a larger container next time and arrange for some sort of storage up top. Just below the campsite, I noticed a small overhang with a bowl like area underneath it. In the morning I would make two or three trips and fill this bowl, so that when we needed water, we would just have to go a few feet. The overhang would keep it out of the sun and the rock would keep it cool… You liked the solution and gave me one of your wonderful smiles that I get as a reward for having done something smart in your eyes. I looked forward to solving more conundrums in the days ahead.

I gathered dried fronds, and two rotten but dry logs and prepared a fire that we would light later in the evening. I asked if I should try to make a bow to start a fire by friction, and you pulled a bic out of your sack… with a large smile, the one when you have done something clever in your eyes. I was quite sure that, barring something unforeseen, we were set for the night and looked around. I saw a plateau up above us and proposed climbing up there and back before dinner, just to look around from a higher vantage point and plan tomorrow’s forays. You agreed, but, before leaving, you took my arms and turned me around toward the ocean.

I realized that not only was our campsite safe, dry and secure, but the view was magnificent as we looked down on the large beach, then over at one or two smaller ones and out over the ocean. There was no land to be seen at all from here which meant that the closest land must be more than 10 miles away. I was admiring the view when you became practical, and started us up the rocky path to the plateau. “Enough time for stargazing later, let’s find out what this ledge of yours has on it”.

The climb was tougher than it looked, and there were times when we both used each other to get over rocky areas, or around blocked off pathways. Eventually, the plateau was before us, as we had not realized that we had actually climbed above and behind it on our way up. Here the view was even more spectacular. Two volcanic islands could be seen in the distance this time, small grey bumps above the ocean. There was a water pool toward the back and the whole area was smooth and covered with a soft white dust. I thought of moving the campsite here until you pointed out a piece of cloth tangled in a tree downhill from the edge. You realized before I did that this was the remains of a tent that had been swept off this plateau during a heavy rainstorm. This would become a spectacular waterfall in the event that it rained and I would rather be watching it from a dry place. “I hope no one was hurt” you said, and I admired that your first thought was of others.

“So do I”.

Slowly our eyes scoured the landscape. Points of interest were pointed out, including a nice site far towards the end of the island where we could spend the night if we decided to go the whole circumference of the island.

You touched my shoulder gently, and pointed at the sun. I agreed and we started down the rocks toward the campsite before the shadows became dangerous.

We reached camp long before the sunset, and had a gentle fire going after the sun went down. The wonderful thing was that there were no mosquitoes at all, although we had seen dragonflies and other insects. Before going to sleep I killed the fire with sand and looked up at the night sky. It is amazing how many stars there are in the sky when seen from a truly remote place. They were like snowflakes on a ski hill and I can understand the religious instincts that our ancestors had felt.

You snuggled up against me as we pointed out constellations, then realized that we were in the southern hemisphere so none of what we know counted except for Orion, but that was where “your” star was anyway, so we smiled and made up our own constellation. The night was warm and wonderful, having you hold me made it perfect, and falling off to sleep with you in my arms, I knew there would be more stories on this island for the rest of the week that we were here.

Somewhere in the night a bird called out, but, I must confess that this was the last thing I heard.

Day 2 – A long walk on a short Island

The morning sun was already partway up the sky when I opened my eyes. The wonder of the late night sky had kept us away far beyond our bedtime. You were already up and puttering around the edge of the camp, but turned and smiled as you saw me move..

“You should have woken me up”

“I just wanted you to get some rest, that is what this vacation is all about”

Again the caring side of you amazed and pleased me.

I turned and reached into the backpack. “Merry Christmas” I said, and handed you a slim packet, hidden amongst the supplies. You opened it to find the gold bracelet you had admired on our last trip down to New York. The only difference were the three small rubies I had made the jeweler embed In the gold.

“How could you have gotten this?” you said. “I was with you all the time”. The smile told me you knew what the three rubies were, and they were a bit bigger this time out, and the bracelet immediately went on your arm… “I want a tan line for when we get home…”

“Sometimes it is good to be sneaky and resourceful”, I responded.

“Merry Christmas”, you kissed, and I realized that my present came every day of every year… “I had almost forgotten that today was Christmas… but come over for breakfast”.

I stretched up and out of the thin bedding and went over to find a fire and a small breakfast, with knife and fork and……. A small walkman like device that I had talked about using to replace my phone, memo. GPS, etc…. “So you can always lead us to wonderful adventures” you said, and I had my breakfast, my love of gadgets and you fully satisfied.

“Where did you hide this?”

“Are you sure you want to know?”, and I decided that I did not, as some things are better being wonderful mysteries.

The day was beautiful and had a touch of chill in the air, which was a bit of a surprise at these latitudes, but I realized that the air was coming in from the ocean and providing the air conditioning for the morning only. I would be best served to dress lightly and wear lots of the sunscreen that you always insisted I wear (and without which I would be a burning bush somewhere along the trail). Here is where I admired your tanned skin, which seemed to worship the ray, and yet I knew that you had probably already been up and protected yourself long ago.

We decided to explore the long end of the island, and took along two days food in case we had to sleep overnight. Taking the beach would have been the easy way, but the panoramic view of the plateau last night had revealed a trail just a bit above us that seemed to go in that direction. Finding the trail was easy, and it did take us towards that end of the island. I thought a bit as to what had made the trail, as it seemed wide for a game trail and fairly well used, and figured that there was either some animal life running along here, or all tourists discovered this trail rather easily. Whichever was the case, this was an excellent road and we made good time along the ridge of the mountain above us. At first I led, just to test what we were getting into, but after a while, you walked into the lead, and I had to admit that the view improved markedly.

Every once in a while an opening would appear in the trail and the ocean would appear framed, expansive, blue surprising and wonderful. These became a wonderful excuse for a moment’s pause, a hand being held, once or twice a small kiss, or two bodies leaned together for mutual strength or comfort, and then we would be off on the trail. You would stop from time to time to exclaim over the beauty of a flower or a frond along the side of the path, and one of the framed openings had you running downhill about 50 yards to examine a tree that was all flowers and stood cream and white against the green forest. These we saw more and more as we neared the end of the island…. Whole groupings of flowering trees coming to greet us like a built in florist shop. I christened them “Our Poinsettias” in honour of the day, you just called then “oooooh they’re pretty!!”.

The end of the trail jumped up from behind a bend, and we were on a large slope of very soft grass which led to a huge beach.

“This must be where most hurricanes come ashore, pushing sand, and uprooting any shrubs or trees that dare to grow over its’ territory.”

Behind us, the forest arose strong and united, while in front of us was a free zone, meant to run in like children. I wondered what type of grass this was that it grew so soft and feathery, and looked for seeds that I could stick into a pocket and try to grow at home. The time of year must not have been right, for no seeds were to be see, only the vast green lake. We walked to the side of the lake and re-entered the forest as the path appeared again in front of us. Another half hour or so would get us to the end of the island and we would be able to see the famous view… The other side of the mountain.

A noise in front of us was a jolt of reality in a picture postcard walk, and I walked with you off the trail, just to be safe. That turned out to be a good thing as about one minute later about 15 wild pigs came down the path like a freight train, and showed us what maintained the path. It was almost like something in an old cartoon, and I could imagine the railway gates with the flashing lights and the “ding-ding-ding” sound as the herd passed. 20 seconds later quiet descended back on the jungle and we got back on the trail.

“I wonder what preys on the wild pigs?”. Just a thought as we headed onward.

A new sound was up ahead, a thunder that kept increasing in volume as we got closer. I heard you gasp, even over the sound as we came out of the forest, and I came up beside you to see what you have observed. It was a dream, or a movie. There was a large waterfall, coming from about 100 feet overhead and spraying into the ocean. The path continued through the back of the waterfall, and although we have all seen this in the movies, usually with the way too good looking leading man leading the terrified but extraordinarily scantily dressed actress towards or away from danger, this was an opportunity to be soaked in warm fresh water and to feel the spray and the steam all over our bodies. When we came out the other side, we went back for a return ride, laughing like children, for this was too beautiful, too unreal.

Finally we were able to tear ourselves away from the fall and continue around the end of the island.

The two sides could not have been more different, and we resolved to stay near the waterfall for tonight as the sun started to get lower, and we just lay back in the afternoon sun, drying off and singing holiday songs in the key of waterfall.

Day 3 – Boxing Day

Daylight found us soaked to the skin in the warm air. The wind had shifted overnight and the soft spray from the waterfall had drifted in the direction of our nice dry campsite. The air was so warm though that it did not feel uncomfortable or wake us up,

You came up the hill to find me playing with my new toy, trying to find a map of this island on the GPS. As a matter of fact, there was no island mentioned in the GPS at this location. I mentioned that I had texted the location to my son, just in case, and the satellite internet function worked like a charm. You had known, always known I guess, how much I loved the technologically advanced toys that our current world provided us, and had made a wonderful choice. I thanked you again, and was rewarded with one of THOSE smiles.

“By the way, it is 1263 miles to the nearest mall with a boxing day sale” as I glanced up from my device, and you sighed… One of your great hunting days of the year and you were on a desert island with a little boy playing with his toy… I saw you move the bracelet on your arm and there was a very faint silhouette there. You smiled and moved it back into place.

The backside of the island was a sheer cliff face as far as we could see and it looked as if someone had come along and chopped a third of the island off. It rose to an immense height from the water and waves crashed against the bottom, where large rocks could be seen. These had obviously fallen from the side of the cliff, and I mentioned that we should not get too close to the edge. You asked if we were going to go up the cliffs, or go back the way we had come, and I left it up to you. You thought about it for a while as I cooked breakfast, and decided that we had not come 14000 miles to wus out, so, after breakfast and a shower near the waterfall, we set out, hand in hand.

There was no path up to the heights, but we found that, by climbing a few very steep hills and helping each other around tight places we could get there. The climb was worth it even though we are not, by nature, hiking or even very long walking people except for the way too fast exercise walks you get us out on from time to time. To our right we could now see the full extent of the waterfall as a river that came down from the top of the mountain, fell into the sea, and created beautiful rainbows. We rested there, enjoying the beauty (and I have to admit that I looked at the scenery every once in a while) for 20 minutes, then started down the island spine. The forest grew right up to the edge of the cliffs and we could see trees leaning out into mid air from time to time, testifying to the continued erosion of this side of the island. We soon stumbled upon of another of what we had come to call the “pig paths” and followed it. It tended more inland, assuring us that the pigs were intelligent enough to avoid doing high dives into the sea from here.

Occasionally, the path would traverse the top of a hill, and we would be able to see over the terrain. On one of these we stopped for lunch, as all around the hill were planted banana trees, filled with fruit.

“Come over here”, you motioned, and pointed to a small pineapple rearing its’ head from the ground. Looking around we found another and another. This time we looked carefully around the hill and halfway up the inland side we saw the foundations of a house. Walking over we saw that it was simple rock and mortar in a box and cross format that had once held a sizeable house level on the side of the hill. There were the remains of a ditch across the uphill edge and down each side that probably handled rain water coming down the hill.. We wondered what had happened to the house and why it was on this side rather than at the top where there would be less runoff and a much better view.

The first was answered by you, when you noticed the remains of a roof about 50 yards away, held up in the air by banana trees that were probably lifting it higher and higher each year as they grew. To have gone there it must have been blown off by a very strong wind, or hurricane. This explained the placement of the house as the wind would have come in from the ocean and the hill would have provided protection from that wind. Not enough for the final flight of the roof it appeared. The second reason was fairly obvious once the first had been figured out. Here you only got the evening and late afternoon sun, and it would have been cooler during the day… So there was method and reason to the builders location… We did notice that we were in shade here and that there were far fewer trees on this side and no pineapples, but it did show that at one time this island had been inhabited, and by a western person or family.

We walked back to the top of the hill and dug up a few of the pineapples. They were more tart than the pineapples we are used to, and somewhat smaller. We discussed if that might be because they were not yet fully grown and therefore not ripe, or that the size and taste were the hallmarks of a different variety. As neither of us were nature people, we left the surmise until the internet became available again, took a picture or the pineapple, and one of the house and the roof (as you chided me softly that I will always find a use for my new toys), and then continued with our lunch, now with the added taste of bananas and a shared pineapple. We found bunches of bananas on the ground some of which were ripe, some green, and most over ripe or disintegrating and took some of the ripe and some green to supplement our supplies. It was now clear that these had been cultivated here, but were long abandoned.

After lunch, the trip to the other end of the island continued… During the late afternoon we heard the freight train of the pigs again and by now were thinking that these were probably the remnants of the livestock that had escaped, or been left on the island after the inhabitants of the house had left. Once again we pulled off into the forest a bit and the pigs ran on by. It was a different group from yesterday as there were one or two that were quite large. Why they always ran though, especially in the heat was a mystery…

The sun was starting to go down now and we pressed a little faster to make the next hill, about two thirds of the way down the island, for the night.

When we reached the hill, we found a small stream, with warm running water at the base of the hill, which was just perfect for a bath for both of us. As well it would provide fresh water. The stream was as clear as crystal, and I emptied the contents of my canteen into yours. I then filled my canteen with water from the stream, and told you that we would boil it tonight and drink from yours in the meantime. I had learned to be careful about food and water, for although I am fearless (read stupid here) in these matters, you are more careful, and I have learned in the past that this has a value in keeping me safe and sound.

We washed our clothes as well as ourselves and trekked up to the top again, to lay the clothes on rocks still hot from the afternoon sun and watch them steam dry. It also had the effect of ironing them to the shape of the sloping rock…

I went in search of firewood, feeling very virtuous, caveman and provider and we shared the canned provisions with the addition of some of the bananas and a sour pineapple. All in all though it was perfect and peaceful, the sunset was truly spectacular and I was very glad that we had the adventure in our spirits that allowed us to venture into terra incognita and investigate.

