The time was fall of 2007. I am walking with someone who is very dear to me. Someone I adore deeply. She is a woman my age. Where we are walking is a heavily forested area that is all her land. It is remote and far away from everythingin north central Minnesota. . There is only one road through here. The forest on her land is broken by two hay fields, two horse pastures, half a dozen natural clearings, and a house and barn. There are 15 horses here, a couple tractors, assorted haying machinery, horse trailers, and the like. She looks after it all.
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This is hardly a good day for a walk however. In the early morning the sky did not become light until well after it should have due to a very solid, dark and heavy overcast. It’s not raining, but there’s a heavy mist coming down. We are walking on a tractor trail that connects the house and barn with the fields and some of the clearings. Often there is evidence of the activities of bears and wolves in the open areas. The horses are kept close to the house, and that is where the main pastures are as well. The wild animals stay away from that area other than an occasional sighting when they approach for a look out of curiosity. When ever she comes back this far on her land though, she carries a rifle. But today I am carrying it, slung over my shoulder.
This walk in less than ideal conditions is a necessary one. She talks about what this land means to her. She loves it. She knows every tree here. The fences that frame this huge tract of land, she put up by herself. She does the haying, training and feeding the horses, and works on the machinery or anything that needs fixing. There is always a lot to do here. Yet this woman next to me is just five feet tall, and has never weighed more than 120 pounds in her life. But she is a tough little stick of dynamite. She knows what work is, and often starts her day at 5:00 a.m. no matter what the weather brings.
She has auburn colored hair - fairly long. I often thought that a woman so outdoor active would prefer shorter hair. But she keeps it long and I’m glad, because it’s very pretty. I adore her smile. When she smiles, her eyes smile. Her feminine figure is evident in her blue jeans, tapered shirt, and a waist length denim jacket to help ward off the mist. She is beautiful. I have studied her figure every chance I get for two years now. I find her intriguing. And still, after two years when we create our private and intimate time to come together and she stands before me, I still tremble.
She wears leather work gloves now, since she had been feeding the horses earlier. Her jeans are worn and faded from long hours of mending fences, and cleaning stalls. Her denim jacket is worn as well, and the cuffs are becoming frayed. Our boots are soaked from walking in the wet tall grass.
After she has talked and made clear her need for this place and what she does here, I take control of the conversation. I too love the place where I live, my town near the Metro. And my work is my life. I could never do anything else. I am a locomotive Engineer. I feel good while I am at work doing what I do. And when I get home, I feel good about what I have done. The problem that faces us is that our lives are 230 miles apart. I have been seeing her for two years. When ever any time at all permits, I drive up to northern Minnesota to be with her. Sometimes I can stay two or three days. Sometimes it’s only for 12 hours. But I am neglecting my own home, and the obligations that come with it.
I have had experience with horses and I appreciate anything mechanical. I help her with all the tasks around this place. But most of all, I cherish the time I have in her presence. But it is apparent that the physical gap, in miles, that separates us can never be closed. She has to stay where she is, and I have to stay where I am. The impracticality of our deep affection for each other is surfacing with time, after having been ignored for so long. This conclusion wasn’t arrived at today. It is something we have been discussing for a couple months. The fixes for the problem simply won’t work. And this reality is boldly before us.
After we each take our turns speaking, there is silence as we walk. I take her gloved hand in my hand to silently confirm with her she is still in my heart. We pass patches of wild strawberries and blueberries. I know she is thinking she must get back out here and pick them for canning before the bears take them all. It’s part of her ritual. I understand it’s part of the fulfillment she cherishes by living here.
We are getting closer to the barn now, and beyond that is where my truck is parked. The best route from the barn to my truck is to follow a fence line through the trees. We walk into the barn and I dry off the rifle with a dirty towel on a work bench. I put the rifle where it belongs - concealed behind a wooden plank. Just above us in the rafters, is an owl. He has long since become accustomed to the daytime activities in the barn, and is fast asleep. The dreary day has made the light in the barn very dim. Usually, on a sunny day, the barn is a very bright and welcoming. But not today. The mist has given way to a steady rain now. The shoulders and sleeves of her jacket are already quite wet from the long walk in the mist. And my clothes are wet too. We talk some more in the barn. We are old enough and smart enough to realize that if either one of us sacrificed a part of his or her world to be with the other all the time, it wouldn’t work out. Sacrifice would turn into regret, and regret is an anchor on a vessel that must keep moving forward. So it is now that we fully understand we must let go.
We leave the barn through the opposite door we came in, towards my truck. We walk along the fence line to the opposite side of the trees. We stop here. My truck is just one hundred yards away. We turn towards each other and I place my hands on her waist. She takes off her leather gloves and lets them drop to the ground as she puts her hands on my waist as well. We confirm that we will miss each other very much. I am looking intently at her pretty face.
We only talk a little bit out here because we are getting rain soaked. “I could never leave here.” She tells me. “I could never live near the Metro area and all the congestion. And I know you could never give up being an Engineer and leave the rails."
“You are really good with the horses….”she continues, “and good with the machines too. You know what needs to be done, and when to do it. Both with this land….” Then with a smile and a quiet voice says, “and with me too.” She is looking up at me. As the rain falls on her face, her eyes don’t even flinch. This woman has stood outside in much worse weather than this. I leaned down and kissed her mouth. I knew that would be our last kiss, and I expected her to let go of me at that moment, but she didn’t. Instead she shook me slightly, as if she didn’t already have my complete attention. “You know what I wish? What I really, really wish? I wish you and I had connected 20 years ago, instead of just two. 20 years ago we didn’t have such deep set roots in our lives, we were more flexible, and together we could have grown in to who we are now…….. because you and I make one hell of a good team.” She pressed her lips together to help hold back the tears.
With that, she let go of me, and I her. She picked up her gloves off the ground and began walking the fence line back through the trees. I watched her as she walked away. I lost focus for a moment as I realized that I had a lot of thoughts and painful emotions to analyze over the coming days. When I looked for her again, she was gone. Instinctively, I took a couple steps toward the fence line. But caught myself and stopped. Out of necessity, we had given up something very precious. We made a painful decision based on reality and practicality. And now I am a man who had lost true love. Just standing in the rain.
- Location: Metro Area
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