As the stars came out and the campfire got lower, we heard a canine howl from far away, and knew why the pigs ran and what preyed on them…

Day 4 – Somewhere there’s a sale to get to

I woke in the morning to the feel of warm lotion being applied to my arms. I guess I had forgotten the day before, and you had noticed my arms getting red and decided to apply the lotion before I could conveniently forget. I will be very honest in that I feigned sleep for a while and just let myself luxuriate in the joy of being spoiled and cared for. Actually this was unusual, for although I get to sleep fast and sleep very soundly during the night, I am normally half awake before you are and can feel you move during the morning hours. This morning I have to put down to the long walk and the hard sun… Eventually I opened one eye and said “You missed a spot”…

“Where? …oh, you’re awake”

“And enjoying every minute”

I put on the silly (read Tilly) hat that I loved because it did shade my head and eyes, would not blow off in a breeze, and still felt cool, but you said just looked silly. You were always trying to get me to buy something more fashionable, but I went back to the old used tilly like a kid keeping the raggedy teddy bear, just because it worked and felt good. In most cases I will bow to your fashion sense, mostly because it is you who has to look at me, and I want to look as good as I can in your eyes….. you are in fact the only one that counts other than me… Sometimes, however, I will balk at something because I already have similar clothing that has become worn and proven, or whose style I prefer. I will buy and try anything, and will attempt to get used to it and see it the way you do… This does not always work though as in the case of the hat…

“Have you had breakfast?” I asked.

“Not yet“

I mixed up something small, added in some of the bananas and tossed one ripe one to you. We had started seeing small thickets of banana trees at regular intervals and felt reassured about our supplies, for we had only packed for two days, leaving most of our provisions at the main camp, and this was turning out quite a bit longer. We had also seen avocado trees, although we had not tried them yet.

Once again the sun was beautiful (as were you), and the trek started early. We were over two thirds of the way down the back of the island and the view to our right was almost always spectacular when we crested each hill. We descended to the pig path again and started off. There was a gathering wind today and it was refreshing even if it was very warm. Our bodies had become accustomed to the walking and it was beginning to be very enjoyable as the stops became less frequent and we could feel the bodies firming up even after three days. “What a wonderful exercise program this would make” you said. “I wonder if we can take the island home and put it in the basement?”.

I laughed out loud at the idea, and it stuck with me for a long time. You were right that this was wonderful exercise, for you did not even notice the time going by, and we were putting in 14 hours a day of pure effort, walking up and down hills, sometimes climbing trees to look around. Now that I was thinking of it, I did feel tighter, and it was not just because you were around…

There was a light growl on the trail in front of us, and three dogs appeared. I almost was astonished and extremely amused by their appearance as they looked like a German Shepherd / Chihuahua mix, smallish, but with a patchy brown fur over the body. I did not take the comical appearance lightly though, for these were wild dogs and no matter what their breeding, were wolves at heart. I also remembered that they could bring down a running pig and my respect snapped back into place.

There was no use running, so I just stood still, crouched down, and put out my hand with the fist down and folded into my arm. It was an invitation to sniff and experiment. For a minute, although it seemed longer at the time, the dogs just stood, then one male approached slowly and snuffed all around the proffered hand. I did now smile, did not show any teeth, but I did look him in the eye. I was not trying to dominate his pack, I was from a different pack and we did not have competing interests. I lifted my hand and stroked the back of his head, restoring a partnership that went back tens of thousands of years.

At first he moved his nose quickly to brush my hand away, but then, when I tried a second time, let me stroke his head and then scratch his back. I used my most soothing voice and told him how wonderful he was. The other two dogs had not moved at all, but now they came closer. I told you to hold out your hand as I had done and let all three smell you. You did with some hesitation, but I was very pleased that you trusted me. The two dogs, females, checked us both, then one of them let you stroke her as well.

We stood up straight slowly and started again in the trail. This time we had company and the five of us moved quickly through the forest. At one point the male stopped, put his head in the air and the four of us stopped immediately. The three dogs scattered into the forest, and I saw one of the females crouch down near the trail close to a bend up ahead. The other two had disappeared. I took your hand and moved off the trail, but kept my view on the female as best I could. It was a full minute before I felt the now familiar rumblings as the porcine freight train headed in our direction. I was amazed at the senses of the dogs, and whispered to you that you might want to watch or turn away, for I thought we might see this pack of three on the hunt any moment. I could feel your hand snake around my waist and your head was against my chest, but you were watching, for this was not some nature show, this was nature.

The train came into sight, and for a moment, I thought we had misjudged the situation as most of the herd trampled past and the female had not budged. Indeed, she seemed to have almost disappeared in the shadows.

As the end of the herd moved past, I saw a flash of white and realized that the male had made the initial attack on the large boar at the rear. The second the two animals touched, the two females came from behind, vague blurs of lightning as the boar seemed to trip and tumble. The rest of the herd ran away even faster, although, had they turned and moved en masse, the dogs would have had little chance. Five more dogs appeared from the trail behind and the boar had no chance at all. It was brutal, but in its’ own way, beautiful. It was the cleanliness of nature, and I was pleased that you were still taking in everything, although I had felt your hand grab my waist very tightly when the first attack had occurred.

The hunt was practiced and precise, going only for the one animal, and letting the alpha male take the most experienced position. I wondered if the three dogs were not alone because they had come ahead and let the rest of the pack chase the pigs into a trap. I admired the tactics, although I was not hungry or desperate enough to try them, but I knew, that if, for some reason, we were stuck on this island, I would be able to take advantage of a strategy that had been laid out so graphically.

We moved away and let the dogs have their kill as we resumed our trek. A few minutes later, we heard paws behind us and one of the females came with a meat filled bone in her mouth and laid it at you feet. I took the meat, and wrapped it in a banana leaf, then patted the dog and told her what a good hunter she was… We turned and headed onward again. The dog stayed for a few seconds, then followed in our tracks. I think we had made a friend.

“That was horrible and terrifying, but I could not keep my eyes off it”, you said. I realized that your arm was still around my waist and your head touched my chest even as we walked down the trail.

“Maybe we could use the same tactic next year. I will block the aisle to the cashmere sweaters and you will close in from behind for the kill”…. You laughed out loud and let go of my waist to give me a small love tap on my shoulder with your fist. The spell of the kill was broken, and, still feeling the impression of your arm on my back, I am not sure that I wanted it to be broken that fast.

You looked over at the bone in banana leaf that I carried in my left hand.. “Raw pork is not really my thing you know”.

“I know, but, if our small friend stays with us, it is her thing, and, if not, we will do a chant around the campfire tonight, howl at the moon, bury this bone and thank the gods of the forest for bringing us a Disney nature film on this flight”.

That brought a large laugh from you and you strode out ahead with a huge grin on your face, as I leaned down to stroke the side of the dog. “Thank you for the gift”..

The day went fast, but when we got to the end of the island, a bit after noon, we had an interesting situation. The tip had broken off and was a continuation of the cliff. The only way back to our camp was up the mountain towards the top of the volcano, and from here that looked daunting.

You looked up the slope and said “We could always go back the way we came. There is still time, and with what we pick up along the way, we have enough food.”

We decided to stop for lunch and ponder the situation. I walked back up the trail to where I had noticed avocado trees, and picked up a few from the ground. These were a lot bigger than the ones that we were used to, and although some of them were going bad, there were other that were, in the words of Goldilocks, “just right”. I took four of these and four firmer ones and came back to where you were sitting on a rock. The dog, whom we had now christened “Ben Her“ or Her for short was happily munching on the bone, apparently unconcerned that she was eating the gift that she had just given us. This turned out to be a wonderful solution to the problem, and I promised you, with a smile, that we would still howl at the moon tonight, especially since we now had a bodyguard. The avocados turned out the be delicious, and sweet, and make me wonder what we were actually getting in the vegetable stores, for these were as far above those in taste as honey is above sand… We polished off all four, and you had me go back for four more for tomorrow, as well as the harder ones which we would keep for the day after. I packed up what Her had left of the bones in fresh banana leaves…

We finally headed up the mountain, toward the summit. Exploration had been very entertaining over the last three days and we saw no reason to not trust in our luck…

The climb was exercising new sets of muscles, but we found that the exercise was serving us very well. The higher we got, the fewer trees there were and the view became more spectacular by the moment. As the trees spaced themselves further apart, I was picking up dry logs and sticks as we went up and carrying them suspended in twine behind the packsack.

Finally, as darkness started to fall, we pulled up onto a grassy plain, found a bare rock area to make our fire on and settled in. From here the sunset was more than spectacular, and we watched the sun drench itself in the ocean until it was completely gone. Her started nibbling on the bones again, and I made a nice corned beef hash with avocado (the harder ones) instead of the potatoes. I have a feeling that after the last few days and the demands of our bodies, anything would have been delicious, but this was wonderful. As the fire started to get lower, I felt, then saw, a small white presence at my side….

“Ben Him obviously” I said, and you laughed.

It was the male from this morning, and he sat there while I patted his head and back, then curled up beside me in front of the fire…

“We make a very nice family picture” and threw you my Christmas present so that you could lean it up against a rock and then run to be beside me as the delayed click of the camera went off. You settled up against my chest and I put my back against a rock and was perfectly contented as one hand held your shoulder and the other patted Ben Him more and more slowly.

Just before I went to sleep, I saw Her walk over and snuggle up against your legs. “Heaven” I said, then fell asleep.

Day 5 – Admiring your acquisitions and losses

“Oh….. My…. Gawd!!!!!”

I looked up from making breakfast, both dogs stuck their heads up. There was no panic in the voice so none of us moved… I wondered what I had forgotten…

“Oh….. My…. Gawd!!!!!” you came around from behind the bushes where you had been bathing and putting on your clothes. You were holding your pants away from your stomach, and I wondered if you had a rash, or something had run down the front of your pants, or you were just showing off… I always liked that part of your body…

“Oh….. My…. Gawd!!!!! These are my skinny shorts!!!!” The dogs were both up and near you, looking up to find out if this was play time, and not knowing what was happening…

“Can we stay in this island a bit longer. I feel like the wicked witch of the west, I am melting away….. Let’s get walking”. The look on your face was one of amazement and intense pleasure. I honestly could not see the difference, you were still beautiful, still sexy, still every bit the woman that I desired…. I felt I had to say something though… “You look wonderful, skinny and sexy”, hoping that this was the correct sentiment at a time like this….

“Ohmygawd, Ohmygawd, Ohmygawd, Ohmygawd, I love this….”

“Turn around” I said… You did… “Hmmm, the view from this side is great as well”. You sat down for breakfast as excited as if there were a one penny sale at Tiffany. “Do you believe this? How quickly can I get to a scale”.

I looked at my watch… “Three days ought to do it…”

“Oh….. My…. Gawd!!!!!”….

The dogs sat down beside me, looking over at you and once in a while at me as if to say “Do you understand this??” I patted both of them and nodded yes. Every once in a while I handed a chunk of the salted beef to the dogs and they wolfed it down instantly.

This was going to be another beautiful day, and it would be up to me to remember the suntan lotion. You had other things on your mind. You just kept looking down and pulling your shorts out… I just sat back and admired the show… But breakfast finished and it was time to resume our journey.

I squinted up towards the top of the mountain, raising my hand to block the rising sun. I could not see a path that took us up and to the right, so figured that we would just keep climbing until something appeared.

We headed out, dogs running ahead, poking their noses into every bush.

About half an hour later, Him disappeared into a crack in the cliff and then came back and barked at us. Her went into the small crevasse and then came back out and just stood there. We started ahead, but when we looked back the dogs had not moved, and were waiting for us. I turned to you, and you just shrugged. We could afford a little time. We followed Him into the crevasse, and found that it widened out and became a path running up and to the right. I was actually amazed and wondered if the dogs knew where we were going and were showing us the shortcuts. Then I wondered how long they had know we were on the island. These dogs were seeming smarter by the minute.

Him ran up ahead, and in places where the crevasse ran straight for a long time I could see him checking out all the little side paths in the wall. At one point he barked and Her ran up to be with him. I could see the two of them far ahead biting at something on the ground, but it was gone when we got there, and I was not too sure that you wanted to know what had just happened. The dogs however looked quite pleased and contented, and maybe it was my imagination, but a little better fed…

Him continued to be the scout, and after an hour, maybe more, in a very skinny canyon running straight up 30 or 40 feet on both sides, we came out on a plateau overlooking the original side of the island. I sat down on one of the rocks, and told Him how smart he was, and what a great friend he was. I remarked to you that the defile we had just come through reminded me of Petra in Jordan. With the high walls on either side threatening to fall down, and then finally the exit into something truly beautiful.

You moved over to sit beside me and just rested your head against my shoulder. “I am going to have to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe if this continues”. I just smiled as I realized that the astonishment and pleasure of this morning was going to continue throughout the day. I thought that this would be a fine excuse to roll over to Paris for a weekend and I knew you would not object to that shopping expedition.. I was pleased to see you so excited, and happy that you were enjoying the trip, for at first you were hesitant. We are not, as I have said earlier, nature or hiking people by inclination, and this was to be something truly different. To see you throw yourself into the experience was gratifying and made me feel that we had chosen something truly special. Your arm went around me, and squeezed tightly, and I felt that maybe you were thinking the same thoughts.

The view was beautiful, and from this height we could see about 10 islands. Off to our left, we could see the plateau we had climbed to on the first day, although that seemed like a long while ago now, and the road “home” was very clear.

Barking came from downhill, and we could hear the rumble of the pig express. It was amazing how much more sensitive our hearing had become just in the last few days. We were hearing much more, and some of it was making sense. Him stood and ran to the edge of the plateau… I could see him wanting to rejoin the hunt. He looked back at Her and barked. Her got up, went halfway to the edge then came back and lay at your feet. Him barked. Her just tilted her head. Him looked at me, and I said “Go join the hunt, and thank you for being our guide and protector”. A moment’s hesitation, and he vanished like a magician. I was not even sure I saw him turn and go. Her got up and walked to the edge. I wondered if she would follow, but she came back and stood just brushing your knee.

“I think we have made a good friend. She probably worries about us finding our way to home… and wants to protect us.” In this she was a bit like you. You would worry about adventures while still trusting that I, or we, would be able to get ourselves out of any trouble our venturing could get us into.

I went to the edge and saw where one of the pig trails ran about 100 yards down the slope. I did not, however, start off immediately. I looked for banana trees, or avocado trees, and seeing none of them, thought that maybe they were confined to the other side of the island.. We still had some bananas and four of the avocados that were ripening in our packsacks, and the sacks were getting lighter every day. The way down to the trail was very steep and started with a 7 or 8 foot pure drop. I let myself over the edge (and noticed that you were not the only one who was losing “padding” as you called it on their stomach) and, hanging down, dropped to the ground. You handed me over the packsacks, and as I put the second one down, I noticed Her behind me guarding the bags. I wondered how she had gotten down, but she was just shepherding us to safety and did not seem to be ready to share secrets.

You dropped your feet over the edge and I took one foot in either hand and slowly let you down. As your feet touched the ground, and while my arms were still around you, I took time to share a kiss, and to remember that our hearing was not the only thing that had improved on this voyage. You stayed in that position for a while, kissing softly and just looking into my eyes, and I felt as if life were perfect right at this moment. Her yapped as if to ask what we were doing and to remind us that there was a long trail ahead. We laughed together, and broke our embrace, the spell broken, the memory stored away, the feelings still very active.

We climbed slowly down the hill towards the path which was now completely hidden by the jungle. It was quite dark under the canopy of leaves, and sometimes the footing became unstable as the ground was soft and made up of dead leaves more than earth or rock. I kept a hold on your hand, sometimes two hands, sometimes your whole body as we “accidentally” bumped up against each other. The trail appeared suddenly as an area of firm footing first, and then a clear road through the forest.

I noted to you that the forest seemed much more dense on this part of the island, and we started to walk back to the center. Her would alternately run to the front, then jump back as if to urge us on. Once she stood stock still, with her large ears up in the air. I could neither see or hear anything, but she was aware of things that we could not be, and I trusted her enough to pull to a halt and stop breathing. I listened for anything out of the ordinary but nothing was there. You had stopped as well and were holding on to my arm. You looked up with a question on your face, but did not make a sound. For about two minutes nothing moved, then Her relaxed and so did we. She turned around as if to say “Nothing to be worried about”, and went on. We started up again, and you asked “Any idea what that was about”. I just shrugged. I like to think that I know a lot, and that I can figure things out very quickly, but this was Her’s area of expertise and I knew enough to just trust and follow at times when I did not know enough.

The pig path rose to a hill and the sunlight felt wonderful on our (protected) skin. We sat down for a small break, not because we were tired, we seemed to have boundless energy that was serving us very well day and night, but because we knew we had time and just wanted to savour this moment in time, our time. We looked around and I saw a banana tree sticking it’s head up in a clearing. I motioned you to stay and went to gather some of the ripe ones. It took only a few minutes, and we stopped for snack time, or recess as you called it…. You can take the teacher from the school, but it is harder the other way around…

We must have stayed there for an hour, and Her eventually stopped trying to shepherd us on and lay down beside the trail.. We just snuggled up together, making the warm day even warmer, but not minding at all. It was just a glorious time to be us, and I do not think that either of us wanted to take one minute away from our time. The sun was well past noon, and we debated for a minute as to whether we would go on and hope for another hill, or stay here for the night. The plateau was clearly in view, and whereas we knew that we could not make it today, we would be there tomorrow and could make our way down to our campsite. We opted for the next hill and set out at a fast pace. Her heartily approved and ran ahead and behind, alternately scouting and herding, obviously feeling very maternal and in charge.

“Look”, you exclaimed, and I saw that you were pointing at one lone avocado tree that was full of fruit. We now knew that they grew on this side, but had not seen the groups of trees that were on the other side.

“Possibly other tourists like us, eating the avocado then throwing the seed into the brush…”

We ate one of the ripe avocados each, gathered 4 hard ones, and, when finished, carefully planted the seeds in the hope of pleasing another set of wanderers in the years ahead.

The find was wonderful as it gave us a burst of pleasure at finding what we were beginning to gather as “our” tricks and secrets on this island, and we felt a sense of possession and inclusion as, one by one, the island let us see a bit more of itself. We pushed on, and, as the afternoon started to turn into evening, found another hill with a clearing at the top, just off the trail.

Here we stopped for the night and as the stars came out and the darkness settled in we heard Him’s soft call in the distance.

Day 6 – Familiar happenings and the home territories

The next morning you were still playing with your shorts, pulling them down over your hips, sliding them around, and I thought it must be my birthday in some time zone.

“Yes, Virginia” I called out “you are smaller, now get over here for breakfast”.

You hurried over and gave me a huge hug and a small kiss, then sat down for breakfast. The smile was nowhere near gone from your face… Her was still chewing on the pork bone, and would grab the last of the corned beef when I threw chunks over. She had also gotten quite fond of fried avocados and I would do some cubes up on the flatiron we carried, then as I let them cool on the rocks, she would come over and snuff at them until she decided they were cool enough for her tongue, then they would be gone in a few snaps of her head.. It was cute to watch..

We set out at a quick pace, and usually kept to it, stopping once or twice to pick the infrequent avocados, or the more frequent bananas. You would also stop every time we arrived at a beautiful flower, and although they were not orchids, they had that look and feel to them and were, at times, quite spectacular. There was one that had very sweet petals, and I gathered a group for a salad, then chewed on the one I had tasted for a while to make sure there were no side effects, like death or worse, diarrhea … The flower went down well and held its’ sweetness for quite a while. We were encountering more open areas now, with small field flowers. I had gone into a few of them to see if any pineapples had made it around to this side although none had been found yet, and had actually planted the top of one we had brought along in the hopes that it would emulate the avocados and serve future trekkers.

There were no pig trains today, but, coming out in one area we had seen a fairly large group either resting or rooting around in a field. It was nice to know that they did not spend all their time on the trails running for their lives. Her hardly looked at them, although she had checked them over when we first came into the field. They did not seem disposed to run, and she made no threatening moves toward them. I began to wonder if the dogs had a feeding schedule and would drive the pigs onto the trails and into traps. If so, these dogs had worked out a nice farming arrangements. I went over to check out Her for opposable thumbs, just for a laugh… Given a few million years and a break or two, the dogs could get a nice civilization going. I guess that this was just pride in what we had come to consider “our” dogs on this island, but, looking over at Her, I figured that she probably considered us “her” humans and she was having a good time playing mother and herding us in the right direction.

We descended onto the trail again, and while in there, I started to hear raindrops on the leaves. No drops reached to the floor of the forest, but, after about 10 minutes, I could see small rivulets of water beginning to seep across the trail. I could see a hill slightly ahead and to our left at one of the clearings, and we started to move quickly in that direction. You stayed for a minute and watched the uphill side of the mountain before following, then leading, and I knew your thoughts were going back to St Lucia. We did make the hill, but it was completely up in the open. The good part was that there were no trees on the hill to attract lightning, and taller trees both uphill and down. I got out the plastic ground sheet and made a small, lie down tent with the backpacks piled in the center to make a tent pole. You and the dog snuggled under the sheet, while I gathered rocks to put around three of the sides. Then I crawled under to be with you just as the heavy rain came in.

The fact that we were at the top of the hill kept the rain out, although it ran like a waterfall whenever we lifted the front flap a bit. I reached over and put my hand on your back… “Just checking if you were wearing a bra” and you laughed and made a face, but it did bring the fact that we had been in rains just as bad or worse than this, and you were calm and relaxed as this was familiar territory for you. Her was intrigued by the tiny tent and although once or twice she barked when we opened the front flap, she stayed put and seemed to enjoy being the dry dog on the island. She was going nowhere at this time.

For about 15 minutes it rained very hard, but there was little wind, and I had no fear for the main group of supplies back at our home base under the plateau. We had battened everything down, precisely because of our experience with tropical rain, and put it in a place that instant rivers would run around.

After the rain came a fine mist, and the skies remained dark. We decided that a little rain would not hurt us and you pulled on a rainproof poncho before we took away the tent.

We went down the hill carefully, not knowing what type of soaking or erosion the land has suffered, but it was quite firm, and showed no signs of the mudslides or rivers that we had feared. The path was almost dry in places, and although there were rivulets that cut across the trail at irregular intervals, it showed no signs of mudslides or cataclysmic shifts. I was getting to appreciate this island more and more.

Another hour of marching brought us out right above our base camp. You immediately headed for the hidden supplies which were still where we left them, and completely dry despite the fact that there were still rain puddles in the area of the campsite. The first thing you did was strip off the clothes you had been wearing for the last 5 days and change. If I had know that all it took to get your clothes off was a tour around the island, I would build a tramway… But I understood the necessity, and packed my clothes in the dirty hamper as well and put on new everything. There is only so much dirt you can get off in a stream, and now that the fresh clothes were on, and a touch of cleanup and face shaving done, I realized that the dogs could probably have sensed us from the other end of the island the way we were.

You ran up to me “See, another pair of tight shorts ready to fall off”, and I hoped that this was an invitation, but knew it to be a happy observation. It was not the shorts that had stretched, it was the body inside that had readapted to 10 hours a day of walking. “We might as well have taken advantage of the exercise while it was there”, but you did look marvelous…. It was more the happy smile on the face than any change in bodily attributes that made you so attractive, but at that point I remembered all of the reasons for loving you.. and they were all very good reasons.. and there were so many of them.

“Come on, let’s go swimming!” you shouted, and you changed into your smallest swim suit and headed for the beach… I changed, again, and walked slowly after you. I do have to admit, you looked very good in that little bikini, and I knew how good you felt, for you had bought it to please me and had almost never worn it, now it had bounced to the top of you favourites chart. I watched you as I came down to the beach, and you were looking yourself over and wishing there were a mirror and scale nearby. I always laughed at this, for you looked at every tiny detail, and I just saw the wonderful beauty.. But that’s the way you are, and I loved the whole package. I came close to you, kissed you lightly, and moved the bracelet a bit on your arm. You have always been the one easiest to tan, and now the difference between the skin and the white shadow of the bracelet would drive your friends crazy back in Montreal. I still looked like a pink polar bear with freckles, but I ran for the water and dove headlong into the waves (after looking very closely during my run if there were any rocks among those waves). The water was very light azure and very, very clear. Even underwater I could see for a good distance, and I felt comforted by the slow pace of the fish, and the abundance of species visible just in the shallow waters. I stood up chest deep in the surf and grabbed a handful of sand from the bottom to scrub the sweat and dirt of the past 5 days off. I felt the wonderful warmth of the water as it flowed in and out around my body.

Suddenly I felt a pair of arms around my shoulders as you ran up and climbed on my back and I became your water horsie for the moment. I loved the feel of your body hugging mine and put my hands up to gently massage your forearms, then higher to bring your lips around for a kiss. I let myself fall a bit forward until the water was at the level of my shoulders and let both of us bob like a cork in the waves. It was a moment of weightlessness in a sea of green, and you lay your head on my back and just held on, snuggling up against me, for you knew that, in water, with me, you would never be in trouble.

I took this responsibility to heart and started checking my surroundings, using the knowledge of an older, wiser and live dive instructor to see if there were currents, or undertow, bird or fish that could cause concern…. Nothing was visible on the surface, or on a quick look under the waves. I checked the bottom for rocks and deeper areas and was quite satisfied for the moment that we were in a wonderful place. I looked back towards the beach and saw Her sitting under the trees, guarding us. I waved at her and she got up and barked, but then sat down again in the hot afternoon sun. The one thing I did know was that I would have to go under or back in within 20 minutes for a refill of the suntan lotion I had just sanded off, but now I was just content to be with you…

I have never noticed the vision sweeps I give around me, much like you never notice yourself checking the rear view mirrors when you drive, unless there is something that is out of the ordinary in them. I noticed a small movement offshore that cut the surface for a second then disappeared. I slowly started to go to shore, not because of something I had seen, more because of something I had not seen. I did not realize it, but some part of me had taken account of the fact that there were not as many fish around, and, although it might have been us, I decided that suntan lotion was the better part of valor and backed slowly toward the land.

You were still piggy back on me, and I did not want to become a piggy right at this second, as I had see what became of them on this island. You raised your head and asked if I wanted you to get down, but I said no, and put my hands under your knees to take up the support that the water was no longer giving you. I looked up to see that Her was standing and looking out to sea. She did not bark and looked at us from time to time, and then back out toward the waves. I walked onto the dry beach and slowly let you down. You went over and retrieved your towel and lay on your front to catch some more sun.

I walked back down to the shoreline and began to look very much like Her. I would scan, but nothing was there, and then breathe the air in, and scan again. My instincts told me that something was happening and I did not know whether it was going to be tropical storm or boat or something more sinister. Just 5 feet from my feet, a long dark shape flashed by, probably 6-7 feet long and moving like a jet…

From the color I judged it to be a nurse shark, but why it would be active during the day was a puzzle. Her had seen the flash and was down beside me in an instant. Two sharp barks to tell the intruder to go away and then she just stood there very alert, very tense, very protective. I reached down and petted her and she calmed down… You got up and came to the waters’ edge. There was nothing to be seen now, but I put my fingers to my lips and said with my face “wait”…

A minute later two of the brown shapes came very slowly from left to right, and you jumped back and held on to my arm at the same time. This time your “ohmygawd” was said all in one letter… “Move back!!”. You still had my arm, and were pulling me back away from the water, but I stayed. I turned and said “Move slowly, but come here. They are nurse sharks, and they hunt an night. There must have been the remains of a kill around here that they are looking for. It might even be the taste of my sweat that is still in the water.”

“They will not attack unless we attack them, and are very slow on land, or in one centimeter of water. Don’t worry, just watch, they are quite beautiful”.

I saw the “I am not sure about this, are you?” look in your eye, but slowly you approached the water one inch of my arm after another. It took a long three or four minutes for one more to come by, this time even slower than the two before. I could see a group of them just offshore, swimming in large circles. Over the next fifteen minutes they dropped to the bottom and just lay there, sometimes one on top of another, looking like a small rock mound in the ocean. We moved around the beach to get a better look, Her’s eyes never leaving the black splotch on the sandy bottom.

“Gorgeous” I said, and this time I did not mean you, although you are always gorgeous to me.

“You are the one who thought the pig kill was beautiful, so I am not so sure that I will adopt your point of view right at this second.”

“I am just going to go down beside them for a moment” as I took one step towards the water.

“NO!” and I think that the whole island heard you. The birds stopped making noise, and even from here, I could hear a freight train of pigs come to a halt.

I laughed. “I was just teasing, although I am fairly sure that it would be safe, I am not willing to take that chance with you around.”

Nothing moved down there, although, after a while, one more dark shape came to join the pile on the bottom. The birds started making noise again, and the gentle breeze once again started to move. From up the hill I heard a bark, and Her looked around as Him dashed around a corner at full speed.

“Now that is a powerful ‘NO!’”, I said, as Him screeched to a halt in the sand. Her went over and rubbed muzzles and then walked back under the tree as if to say that the excitement was over and everybody could go home.

I was touched that the one time you had called out, Him had come on the double. He went over and lay down beside Her but never closed his eyes, or put his head down. He knew that something had happened, but was not sure what. I walked back with you to another set of overhanging trees and sat with my back on the tree and my front in full shade. I took your hand and pulled you down beside me, then up against me, with your back against my chest. You pulled the towel over both of us and curled up against me. “Let’s just take a small nap”.

When we woke the sun was starting to go down, and the cooler air was coming off the mountain and going out to sea. I looked over and both Him and Her had disappeared, probably convinced that we were all right. I got up and stretched, leaving you scrunched up under the towel. I looked around, but both the dogs were gone or at least were not to be seen. I went down to the shore and the brown mound of sharks had disappeared. I was not sure if I was quite ready to go back in for a swim, and did not want you to wake up and find me in the water. I have a low tolerance for getting into trouble.

I picked you up, still half asleep and carried you back up the slope to the campsite. Tonight we had a wide choice of dinners to choose from, but, looking down at you curled up in my arms, I was not too sure that we would be eating dinner tonight.

Day 7 – And God promised us a day of rest

The alarm clock went off early and I awoke to find you in my arms as usual, but the bed seemed a lot harder, and we had left the heat on again….

No, that was not the alarm clock, and I let you down gently as I got up and went scrambling for the satellite phone, securely packed. Sometimes I hate “securely packed”, as I had to unpack the wrapping, then unwrap the box, then open the waterproof case, then pull out the phone, then press the answer button, the “Good morning sir, we are just calling to find out if you are all right and to remind you to be at the same point you were dropped off for your pickup”.

I had forgotten that this was our last day, and wished we had taken 2 weeks, but it had been hard enough to talk you into one. Now, I was sure that you would have stayed the second week without hesitation. It was, however, the first time we had done this type of thing, and one week was a good tradeoff. We now knew that this could be done, and we had certainly filled up every day.

“We are fine. What time will you be here, and what time do you have now, just so we are not talking from different watches.”

“It is 6:05 now sir, and the boat will be there at 4PM”

I looked over at the sleeping bag I would be crawling back into in a few seconds and thought that 9AM would have been sufficient.

“We are sorry to call so early, but we have had occasions where vacationers were far from the landing point and needed every minute to get back. Our apologies if we woke you up”

I had to admit that this was very good mind reading, and could see the logic.

“We will be ready, we are within 100 yards of the beach”

“Sir, did you have a good time?”

“Actually wonderful, I can honestly say that… We adore the island and the dogs, and even the pigs”

“What dogs? What pigs? Did you bring dogs with you?”


“We have never heard anyone mention pigs, or dogs for that matter… Are you sure? The island has never been inhabited, and we have only been bringing people there for the past year… no dogs. Are you sure?”

“Might all be a dream… It has been that kind of week. Never mind. We will be ready by 4. See you then.”

I went back under the sleeping bag and you cuddled up against me with a murmur. An hour later you were starting to come awake.

“Were you up earlier?” you asked.

“Yeah, they called from the agency. The boat will be here at 4”

“Is the week already over? It can’t have been 7 days yet.”

You dug your watch out of the bags and looked at the date. “The time has passed quickly, but now that I think about it, we were here for the week weren’t we? I wonder if you could call them back and get a few more days?”

“Who are you, nature girl, and what did you do with my urban lady? You remember, ‘A woman’s place is in the mall’”

You laughed as you jumped up and hugged me. I got a big kiss with the laugh.

“You are going to pay for that mall remark… literally” as you held apart your thumb and forefinger “see, just right for a credit card!!”. I loved the smile on your face at that moment, trapped between two worlds at that second both perfect for you in their own way. I was happy that you had enjoyed this week, and we still had a lot of time before 4PM.

You had missed supper last night as 5 days of hiking caught up with you, and you had slept very well for at least 12 hours. I made you breakfast, and considering that we had used almost none of our supplies, were in very good shape. I had not yet become bored with the avocados, although I must admit that the bananas were beginning to pale.

We walked up the beach for less than half the time we had left and realized that this island had so much beauty attached to it, that it would take forever to exhaust the surprises. I picked up driftwood and brought it back to the campsite so that the next inhabitants would have a head start. Back at the campsite, I did the packing while you called out for Him or Her to say goodbye. They had become part of our family on the island, and I would actually miss Her’s mothering back on the mainland. There was no sign of them, and I was just as happy that there were no choices to be made.

I went down to the beach and took a sand bath with a little less drama than yesterday and by 3:45 we were ready to go. By 4 there was no boat in sight, although the skies to our east were darkening visibly. I remember that we had come in from the east and it had been a 2 hour journey. I unpacked and checked the satellite phone and, although it still had signal, there were no missed calls. I also unpacked my new Christmas toy, and found that I had a connection, so popped an email off to my son to tell him that we were leaving the island today and to follow up on this is he had not heard from us in 6 hours. I then sent an email to the travel company asking if there had been a delay in the boat. After I had sent that, I checked my emails to find out if there were any notifications from them, but they did not know that I had this capability on the island and so that was a long shot. Even though it was the middle of the night back in Montreal, I was gratified to get an OK from my son just before I signed off. Last thing I did before popping it away was to go over and give you a kiss for the great Christmas gift. It was turning out better than either of us could have expected.

The sky to the east was becoming very angry and I wondered if we should unpack the tent and burrow down for an extra day here.

Just before 6 the boat came in running just in front of the storm. I asked if he wanted to beach the boat and ride out the storm here, but he said that there would be no trouble and to get in. There was another couple on board, and he explained that he was late because he had to pick them up as well. They had missed their pickup the day before from another island in the region and he was doing the pickup today. I looked at you. You had the worried look about you, but said OK and we packed everything on the boat and went down into the cabin. I kept my toy with me in the waterproof dive box that we used for our money so that I could watch the GPS and see our progress back to the big island and our hotel room. As the boat pulled out I looked back and pointed out to you two small dogs standing under a tree. The white one barked, but we could not hear it in the wind. They were very well camouflaged, and had we not known “our” dogs and see them in action, I would never have seen them.

The driver asked what I was l looking at, and I replied, “two dogs”. He told me that it was an illusion. There were no animals on the island. We smiled and, as we turned into the wind, I watched them wheel and go back to the safety of the forest.

Looking out to sea, I was beginning to think of going back to the safety of the forest for the storm was very high and coming at us very fast. I had you put on a life jacket, even thought the driver said that it was not necessary. “Think of me as over cautious and always a touch afraid” I said. The other couple did not want the life jackets either and I had to admit they were a touch cumbersome, but would provide warmth and security, and I have always told you that I am a live instructor who airs on the side of safety every time. You answered with a smile, and that determined look that told me that you trusted “us” to get through anything.

The full storm hit the boat like a brick wall, and for a few minutes the boat was actually going sideways. I strapped the waterproof box to my wrist, and reached out for your hand. While the other couple retreated into the cabin, I went out to the well of the deck and kept on eye on the sea. I could feel you beside me, holding onto my arm. “Watch the waves” I yelled through the rain, “It will save you from being seasick”. I was rewarded by seeing you stick your face above the well wall and watch the sea, and I could tell that you had been a little queasy. In a few minutes I could see that your stomach had settled down. The husband from the other couple pushed past us to get to the side of the boat. A look back inside was a picture of a woman being very sick…

The waves were getting taller and taller and a few were now crashing over the boat. The boat driver had turned us into the wind and was challenging the waves directly. The look on his face was concentrated and serious. Just that would have told me the gravity of the situation. I turned to you and checked the fastenings on your life jacket, then checked mine. This was a time for caution, not macho behavior. I offered a life vest to the driver, who took it with a nod that kept his eyes on the sea. I found one for the husband, now returning to the cabin, and he refused. I offered a second time and he just brushed past into the cabin. The waves were now going over the top of the boat and the well we were in was knee deep in water. The cabin was even deeper. This time it was the woman who burst onto deck, no life vest, no thought except to get to the railing. You grabbed at her as she went past, and when you missed, you jumped up on deck to hold her from going directly into the ocean. I sighed and jumped up after you grabbing a rail with one hand and your belt with another. I was not about to let you get away. Where was I going to find that good a kisser tonight in the middle of the Pacific?

I looked at our situation and hoped that you had not lost that much weight on the island, now would not be a good time for your shorts to slip over your hips… You had both your arms around the lady and she was trying to throw up, and to get your arms off her as first one wave tried to sweep the three of us off deck, then a second almost tore her out of your arms. Still she told you to let go. I was wishing we could have an hour at that point for a discussion of Darwinism and the necessity of removing people who would not take life vests or help from the gene pool, but there was no such luck. Your compassion was the driving force in this situation, and it was my job to back up your play.

The husband came up on deck and I took a minute to actually look around at our situation. The well behind me was full of water, and I surmised that the husband had been driven up on deck because the cabin was full of water. I wanted to point out where the life jackets were, but had no hands to point with. The driver had an exasperated look on his face, and was yelling at the man and motioning him to lie down. He was ignored as the husband went to the rail, oblivious to what was going on around him. The driver with a shrug to me, let go of the wheel to get to the husband and with that, a large wave came and took the husband away. The wife looked over and threw herself into the water, breaking your grip. You looked back at me, rolled your eyes, and pointed that you were going in after her. I wished for the Darwinism talk again but followed you into the water. Actually there was no choice this time as the boat had turned sideways to the wind when the driver went after the husband, and now a wave was turning the boat over.

We looked like a synchronized swimming team as first you went in after the woman, and the driver and I went over in tandem. The boat then followed the arc.

You had reached the woman, and she was trying to climb you. Two strokes took me over there and I grabbed her by her blouse and pulled her off. You told me afterward that you never wanted to see the expression of anger and rage on my face that I had that night as I screamed at the woman to calm down. It did get through though, and I thanked my boyhood life saving instructor for that bit of lore. I grabbed the back of your life jacket and turned you on your back, then, with the precious cargo safe, I turned the woman on her back, and towed the two of you back to the boat. I made sure that you had a good handhold on the keel rail, then threw the other woman over the bottom of the boat. With the sail in the water acting as a keel, the boat was now a lot more stable in the water. You moved over, hand over hand to help the woman who was now just collapsed over the bottom and crying.. I looked in your face, told you with a glance how wonderful you were, then looked around for the other two. The driver had the husband and was towing him back to the boat. I crabbed my way down toward the submerged bow and helped him pull the husband onto the overturned hull. It took me on one hand and the driver on the other to convince him (now there is a euphemism) to hold on.

We now settled into a moment of calm, for, although the wind was still strong, and the waves swallowed us every two minutes, there was nothing else to do but hold on. I helped the driver pull the husband towards the center of the boat, and when we had him beside the wife, I came over beside you and just hung on. You looked over at me, one hand on the rail, one hand on the wife, and, glancing down at me once again holding onto your belt, gave me a fast, rain soaked kiss. I yelled to you that I hoped that they were going to hold the plane for us, and saw a laugh on your face. I have often said in our relationship that, if I can keep you laughing, we are halfway there.

Now there was no danger or doom in the air, just determination. I was proud of the great pair that we made as parallels with St Lucia were made in my mind, and pride in your calm in the face of emergency filled me at that moment. There are, in our lives, moments of great love that threatens to burst your heart, and, although this was not precisely the location or circumstance I would have chosen for this emotion, it was here and now that it filled me, made me proud to the point of sinfulness, trusting in your strength and eager for a future with you. This was not the setting of a Harlequin romance, but this was the emotion evoked, and I was just happy to be there, silly as that might sound.

I looked and the waterproof box was still attached to my arm, so I knew that, when this blew over we would be ok.

The wind kept up its’ howl and the wave did their worst, but for us there was one task only, to hold on and be content we were alive.

Everything else would have to wait until the morning.

Day 8 – And we were supposed to be in the air

I saw the end of the storm before I felt or heard it.

Off to the east a sliver of light was on the horizon. I knew that the edge of the storm was at most 5 miles in that direction… About 20 minutes after that the wind dropped to almost nothing and the waves turned dead calm. I looked to the east again to make sure we were not in an eye. If it was an eye, it was a very large one, and would do the job for us.

I sat you up on the bottom of the boat and asked if you were all right. You gave me “I’ve been in better hotels that this, but for now this will do” look and I smiled. I looked over at the captain, for although I had called him a driver before, the capabilities and actions of last night bumped him to a captain in my mind.

The woman came to life at that moment and yelled at the driver. “What kind of a moron are you, how could you have gotten us in this situation!!!!” It was not a question, just a tirade. I held my fingers to my lips to ask her to be quiet and told her that last night the captain had a choice between saving the boat, and maybe his job, and saving her husband.

“I do not know if your husband is a good man or a bad man, I am fairly sure that the captain does not know if your husband is a good man or a bad man, but, by leaving the rudder to save your husband I know for a fact that the captain is a good man, and that is all I need to know at this time. Last night you had a guardian angel is this beautiful lady here” as I nodded toward you, “ and your husband had one in this man over here”.

“and what did you do?” the woman asked

“I was just being the quintessential me” and left it at that.

“But” the woman started to yell, and her husband came over and stopped her, then held her, and looking over at the captain said “Thank You”… very simple, and it quieted the wife.

I looked over at the captain and he smiled. “Want to try to right the boat?” I asked “I could go down and pull the mast that way and you and the others can push the keel this way.”

“No” he said “the salvage boat can do it better. We just have to worry about being found. Although we are in very little danger”. He pointed to my left and about a mile or two away there was another island emerging from the fleeing clouds.

“At least you know where we are” I said and climbing on top of the drying hull, I helped you up beside me. “Nobody move” I asked and opened my waterproof dive box that had stayed strapped to my wrist during the whole ordeal. I took out my new Christmas toy and got online with the satellite. The first words that popped up on my messenger app was “You alive?”. It was my son, and I knew that it was nighttime there and he had stayed up .

‘We are all alive, boat capsized, all ok, can you contact the boat service?’

‘They are on this session. Reached them on messenger, They don’t know where you are.’

‘Tell them we are ok, and’ I turned to the captain. “Where are we? I have the boat service and my son online”. ‘The captain tells me we are 2 miles north west of madman’s point’ I then gave them the exact longitude and attitude as per the GPS.

‘We are on our way, will be there within the hour’ It was the boat service in on the messenger session. I passed the message onto the captain.

‘Love you, my wonderful son, now get to bed, will be turning this off for an hour’

‘Love you too, just happy to see that you are all ok.. night’

I turned off the device and packed it back into the watertight case, sealing it again.

“The next time I laugh at you for your gadgets, or ask why you go diving with a stupid yellow box strapped to your arm, remind me that it is not A stupid yellow box, but THE stupid yellow box” you said with a smile, and I was quite sure that that is not a criticism I would ever hear again. I got up and pulled off my shorts (bathing suit still on from the sand bath just before leaving) and pulled my sweatshirt over my head. I looked over and you had a look on my face that told me I was going to have an interesting night tonight, and that the 7 days on the island had done more to my midsection than even I thought (I must confess that I was pulling in my stomach as hard as I could at the time, but this maneuver had not gotten “that” look for a long time). I took the yellow box off my arm and put it around yours, then winked at you and dove over the side.

Going under the boat I wriggled into the cabin. It was easy to find our two backpacks, except they were now stowed on the ceiling instead of the under the benches. I pulled them free, and they were soaked, but I still put one on each shoulder and exited the cabin to get back on the surface. I handed the bags to you one at a time and pushed as you pulled to get them up. When both of them were up there, I climbed back onto the hull of the boat.

“You would have gotten those back when we landed” the captain said.

“I know, but” and here I reached into your bag and pulled out your sunscreen, then went for mine in the pocket of my bag “ the sun is bouncing off the water as well as hitting us directly, and I would rather have your company reach us first before Smokey the Bear swims out from that island and puts my flaming body out with a shovel. You have a wonderful tan. Me, I just go up in flames”. This got a laugh from the captain, and after I had slathered the lotion on, and we had done each other’s backs. I offered some to the other couple who took it hurriedly and applied it. I dug down to the bottom of the bags and pulled out our light wetsuits, for, even though the temperature was in the 70’s the combination of the wind and the night before was even now causing you to shiver. I had hoped to do some snorkeling on the island, but time had run out and we had done things that I never could have imagined when we set out for the week. “Oh my Gawd, as you would say, we are on Gilligan’s cruise, and that makes you Gilligan”. This brought a laugh, and I was relieved in the back of my mind that our rescue would be faster and less humourous. I covered you with the ground sheet and helped you on with your suit and swimsuit. After a few minutes I saw the shivers stop and you relaxed. I put mine on, for much the same reason and also the fact that it would be added protection from the sun. That, and my silly hat, made me look silly, but I knew I was safe and that counted more at this minute.

“I am so glad that you were here last night” you snuggled up to me.

“As I said earlier, you were her guardian angel, I just watch over you, but that is my pleasure, not my duty”

Twenty minutes later we saw two large boats appear from the east. They pulled up alongside and the five of us got onto one of the boats, you and I carrying our backpacks.. The other was obviously the repair boat. An older man came on deck and pulled the driver aside. I could see the concern and a touch of anger on his face although I could not hear what was being said. I walked over and touched the man on the shoulder. I explained why the driver had left the rudder, and it was either turn a boat over or recover a drowned guest. I offered the opinion that heroes are hard to find as employees.

I like the fact that the elder man looked at the driver with a different expression, waited a while, and said “Sorry, I might have jumped to conclusions. We will talk later.”

“Thank you” he said.

“A boss always worries about his guests first and expects everything to go perfectly. These are things I understand very well, but every once in a while, things do not go as planned, or guests are not little puppets that do exactly as we want, and then, in my opinion, it is better to have a man who cares about the guest first and the consequences second.”

The “boss” just nodded and walked away thoughtfully.

I went back to you, and you were looking so small and cute, covered ankle to neck in the wetsuit, with a towel around your shoulders. I walked over and said “You know, you look like catwoman in that suit… very sexy… but the island had made you a bit too skinny…”

“No such thing” you said, but you hugged me after that, and I did notice you checking yourself out I the window glass next time you went by and there was a large smile on your face…

We got back in to harbor, and were hustled off to the hotel with the woman in the other party wondering when she was going to get her luggage. I knew that we had the suitcases that were being stored at the hotel and would provide you with fresh clothing the minute we checked in, but I turned to you and said “That is why I brought our backpacks up, think one step ahead.”

I got the “You ARE good” look and was feeling very proud of myself. Every once in a while it is good to feel good about yourself, and to have you think so, was icing on the cake.

I took the yellow box back while we were in the cab and opened it up.

‘I hope you are asleep my son, but I just wanted to thank you for everything. We are on our way to the hotel, and I will call you in your morning.’

‘Still here dad, will go to bed now that I know you are 100 percent. The girls send their love to the both of you and cannot wait to see you home. Night night for real’

I passed on the message from my son and his ladies, and you hugged my arm. I noticed that the bracelet had moved and the tan lines were very evident, but either your wrist had become smaller or your bracelet had stretched. I reached over and touched the bracelet lightly and got another squeeze out of you.

We got into the hotel room and you took an instant shower and told me you were climbing under the covers for an hour or two just for a nap. I went to retrieve the suitcases and then got on the phone with the airline to see about rescheduling our flight. As it turned out, all flights had been cancelled yesterday and we found that we had our choice of days to go back to Canada. I went over to you, and explained the situation and you chose to go back on the earliest flight possible. I booked us out the next night and then got out my computer and emailed my son as to the revised schedule. I told him that we would take a cab as the flight would arrive in the middle of a work day, and that we thanked him again and again for being there when needed.

You actually slept for 4 hours and it was dinner time by the time you got up.

We went down into the bar first to wait for a table to open up, and as we waited, people would come up to us and offer to buy a drink for us. I have to think that word had gotten around about our little adventure, but why that would earn us drinks I had no idea. At one point in the evening you noticed a tall young lady looking over at us, and asked me if I knew her. I said “no” (duhhhh) and turned away. After about 10 minutes she walked up to me and gave me a big hug.

“Friend of yours?” you asked, and I just did the guilty shrug that all men do when a tall and good looking lady walks up and hugs them in front of his lady. Then she turned, without a word and hugged you and I could not resist…

“Friend of yours?” with a relieved smile on my face.

“I am the daughter of the couple you helped last night and I just wanted to thank you”

I explained that it was you who had gone in after the woman, and the driver who had gone in after her father.

“I just wanted to thank you, that is all, it was wonderful what you both did”

“I can honestly say that I have never seen her before in my life, and MY weight loss on the island was not that dramatic”, and that got a smile from you that lasted throughout dinner.

It had been a long and tiring day, and we went back upstairs where I rinsed the wetsuits and bathing suits, soaked the clothes that had been drenched with seawater in the bathtub, then climbed into bed beside you and turned out the light.

After reading this idyll I could see the possiblity of leading out couple into adventure, so I will slowly extend this story on line and see where it leads, or if the adventure is any good

The beautiful thing, other than you lying on my lap pretending to sleep, was that there was almost no noise. The Atlantic waters lapped gently at the sides of the boat, and the sails flouffed from time to time, but for us, even the wind held its’ breath.

The air was warm, and the sun positively hot, but the shade of the sail protected us, and, as a current or a shift of air moved the boat around, a touch on the rudder would bring the sun back under control. Once in a long while I would look around lazily, and call out to the computer in the cabin “Distance to Land”, and the computer with its’ GPS would say “4 miles” or some such figure. Once it had said 6 and I had to turn the boat towards land, for weather can change in a heart beat out here, and when you are touching me, my heart always beats a little faster.

You had just wanted a day of relaxation and rest, a touch of doing nothing in a race to see as many sights and memories as possible, cameras clicking, “I didn’t remember that”’s being recorded, lunches of questionable value being eaten, and yet, in the rush, it was just the fact that you were here with me that really mattered. Some of the sights were breathtaking, but maybe that was just your hand on my arm. Some of the drives long, but we took them as a time for conversation and laughter. Some of the nights were hot, but we answered by making them hotter.

Today was our day away, our nothing day. The phone was back at the dock tucked in the trunk, the internet on the computer turned off so it served only us on this day.

I felt your hand move against my leg, and warned you with a laugh that if it were one inch higher, I could not guarantee your pretend sleep. You smiled and thought of the possibilities. I just ran my fingers, through your blond hair, excited for a second by the thought, satisfied with the situation as it was, happy that it was you under my fingers, happy that it was me that you had chosen.

An island swam over the horizon and the boat seemed drawn to it. I called to the computer to watch depth and warn at 10 feet, and was comforted at the acknowledgement of the order. The island was small and crowded with trees. No houses were to be seen, but then, there is more than one side to an island.

I pulled in the sails a bit, as you sat up and stretched and my thoughts went off down that heartbeat path again. You looked around sleepily and asked if we were going to stop on the island. I went inside and checked our position with the computer. There was an island shown here, and we were only 2 miles from shore. No name or warnings were showing on the map, so it was fairly safe to land if we should want to.

I asked what you wanted to do, and you walked to the front and dropped the anchor… I hustled to bring down sails and slow our speed quickly and looked up to see your eyes smiling with the confidence that I could perform this tiny maneuver, if only to impress you…

“Lunch will be served soon, my turn to cook” you said, disappearing into the boat. A moment later a cold can of Ginger Ale erupted from the galley and was caught, opened, and cleaned of overflow in what looked like a single motion. A few seconds later, I heard “Fore!!!” come out of the dark. Better late than never I thought and could hear the laugh floating on the wind. I felt a slight lurch as the anchor finally caught on something at about 20 feet, and slowly swung the boat around. I went aft and lowered one of the sails completely, unclipping it from the mast and clipping it to the front bow rail to provide shade….

“If you have a chance, you might want to be on deck”

“Why?” from the galley

“About 10 manta rays and a whole school of yellow fish surrounding them”.

I heard the light feet scampering up the stairs, and half a “Where” get out of your mouth before you saw the solemn procession that was emerging from the sunny side of the boat. “Beautiful” you said, and I agreed… except that I was looking at you. I headed down and brought back some pieces of bread which I soaked, then threw into the water. The yellows immediately gathered around it. I wet some in my hand, and without letting it go, put my hand into the water where it was surrounded and tickled by the yellows until the pieces of bread had gone. I put some in your hand, and holding on to your waist, leaned you over the side as you very, very slowly put your hand in the water. I could see the “Are you sure about this” look on your face, until the yellows were tickling your hand too, and you giggled, and looked like a 14 year old girl with your twinkling eyes and a smile bigger than your face…. Slowly you opened your hand and the bread, then the tickles disappeared…

Just then one of the rays glided to the surface. “watch” I said, and put my had under the ray with a bit of bread in it. When the hand came up it was empty… “Try it”

Again we had the “Are you sure look” and asked “Will he bite?”. “Trust me… just try”. The hand went in, and under, and then I heard “the laugh” as you were startled by the suction of the ray. “No teeth” I said “they suck things up life a vacuum”. You were way ahead of me though and had a second handful of bread for the ray before I finished talking. The yellows were swarming under, catching the crumbs that the ray let drop, and the scene was like a wonderful screensaver, or a Disney movie… too perfect to be real.

We heard the boat long before we saw it and the sound of the engine being pushed to its’ limit and sometimes beyond was an intrusion on the interest and potential of the afternoon. The boat came around the far end of the island, skipping over waves and driving through the water with an almost maniacal desperation.

“Look” you said, as a bag, or package was ejected from the boat.

I saw it as you did and watched as the boat skimmed by and headed for land…

“Look” you said again, and I followed you finger to see another boat come around the edge of the island…

“Looks like a race of some sort”. The truth was that I was starting to get a bad feeling as both boats sped out of sight towards land.

The sound faded until there was only the lapping of the Atlantic against the side of the boat.

We lay back again to resume the idyllic moment, and I let your head fall back into my lap.

“I wonder what was in that bag” you said echoing a thought that had been going through my head for the last 5 minutes. “Should we pick it up?? What if it was something important that they did not know that they lost?”

“I think that it was very important, and that we should not touch it with a ten foot pole, or even an eight foot German”. The old joke sounded stale even to me, for I was as curious as you were and the package lay there. Thoughts of lotto wins rolled through my head as did thoughts of drug stashes and a hundred other possibilities none of which were good for us.

“Let’s just look, and if it is none of our business, we can throw it back..”

“No” I said “this seems like one thing we should just let go” and I rested my head against the mast and closed my eyes.

That peace lasted about 30 seconds. Your curiosity was peaked and I knew at that time what was going to happen even though every thought in my head was how to avoid it. Adam must have felt like this when Eve mentioned the apple and I knew that the exit sign from Eden was flashing somewhere above me.

Twenty minutes later I had my flippers on and my mask rescued from our carryon and I was falling backwards into the shallow waters. It was fairly easy to find the satchel on the sandy bottom, especially when we had seen where it entered the water, and I brought it up to the surface and handed it to you.

I knew I was going to regret this, but I confess that my inquisitiveness was as strong as yours and the greed in my soul was looking for the powerball to strike me now.

You pulled up the satchel as I climbed out of the water and I could see the disappointment in your face as you opened it.

“Only a small bag” you said and pulled out a velvet bag that I recognized as a Crown Royal drawstring sack. You pulled at the drawstring to look inside and I saw the expression on your face change immediately. You left the sack open and passed ti to me without a word…. The “without a word” part should have alerted me immediately, and it did in a general way as I felt the contents in my hand for the first time and looked inside.

There were dozens, maybe hundreds of what looked like diamonds and my heart stopped for a second, maybe three, maybe four, and in the days ahead I often wished that it had stopped forever.

“Let’s throw this back” I said, for I knew there was nothing but trouble here. I have to admit that I was hoping that you would say no, for then it would be your fault, or at the very least, not mine, if we went ahead..

“No, let’s head back for harbour and think about this on the way.

Travels in Springtime

May 22nd, 2010

As “What we did on our winter vacation” seems to get the most attention and comment, and there have been requests for more of the same type of thing, I decided to bring our couple back out on the road… I truly thank those who have written or commented on all the stories on this site… I will try to do one chapter every day or two and add it to this post
Chapter 1 – Everybody’s got to be somewhere

We had decided not to move from our comfy home after the heavy adventure of the winter vacation and more than a year passed before we even thought of expanding our travels again.

Each flower that the early spring presented outside the solarium seemed to echo or at least affirm that decision, but eventually the need to get out of the house, or out of the country, wriggled into the conversations and soon we found ourselves planning to travel again.

I offered that another nature hike would not be the best thing right now, as the last one had been adventure piled on top of adventure. This one would be urban (my choice) , or historic (your idea) and would be meant to teach or entertain rather than relax.

You agreed, and we dove into thoughts and directions, travel websites and recommendations from friends… Each idea came and went, the expectations filled our heads and our dreams, the conversations over morning coffee wrote the possible trips before one foot had been placed out the door and giggles punctuated plans as the ridiculous crept into reality. Your wish for the historic led us through Egypt and over into Iraq to trace the beginnings of civilization, but I reminded you of the drama of last winter and was loathe to tempt fate. I suggested tried and true… the romance of Paris or Rome, the pollution of Milan or Beijing (a trip out to the tomb of the Qin Emperor almost made this one a reality), the castles rising above the Rhine river (and here the taste of the great white wines almost won the day).

We finally decided on the quiet and medieval history of Tuscany with days spend in Sienna and visits to San Gimignano and other places of beauty and especially quiet. No drama here, just simple gawking tourists, with our ooohs and aaahs packed safely for distribution among the sights. We had Firenza for a city and the street bazaars that would satisfy your shopping urge. We had giant hills that are wonderfully unique to Italy. We had great friends and wonderful food and wine to mark jewel points in the travelogue… We had history going back to Romulus and Remus, side voyages to see the Etruscans and the possibilities, relaxation, vista and magnificence seemed to color the imagined trip.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of preparation, as maps were downloaded into my GPS, fares were compared, tickets bought online, bed and breakfasts were matched against hotels, invitations from friends were accepted or rejected, clothes were chosen or bought, packed then unpacked, sometimes repacked, and our families told of where to reach us and how not to try….

By the time we were driven to the airport in the early evening, the trip seemed like a vacation from the planning and the dull two hour wait after passing customs was a relief. You snuggled up against my chest on the airplane and promptly fell asleep. I was encouraged by the trust this implied, and followed your lead, allowing myself to close my eyes and think of anything but the travel.

Hours came and went, marked by mothering cabin crew and standard airline meals, two long movies, thankfully snoozed through, and then the beginnings of light through the one or two open windows announcing morning, and the beginnings of a descent into Aeroporto di Firenza. You uncoiled and gracefully and compactly stretched yourself into wakefulness in a manner which I am sure that cats have long watched and tried to emulate. I always am amazed that you can sleep through the night and wake up looking elegant and classy. I did my internal countdown and watched as you transformed from relaxed to endlessly energetic within seconds. You checked documents and papers, had me fill out entry forms, arranged the breakfast (I offered to skip the breakfast and take you to a restaurant I knew on the outskirts of Florence, but you wanted to do an initial scouting of the city, so accepted the lesser fare as an exchange for time), checked your carry on, went to improve on perfection, and came back to wait the last few minutes to touch down.

Airport, customs, baggage retrieval, and exit were an orderly chaos, performed millions of times each day all over the world, as we decided to pass the taxi stands and take the bus into the center of Florence itself. We were not expected at our first stay, a small vineyard bed and breakfast (highly recommended by friends) until later in the day, and this way we could do some touring and then take a taxi out to the suburbs. As we turned the corner I noticed a large waving sign with our names on it, and saw an old customer (the one who had recommended the b&b) underneath it. A huge smile, tuned into a huge hug and Guillermo and his wife welcomed us to Italy.. “We decided to take a chance” he said. We made introductions all around as he grabbed two of your bags (and just about sunk into the floor as he grabbed the handle of your large one)

“We tried to bring all of Montreal, including the skyscrapers, in that one”… The wheels caught however and the four of us toddled over to a small car in the underground parking and, wedging all the bags somewhere, and ourselves, along with the big bag, in the back seat, headed off for the city.

If you have never been in Florence, you have missed one of the great daredevil acts on our planet. The motorbikes seem to take pride in cutting between cars with millimeters to spare, and there were times when I thought that one or two of them were going to try to cut through the back seat. Our host took all of this in stride, maneuvering through traffic with the same daring and aplomb, all the while twisting around to talk to us and gesturing at sight after sight as it zoomed by. I did not know whether to laugh or be horrified and settled for treating it like a Disney World ride, trusting in the engineering. You smiled and looked so calm, but I know that there were going to be finger shaped bruises on my arm that night. I did not mind at all, just admired your composure while wishing there was something I could hang on to at the same time. I have thought throughout our relationship that that is one of the great marks of class that you carry with you, the ability to seem calm when all is in chaos, and the ability to seem like you are in fast forward when all is calm…

We reached the center of the city after a three lane switch onto a side street, and a full speed entrance into a small garage that opened its’ door to swallow us just seconds before we passed underneath. The squeal of brakes announced our arrival, and we all clambered out into the sunlight, closing the door behind us… “The business garage of a friend… He loaned me the remote as he is never in town on a weekend.” Enough explanation as I resisted the impulse to kneel down and kiss the non speeding pavement…. I did recognize the park at the end of the street however and knew just where we were and how close we were to some of the things you just “had” to see. Four of five twists (there are no turns in Florence) in the streets brought us to the center. I explained the numbering system in the city as you noticed that you had just passed the same number three times on the same street and all were on different blocks and only two were on the same side… You asked how they could live like that, and I just replied that they were used to it, and ignored the numbers that were not of the type of address that they were looking for. I also explained why the hidden garage was so precious, as you could spend your whole vacation allowance on just one night’s parking in the center of the city. “They are trying to discourage, or at least manage, the cars in the city… streets never made for cars and lungs never designed for pollution.”

I head a gasp from you and saw your eyes go up, and then up again, constantly widening as if your brain was trying to open your eyes wide enough to take in the whole thing. I knew you had just seen the basilica, or should I say THE BASILICA di Santa Maria del Fiore. We have all seen the pictures of Florence with the orange dome, but they never prepare you for the immense size of the basilica itself. It is a monster and inspires awe. The first time I saw it, I understood the quandary of putting a dome over that thing, sort of like contemplating putting a dome on lake Erie… I pointed out the statue of Brunelleschi sitting with his eyes looking up at the dome, almost as if he still did not believe that he had actually done it. I told you the story of how he had won the commission and pointed to the ball and cross at the top of the dome and told you that Leonardo da Vinci was just an apprentice in the shop of the sculptor who had fabricated the original ball and cross. All the while our hosts were interjecting additional facts and pointing out details that I had never seen before. It is a city of wonder…. to be able to walk down streets and see a Donatello statue just outside a house, or in a square and marvel that they have been here for centuries and that the works of one of the greats is accessible to anyone in the street.

We enter the Basilica and I can imagine the awe and the pride that it was suppose to instill in the faithful, and probably visiting dignitaries. The awe is still there, with our skyscrapers and monumental structures, it is still good that something not new can bring us a sense that we belong to a wonderful species.

Guillermo’s wife ushers us out a side door and after a very short walk we are in the midst of streets of outdoor bazaars, each selling beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) leather goods and clothing, the inescapable jewelry hawked as handmade with small made in China, or made in India stamps in unobtrusive places. We are approached every block by vendors walking around carrying armfuls of purses or watches, each obviously fake, and only mistaken for the originals from far… But each is fun to bargain with, even though Guillermo dismisses them as junk merchants. I buy nothing, but delight in the game of the negotiation, at least for the first time or two, then I wave them off… You do see a few wonderful bargains and we dig into the Euros that we have set aside for each day’s purchases… This is an area where we have become very good with our discipline, although there have been times when discipline has been overruled by beauty or quality. Rules were made so that you could use your judgment as to when to break them, but could be used as a wall against fatigue or wavering desire…. We knew when to break a rule and when to obey one.

We came upon a small square with a restaurant (the Academie if I remember correctly) just make to escape the mid day sun. Our hosts suggested (now there is a euphemism) a tasters plate with a bit of everything and a tiny glass of different regional wines to accompany and we followed the recommendation which turned out to be excellent. Each plate was small but exquisite, and each plate was better than the last. The lunch was adorned by wonderful conversation, interrupted at times when Guillermo and his wife conversed in Italian that made me feel like those cartoon fireman hanging off the fire truck as I tried to catch a word here or there. At this point it was in vain, although I knew that within a few days this would make much more sense to me, for now I just listened to the beauty or the rhythm of the linguistic music and smiled over at you… The rest was good for it was still early morning in “our” time and we were just getting started… At times other people or couples would walk over to the table and introductions would be made all around. Some were friends, some friends of friends, some just friendly but each was open and enthusiastic, full of suggestions for sights or shopping, tours or warnings… All were listened to and all comments were filed away in memory or in handset to be considered for later.

A short walk after lunch took us to the Ponte Vecchio with its’ jewelers and art galleries, but they got a cursory glance as you headed straight for the Uffizi, and I knew that the afternoon was gone. We walked through the gallery with our hosts marveling over and pointing out each of the wonderful works of art as if they, or one of their children (had to remember to ask about them), had made them. You recognized some, glanced at others, stared unabashedly at a few, and lingered with one or two as if it tore you heart to leave them and move on. I pointed at my watch once or twice, and you pretended not to notice, but you were in one of your heavens and I was not going to be the one who pulled you away from it. Finally, with a promise to return on the last day, we left and took a taxi back to the car.

I had thought that Guillermo was a world class daredevil driver until I watched the taxi careen down streets and alleys, dance with motorbikes, and seemingly brake and accelerate at the same time. It seems that Hollywood chase scenes would be well advised to hire a taxi driver from Firenza to do their stunts… the only problem is that no one (in America at least) would believe that the driving was real. When we were back in our car and headed out of the city, I wondered if Guillermo felt challenged by the skills of the taxi driver and was in a mood to be competitive, but we got out of the city safely and went from madness to serenity in one bridge.

Looking out the back window, I could see the city, but, on this side of the bridge, on the other side of the main Highway through the center of Italy, we were in country, with gentle curves and soft roads that led off into shadows. One of these side roads was apparently ours and we were brought to a large and beautiful house completely surrounded by forest. Guillermo announced that we were “here” and started wrangling the suitcases out of back seats and trunks. I am still not sure how they fit in, but will accept magic when it presents itself.

A long thin man came out of the back door and hugs and kisses, greetings and introductions were made all around. Guillermo left us with our host and drove away telling us that we needed to be just the two of us to enjoy Italy. We dragged our suitcases up a narrow stairway, as I tried not to swear under my breath, and were led to a set of double doors, which, when flung open, revealed an amazing view on the other side of a charming room that was totally ignored for minutes as our eyes were captured by the rolling hills and the beginnings of a sunset. We were still gawking when our Host left quietly and unobtrusively. The charm of the room started to sink in very, very slowly. Each piece was wonderfully chosen, each knick knack evocative. Decorating ideas filled our heads, and then the realization hit that we were in another country, and that our friend’s recommendation had been dead on the money. This was beauty and I was a bit afraid that we would not want to leave this room. Even the bedroom off to the side had the full wall of windows showing the beauty of this country flowing off into the distance.

A gentle knock at the door turned into our host with a bottle of wine and two glasses. The “Grazie Mille” that I gave him did not begin to express the pleasure that this suite was just beginning to bring to me. I told him how beautiful his place was and how wonderfully decorated in my best broken Italian, as a woman appeared behind him, arms full of towels as she came over to you and welcomed you in Italian. She pressed way too many towels into your arms, and you, with your wonderful knack of communication told her of your admiration for her place and her taste. It was so delightful to hear the half English, bit of French, half Italian flow of words on both sides of that conversation, and we two men just stood quietly and admired our women. I offered the host a glass of wine, which he accepted and we just stood and looked outside.

“Salute e grazie” trying to get across to him how pleased we were.. He smiled, understanding, knowing how special his place was, and, as we stood with our wine glasses, he would point out small areas of interest that I had not noticed. He showed me how to exit to a walking path just for a nice moment of peace and relaxation….

“You have to come in here and see this!!” I heard from the bedroom area…

“After…. in a minute…” and then with a wave of my hosts hands “… right away….” As he followed me into the room.

“Look at this”

And I followed you into an art piece of a bathroom, done in marbles and glass, floor art (for to simply call it a beautiful tile floor would be to denigrate the artist who had created it), and many small paintings meant to keep your eyes wandering from one to the other. It was truly a work of art, more so because it also served a daily need with an elegance that we were sure to try to emulate when we got back home….

With a great fondness our hosts left us, a pat to your hand and the wishes for a great evening.

The sun had started to turn a bit darker as it neared the mountains in the distance and the shadows filled the forest with charm. Even though it was only early afternoon by our time at home, the fatigue of the day was beginning to tell.

I poured you a glass of wine and pulled two chairs up to the window as if we were in a very exclusive movie theatre.

“Dinner?” I asked.

“I am still full from lunch, let’s just relax”

And, as the sun touched the mountains, I felt a warm gentle had reach out to hold mine.

After a while I noticed that you were asleep in your chair, and I just carried you into bed and tucked you under the covers. Travel days are tiring, but it is always for the best as we would be up early.

Chapter 2 – Road Signs vs. the GPS

The light grew softly in the room and I was actually up early with one eye sleepily out of the covers watching the hills illuminate themselves. It was like watching art that constantly reinvents itself. You started to stir and I checked my watch. It was still early, but I figured that as long as our bodies were ready to get up, we might as well be on our way. I slid out of bed and shaved and shone first…. Then came out to find you up and packing the day bag. A quick shower and you were ready, something that always pleases and amazes me in our travels. While you were getting ready I glanced over at the door and saw a small packet that had been left on the floor. It was the keys to the rental car, probably delivered last night, along with the rental agreement and a few maps. As I looked up you were ready and wonderfully beautiful, and I contemplated taking the day off and just staying here. You however were in high energy mode and we snuck out the front doorway and walked around the outside of the house. It was a lot bigger than it looked from the driveway. I checked the tags on the keychain and found our car. I noticed that there were a few more cars parked and surmised these were from the other guests, but for now, my only concern was to get to the Firenza-Siena highway and head south. I had already keyed in Sienna (as well as few other trip highlights) as a destination while on the plane, and the voice informed me to turn around and get out of the driveway….

I remembered, before leaving to mark this as home, for, although it had been easy for Guillermo to find the place, I wanted to make sure that we could as well. It was a very straightforward drive to the Highway 127, although I was surprised to find out how far we were, and assumed that Guillermo had been playing Italian Race Driver and was going a lot faster that I was willing to go. Or maybe the conversation and company had just been that good that the time seemed to melt away.

The 127 is a beautiful driving road, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. We avoided the roadside gas/food/tourist traps and pulled off somewhere in the Val di Pesa for a breakfast. The coffee was Italian, thick and small, the food at the small, obviously family owned, trattoria generous and filling, and the wonderful sound of Italian all around was already beginning to sink in. The waitress tried to start in English, but we asked her to stay in Italian and pointed and stumbled our way to our order. One of the points of being on an educational trip was to learn something, and the language is always the best place to start learning, for it is the window into the country’s soul. She corrected some of our words, accepted most, and served us with a huge smile. We allowed ourselves the luxury of a slow breakfast then back out on the road…. The drive was not long, and 40 minutes after breakfast we could see the huge walls of Sienna in front of us. The roads were prepared for tourists and the signs very clear. We parked our car in one of the may paid parking areas outside the perimeter and went in through a gate in the lower wall.

The thing that astounded me was the height we had to ascend using the many banks of escalators. I remarked that having to walk this by foot would have killed the day before it started. We were finally disgorged into a schoolyard and found ourselves on a small street inside the walls, still ascending. There were many clothing, shoe and jewelry shops lining the walls like fishing nets to trap the tourists before they got into the center of the city. One of the jewelry shops featured minerals and raw stones that captured your attention as we passed, and swept you in as you stopped to admire some of the pieces. The owner was very knowledgeable on the local geology and the two of you had a long conversation in Italian on the merits or this stone or that arrangement. We bought a beautiful pendant for you and two stones, just “because they were pretty”. It was actually more because the shop owner had been charming and the experience inside had been enjoyable, but that is what travelling is all about. We continued walking and soon found ourselves in the forum… a huge sloping semicircle that faced a large multistoried building, and the scope was magnificent. You wandered over to the vendors all along the back wall and picked up one of the tourist books.

“This was the forum in Roman times, where all the population could come to hear speakers, or vote on public items”

In front of the vendors on the back wall, all aong the back edge of the semicircle, were tables and chairs served by a multitude of restaurants as tourists and tour groups came and went to the call of tour guides, and the waving of hopefully distinctive coloured flags to rally the herded tour group on to the next destination. We sat down and studied the book planning our viewing of Sienna so that we could get the most out of every footstep. Each of the stops we made and each of the sights were marvelous in their own way, and, having picked up something early in the morning, we were able to bypass all of the shops… We laughed at the Gate of the “regetti” where the people who wanted to leave the city were ejected, admired views within the city, were astounded by the scale of some of the buildings, and tired but the constant walking. By 3PM we were tired but happy and decided to return to the car and wend our way back home.

I decided to try going back by the A1 highway as it was just a touch longer, but would take us through different country. I set the GPS and listened as it guided us surely out of the city and onto the correct highway.

About 10 minutes outside of town, it directed us to turn onto a dirt road…. I had seen no signs that this led anywhere, and was wary about taking this jog in the road. I figured that it might be a short country road that took us across a bed in the highway and shared the opinion that it might be better for us to stay on the paved road…

“Where is your sense of adventure?” you asked..

“Actually, I believe that it is sitting in the seat beside me…”

“Let’s take a chance” you said “ what is the worst that could happen?”

Calling a tow truck to pull us out of a ditch came to mind, but, there was time, and even though this might only save us a few seconds, we were here to explore.

The dirt road showed signs of construction further in, and I figured that we were on a road that was yet to be build, but drove on for fear of appearing unadventurous in your eyes.

The road started to go uphill, but did turn into pavement, with small houses every few hundred yards. The GPS stayed mute during the whole drive, and there were one or two times I stopped just to make sure that it was still working. I had to admit that the view was spectacular as, from time to time, we would turn a corner and to quote the Who “See for miles and miles” over forests and huge hills. We wound up and down hills for half an hour, and at one point the road just came to a stop and became a mud path… that turned out of sight 15 feet ahead.

We got out of the car and the GPS still happily said that we were on path, but I could see on the map that we were nowhere near the highway. On closer inspection I noticed the name of the “town” that we were close to was exactly the same as the district in which we were staying, and a switch in the software had taken us to a place of the same name…

While I was trying to figure out how to unravel this, you had started down the path and disappeared out of sight.

“Come here…” I heard from the forest… and looked up to find you gone. “Quickly” and I surmised that you had followed the path and set off myself.

“Look” as I came around the corner and saw you ahead looking past bushes.

The path continued past the bush and into a beautiful and obviously well tended little valley. At the far side, the path led to a cave that had columns and steps build on its’ outside and resembled a Roman temple build into the side of the mountain. We looked around, but there were no signs that we could see, so we ventured into the valley and toward the cave. The grass was cut short, but we could now see a small group of goats happily munching on the grass, and that explained the shortness and manicured appearance. As we came to the opening behind the pillars, we could see that the cave was deeper than we first thought and was lined along the side by burnt out and half burnt candles, one of which was still lit, showing us that there was at least someone who had been here recently.

We followed the cave back and saw not the altar that we expected, but two or three statues along the sides and one large one in the back of Roman or Greek influence or design.

“What do you think this is?”

“Possible a tomb or burial plot. The burning candle might be a memorial to one of the people resting here. I don’t see any coffins or burial areas though. Were we in Roman times, I would say this was a temple to certain gods, for the candles are gathered around blank areas.. Roman Gods had no form and this looks like a Roman prayer station, where you would light candles as a prayer. Other than that, I do not know”

The sun was low enough that it was streaming in through the mouth of the cave and illuminated the statues at the back. The workmanship was exquisite and now that we were used to the light, we could see that there were many more than just the three or four that we had seen. There were smaller statues piled up against the wall and larger statues extended behind the one we had thought was the back of the cave… “It looks like we have stumbled onto the cave of the statue packrat or a great statue theif”

“Protezione…. Protector” came from behind us.

We turned to see a young man in the mouth of the cave.

“These statues have been here for so long that even my grandfather’s grandfather could not remember the last one being put in. It is our family’s job to keep them safe, but by now, we just do it because it is there.”

“I have often thought that these were statues that were saved from the church or from the armies of the north as they came down, but today they are just here. There are thousands of them, and most are pre renaissance”

“You speak English very well” I noted.

“University in America… I thought that if I could identify what these are and where they came from I could figure out what to do with them. The columns are Imperial Roman although carved from stone, not marble. The roof at the front is renaissance and the statuary goes from pre-imperial Rome to late renaissance. There in the corner are 30 woodpeckers that are so beautiful and delicate that I do not dare to touch them even to find out where they came from. There are Greek and Roman statuary and copies of Greek and Roman.”

I walked over and looked at the woodpecker carving and was entranced by the details that were evident and the delicate look of the metal structure. “And you and your family take care of these?”

“There are protectors all over Italy. Not many any more, but they are there. Twice families have come to us with their collections to store here because they had no one, or no place to store them. This is why the road was extended. My father was mayor of the village and oversaw the construction… But no one comes here…. “

“Why are you here?”

“Because this area has the same name as the area of our penzzione and the GPS wanted adventure”

I showed him the map and where we had started the morning from, and where we were now. He laughed… “I did not know that anyone knew the name of the top of this hill. We do, for we have been here forever, but even the people in the village do not know the name up here.”

“Could I ask you a favour? I have something that has to be brought down to Firenza and I was going to take the bus from the village in the morning. Could you give me a ride to the edge of the city”

I looked over at you with a question in my eyes, as this is how most adventure movies start…. Just one little favour and soon you are up against some secret society that no one has ever heard of, or an international conspiracy, or statues come to life to chase us around a cave (depending on what format the late night movie is) … but you smiled and nodded your head with an earnest yes.

“Momento..” and he disappeared behind the major statue. He was gone for at least 10 minutes, which led me to believe that there was more to the cave than met the eye, and returned with a package wrapped in linen.

We walked back to the car and he invited us to dinner in the village in return for the ride. I had not even seen the village on our way up here, and, as the sun was starting to getting lower in the sky and this cast large shadows as we drove behind hills I relied on our guide and not the GPS.

Dinner was of a style out of another era… Deer meat done in fresh herbs, some sort of root vegetable sliced and roasted, and a dolce or desert that was not sweet at all, but absolutely desert and absolutely delicious. You went out to see if you could find out what it was we had just eaten and if you could get the recipe. I stayed and talked with Aldo (as we finally made introductions) and his father. The father was hoping that his son’s education would shed some light on the mystery of the statues, and there were theories tossed around for a while. I turned down an offer of home made beer, because I had to drive in unfamiliar terrain and would need every wit I could put together.

After dinner we all got in the car with Aldo cradling the package (which I had to assume was a small statue) in his arms. His directions got us to the A1, and within an hour we were in Florence. He told us that his friend would pick him up and that he would take the bus back in the morning and thanked us profusely for our help.

“We are going to see friends at Montepulciano tomorrow morning and could give you a ride back if you want” you said.

I looked over at you, and realized that I should have seen this coming as you always will reach out to help people and this is just your giving nature rearing its’ gorgeous head.

Aldo thought for a minute and accepted…. Telling us that he would meet us on this spot tomorrow morning at 9AM

We drove back to our place (now the GPS worked!) and were greeted by our hosts who asked about the day and offered us dinner. We passed on that, but did accept some cheese and bread which we brought up to the room and watched the last of the sunset…

“What have we gotten ourselves into?”

“Only tomorrow will tell” you answered “Only tomorrow will tell”

Chapter 3 – Friends of Friends

We got up and out the next morning very early. I suggested that we get there at 8 and have breakfast in the small shopping area across the road before Aldo arrived at 9. You thought this was a good idea and we set the travel alarm to get us up and out before 7:30. I suggested that when this day was through we try to spend one morning just sleeping in and watching the beautiful surroundings.

“Right now, that seems like a wonderful idea, but we did promise….. o.k. I promised, and we will just drop him off then go to see your clients and that will be the end of it”

As we arrived at the pickup spot we noticed Aldo, sitting on a barrier patiently waiting. His face lit up when he saw our car, and he reached behind to pick up a wrapped package. It seemed the same size as the one from last night, but he carried it with more difficulty. I got out to help him put it in the back seat and it was quite a bit heavier than the night before.

“I hope that you do not mind that I was here early” he asked.

“No, it is a good idea. We will get on the road early”

And off we went, up the A1 this time, and, as we climbed the hills, Aldo was backseat driving, showing us sights and points of interest. Some were historic, some just beautiful, one, he had us turn down a dirt road which ended overlooking one of the most beautiful panoramas I had ever seen. You got out and took many pictures, but nothing could capture the beauty of the lighting as it started painting the mountains between here and Florence. I clicked the location into the GPS so we could find out way back (as I wanted to be sure to get the right dirt road again), or pass it on to others. By 9AM we were in the village, Aldo back home, we were thanked profusely, and we started on our way up to Montepulciano.

“Very little time out of the way, and this time we get to enjoy the countryside instead of just worrying about where we are…”

The rest of the drive was almost boring, and we phoned ahead to ask what time they wanted us there. We told them that we were going to stop for breakfast on the way and then would be there quickly after that. They told us to come directly to the house and we would head down into the village for something to start the day. You agreed and so we put off breakfast. I was very thankful that we had thought to put the large memory card in the camera as each turn prompted you to say “Slow down!” as the camera came out and one beauty after another went into memory and photo. The one thing I love about cameras is that they make you take a second or two to actually look at things and decide on their worth, beauty, or just interest. I think that the picture itself is secondary to the memory, and meant only to explain a wonderful find to friends who have not seen what we were passing right now. I loved showing you around places that I consider special, that the thing that I thought most special was that I was now seeing the passing countryside through your eyes, as if I had never seen it before. I noticed things that would have, or had, passed me by completely, and I found the trip far more interesting as your inquisitive nature added to the fact that you did not have to keep your eyes on the road (that’s right, we all look for excuses) allowed me to follow your gaze and pointing camera to things, features, sights that I would have driven right by, oblivious to the wonder of other forms of thought or expression.. This is why I love having you along while I am travelling, I see so much more, consider different points of view, and generally pay attention.

Their house was at the top of a hill, surrounded by wine fields. It was far too big and looked like a hotel more than a country house, but the beauty came from centuries of residence and a true caring for what the house represented. His wife burst out of the house as the car pulled in front of the doors and came over to give me a hug the second the car stopped, then she went around to your side.

“You should have brought her here before… She makes me jealous, far too good looking!!”

You climbed out of the car and introduced yourself as I tried to unpack the words from my mouth and make sure that the car was all right and that our gift was in the back seat. She immediately took your arm and the two of you walked quickly into the house, heads tilted towards each other, chatting quickly in Italian laced English. You looked over your shoulder at me, but I was just smiling and enjoying the scene. I was also sinfully proud of you right at that moment, and knew that you would be exploring the huge house and would make me look very, very good…

My friend came out of the front door and was introduced to you by his wife, now having taken full charge of you. She then hustled you into the house and I brought out the gift and handed it over.

“A little something for after we are gone..” The problem with knowing a great wine grower is that you cannot bring liquor or wine as a gift, the easy choice most other times, so I had to be inventive, and I thought that this would do very well. I was not going to tell him that I had noticed a pair on Ebay and recognized the pair of crystal decanters for what they were, when, by the price, the seller did not know what he had. Upon receiving them I had looked for, and found the faint stamp on the bottom that proclaimed that I had in fact gotten very, very lucky.

We walked inside where the housekeeper had already made North American style coffee, with toast on the side. I took a cup and we went to sit out in the back garden.

“While the ladies are occupied, could I ask you a question?”. He nodded…

“Have you heard of any major theft of statuary over the past few years, or possibly a ring of people who counterfeit old statuary?”

“Counterfeiters there are all over Italy.. We frown on it, but they keep turning out marble statues, or cement casts that they claim are from Roman days, or Renaissance masters. You just have to trust no one and verify. On the other hand, I have not heard of any large theft of statuary…. Out of curiosity, why do you ask?”

Without divulging where we had gone, I gave the general idea of what we had seen. If these people where exactly what they said, protectors without a reason, then I did not want to give away many clues. If however we had stumbled upon something more sinister, then I did want to be a part of the solution. Silence is the helper of the criminal and I did not want to be on that side of the equation.

“Protectors you say… everything is possible. Would you mind if we had a guest for lunch? I promise to keep your little secret, as you seem to be leaving out details, but, at the same time we can do a little intellectual exploration”

You excused yourself and I just sipped the coffee and admired the stretch of manicured garden that flowed downhill from the veranda. He returned after 15 minutes and announced that we would indeed have an extra guest for lunch.

“I took the liberty of phoning an old friend in the carabinieri, or state police, that I call on from time to time when people approach me to buy great works of art. I assure you he is most discreet, but in this case there is no need for discretion as what you describe does not match anything that he is looking for. It is his opinion that they are counterfeiters. Let us drop this until lunch and then we can ‘intellectually explore’ the topic.

A few minutes you and his wife came into the room.

“Have you seen this place?” you asked.

“Most of it.”

“This is marvelous, it is so beautiful… Can I have one?”

I laughed as you said that, and made up my mind to become a billionaire the week after we got home, or at least to love you as if I were a billionaire… whichever came first.

I poured you a coffee, and the housekeeper brought in some small snacks as his wife took you on a tour of the gardens. I knew that formal gardens were not your favourites, but you smiled, and were charming as always as you admired something that she was obviously proud of.

When the tour had finished, we climbed into his car and drove down the mountain. He pointed out different fields that I knew as labels or enjoyable evenings back at home, and small castles nestled on hilltops defending against threats that no longer existed. His wife made us stop at two small villages where she took you into small local shops and we used up yesterday’s and today’s allowance on items that would soon adorn bedrooms or hallways, and always, always memories.

Lunch came sooner than expected, and showed up as if planned by someone who knew his neighbourhood very well. A table in the sun was already set for us, and a well dressed older gentleman seated at the table reading a book.

“Professiore Quarantino” our host introduced the gentleman, “an expert on all things beautiful and wonderful and a old dear friend”

We ordered our lunch and small talk went around the table.

“I was telling our host about the adventure we had yesterday and wondering if his knowledge could shed any light on things. He suggested I talk to the professor”

You got a wary look in your eyes..

“Don’t worry, not details, just the broad outline”

“What adventure?” asked the professor.

I explained in broad strokes the generalities of yesterday making the cave into a gallery and could see his eyes lose interest as it appeared we were just two frivolous North Americans being lured into a counterfeit game. He asked me to give him an idea of what the statues looked like. I mentioned the Diana at the back of the cave entrance and he asked what tint the marble was.

“Oh, it wasn’t marble” you said “just plain stone. Granite if I am not mistaken with veins of color in the stone and evidence that it was once painted”

I had not noticed the painted detail, and I was (as I guess I always am) quite proud.

“Light or dark stone” the professor asked.

“I am not sure, darker rather than lighter… I am just not sure. I am sorry”

The professor was a bit more attentive.

“Anything else?” he asked.

I mentioned the small statues around the edge and the carving with the 30 woodpeckers.

“Trenta picchio…. 30 woodpeckers… are you sure?”

“I counted them as each was very slightly different. I was quite intrigued by that detail”

“But you are sure they were woodpeckers”

“Yes, the person we saw mentioned woodpeckers, and I do know what a woodpecker looks like.”


The professors eyes were definitely more interested, but had not dropped their wariness.

“Could I go see them?”

“I don’t know, I said, it is not my secret to give away, but I can ask if you wish. I know that they are trying to trace the source of some of these.”

“Please, if you could it will most likely be nothing, but in this country the most unlikely things are often possible”

Lunch was as delicious as my friend predicted and the professor had the most wonderful tales of the region and the different families that had come to conquer and stayed to rule. We learned of the Medici, and the Austrian imperial lines. When you mentioned the visit to the Uffizi, he started with things that you must see and stories of some of the more famous pieces. You started jotting notes, I just put my cell phone on the table and pressed the record button. These stories lasted for almost 2 hours and would have gone on all day as both of you were in your element, he was imparting knowledge to a very willing student, and you were learning, questioning, changing the direction of the conversation, retracing explanations that you needed more on. My friend finally begged business considerations that I had to think were made up and lunch ended, but not before the professor promised to meet you on the last day of our visit and personally guide you through one of his favourite places. Back in the car you relived the conversation with my friend’s wife and she added details about some local galleries.

My friend suggested that you two visit galleries until dinner and we would take care of other business. This both ladies accepted with pleasure and, after dropping us off, went to scour the local art scene.

We went in to escape the heat of the early afternoon.

“You seem to think that there is more to this than counterfeiting” my friend observed. “Why don’t you call your friend and find out if the professor can meet with him. That will answer a lot of questions and will transfer the problem to someone else.”

“I do not have a phone number, but do know where to contact him. I could do it now if you wished, or wait until we go back this evening”

“I have a small bit of work to attend to this afternoon if you want to take that time, then you can come here and have dinner with us.”

I told him that I did not want to bother him and his wife, and was told in turn that it would not be a bother at all.

I left and took the car back to the A1, and got off in the direction of Siena. I stopped at the first gas station and remembered the first 8 cars behind me. I am not a suspicious man, nor am I used to intrigue, but this was, as it had stated earlier, not my secret to give away. After filling up, I retraced my steps to the highway and went up the road that was now becoming familiar to the village. I parked the car and went to the father’s inn where Aldo was working outside on the entrance way.

“Interesting work for an art major” I said, and he turned around. The smile on his face told me I was welcome.

“Where is your wife?” he asked looking over my shoulder.

“Touring galleries with the wife of my friend, but that is not why I have come back to see you. I had an interesting conversation at lunch today..”

We went inside where the shade brought a coolness that was much needed.

“We were introduced to a Professore Quaratino” at which point Aldo corrected my pronunciation of the Italian “ and I mentioned, without telling why or where, two or three of the sculptures that we had seen. I tried to make it seem as if they were from a gallery, and he asked if he could meet with you “

Aldo’s eyes lit up at the name of the professor.

“I tried to talk with this man when I came back to Italy, but could never get an appointment. He is and expert in this area and I thought I could get some insight. This would be a very good thing if you could arrange this for me.”

I was very pleased that he had taken my interest in his affairs in a positive manner. I phoned my friend and told him that Aldo would be pleased to meet with the professor. I asked how he wanted to arrange the meeting. There was a moment’s hesitation and he put me on hold… Two minutes later he was back on the line.

“Can you bring him to dinner tonight? I just called the professor and invited him as, even if your friend cannot make it, your lady and the professor have a lot in common and can carry the conversation all night.”

I conveyed the invitation to Aldo, who accepted immediately.

“We will be back before dinner”

“Would it be good if I brought one of the pieces?” Aldo asked.

I suggested the woodpecker carving as it seemed to have struck a chord with the professor and I wanted to see it in better light.

“Just the one I was thinking of” and Aldo disappeared into upstairs to tell his parents where he was going. He also came back with a flat piece of board and cloth. We went up to the cave, where he wrapped the woodpeckers as if they were a baby and held it in his lap as we drove back to my friend’s place.

“You take very good care of these pieces”

“They are not mine, signore, I just care for them and want to know what they are and how they came to be here.”

I changed the subject and asked him, seeing as he was an Art historian, about the art in the district and what we should see in this area that was not on the standard tours. Aldo suggested one after another, and as he was getting further along. I took out the phone, put it into record, and asked him to start all over again. “The phone has a much better memory that I do, and a lot of what you are suggesting sounds very interesting”

Aldo went on for almost half an hour suggesting site after site, and the pride he held in the region, its’ history and artistic accomplishment were evident in his words and enthusiasm. I had heard of one or two of his suggestions in my internet research, but the vast majority of them were completely new. Somehow I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of knowledge and did not want to lose one minute of it.

“You should write a guide to the art treasure of Toscanna” I suggested. “Your knowledge is superb”

“It is nowhere near that of the Professor, this is why I need to talk to him”

We pulled up to my friend’s place.

“Do you know who lives here?” Aldo asked somewhat awed by where we were.

“Yes, a friend”

At that point my friend came out of the front door and, without waiting for me, introduced himself to Aldo while ushering us inside.

Aldo became like you in the art galleries, looking from one wall to the other, seeing things that I did not recognize.

“You have very beautiful things” Aldo said and wandered over to study a painting on a side wall. “I have studied this in books, but had not seen it until now”

My friend was very pleased, as these works were the labour of generations to collect and maintain and he saw them as a duty rather than as a collection. I mentioned this as the thought dawned on me, and told them that they had this love and duty in common.

My friend asked if he could see the package and Aldo opened it slowly, carefully, more a ceremony than an unveiling.

In the light the details of the piece became more evident. The gold work was spectacular the swirling woodpeckers almost seemed alive in the light as the bronzes and silvers caught the light.

“This is no counterfeit” my friend said “and had this been stolen, or even existed, I would have heard of it. This is something I had not even considered, and I am at a loss to tell you what it is”

For my friend to admit that made me smile, for he was usually so knowledgeable on things pertaining to art and the art world.

“We will wait for the professor” and he led us into a sitting room, where the piece was put in a display rack.

He and Aldo started to converse in Italian, and I gathered that he was telling Aldo that normally he would be trying to buy this piece, at which point Aldo interjected that it was not his to sell, and my friend simply smiled and said he knew..

Two glasses of wonderful wine later the ladies returned and both surrounded the woodpeckers and marveled at the intricacies without touching.

“You should take a tour of the artwork in this house” I suggested to you and the wife immediately offered to conduct the tour. Aldo asked if he could come along, although, as he left, he glanced at the piece as if afraid to leave it for one second.

“We will let no one touch this” as if reading his mind, and he left while we settled back to contemplation of the wine…

“This affair of yours becomes much more interesting you know… I cannot wait to see what the professor makes of this.”

As if summoned by the thought the housekeeper ushered in Professor Quarantino, who at first did not notice the woodpeckers. After introductions he asked if the gentleman would be coming tonight. We assured him that Aldo was already here and showed him the piece.

“This is the one that caught my attention” I said.

“Questa e una bellezza, non ci credo… I am sorry, this is beautiful, I do not believe this, may I lift it?”

“I think we should wait for Aldo’s return for that, as it is in his care, and he is most anxious to hear from you”. I told him that Aldo had tried to make an appointment two years ago but had been unable to. The professor could not take his eyes from the sculpture. “Two years, two years”

Aldo returned and judging by the look on his face, and yours for that matter, it had been a very successful tour. My friend’s wife was beaming with pleasure as she loved showing off the house to people who could appreciate and in the two of you she had an enraptured audience.

The professor immediately went to Aldo and introduced himself. The two retired to the corner to examine the piece minutely, the professor handling it with the same reverence that Aldo did. He went out to his car and came back with a briefcase full of glasses and loops, soft cloths and pieces of sponge.

The piece was turned over and examined, the two of them talking rapidly in Italian, the professor first the teacher, now the student, then the collaborator. Many times I heard the “Non ci credo” (Unbelievable) out of the corner or “Andate via” (go away!) as he and Aldo looked at all sides. At one point they walked away from the sculpture and just talked for about half an hour in the garden. When they returned the professor announced that he would be going to visit Aldo tomorrow. Conversation between them over dinner was about details and request on the other peices that were in the “gallery” that I had described. You listened closely for a while but gave up as it was all in Italian and very very fast. The two of them had cut themselves off from the world, or were in a world of their own.

I got the impression that my friend caught every word, but was still able to carry on a delightful conversation about the region and stories of his ancestors and family.

“Are you satisfied?” I asked Aldo after dinner.

“Very… he knows so much and we will be able to see more tomorrow”

“Make sure that you keep control of this, you are the protectors, or that is the role assigned to you, or that you claim. I am very happy that you will be finding out more about your collection, but I do not want some commission coming in to study your pieces just so they can be placed in some rich person’s home. As much as I admire my friend you seem to have something with a heritage to it.”

“The professor has promised secrecy and discretion” Aldo said “and I believe him”.

“Just be careful. This could be a find that benefits him very much and I do not want his dreams to overshadow your obligations, but maybe I worry too much”

You came over and took my hand… “Ready to go home?”

I told Aldo that we were leaving and went to say goodnight to our hosts.

“Quite an adventure today” my friend said “why do you not come back tomorrow? We did not have much time today with all of this happening, and I would still like to have a relaxed day with you like we planned… You are always rushing from one thing to the next”

“I will talk it over with my lady and give you a call tomorrow. I would dearly love to just tour wine fields and old castles and let the world sail on without me for the day.”


Aldo came out with the woodpeckers all wrapped up, still cradling them like they were a baby. I loved the care and yes, protection, he gave these, and thought that as a protector he was just the person for the job.

We drove through the gathering night until we had retuned Aldo to the village.

“I told him that the statues were in a gallery. If you have any doubts you might want to show him some of the pieces at your home and not mention the cave until you really know his intentions. I am sorry for being overly cautious, and I do not even have a feeling that anything is wrong, but you can always tell more, It is often quite hard to take back knowledge that you have given. Think of it as advice from a couple who admires what you are doing…”

Aldo said that he would think about it and took our number and email addresses. You asked one or two questions about the suggestions he had made to me for visits, and we drove back down the mountain again.

It was quite dark when we reach home base, and our hosts checked in on us saying that they had been a bit worried, and that Guillermo had called to find out how we were doing. We bought a nice bottle of wine and took it to the room with us…

“One of the nicest scenic windows in the world and we have been running around after old woodpeckers… Let us just forget we are in Italy tonight, enjoy the room and in the morning we will decide how to spend the rest of our time. As an answer you just came over to where I was sitting, pulled the wine bottle over to where we could both reach it without getting up and crawled into my arms… “What a splendid idea….”