Thus she found herself at the edge of a 6’x5’ hole, three feet deep, watching him dig, on the first Saturday in October. They had left early, in the dark, and arrived while the sun was still low, and the air decidedly chilly. He paused from his digging, thrusting the shovel handle-first toward her. “Rock bar, please” he said, and she grasped the shovel handle and leaned the rock bar toward him. He worked the hard ground on the bottom of the pit, prying loose another layer of rock, deepening the pit by another four inches. The sun had now risen above the trees, and the air was rapidly warming. He paused to remove his sweatshirt, tossed it across a downed log, and resumed plunging the rock bar into the stubborn bottom of the pit. Her core tingled ever so slightly as she began watching his arms move, as he raised and rapidly dropped the bar. It was solid steel and heavy, but he moved it with apparent ease. “Shovel please” he asked, and she took the rock bar from him and passed back the shovel. He was cleaning the last of the dirt from the corner of the pit, when the shovel gave a loud CLANK against a melon-sized rock under the dirt. Rather than ask for the rock bar again, he jammed the shovel under the corner of the rock and gave a hard downward tug. With a sharp CRACK, the shovel handle parted, a long, angled break forming mid-handle.
“Fuck” he swore, followed by a quick “sorry” as he glanced at her. Always the professional, she thought. “Well, that’s what I get for being impatient” he said, eying the two broken pieces in his hands.
“Can you fix it?” she asked.
“Oh, I could strap it back together with some fiberglass tape, make it work for cleaning out the hole, but really, we’re done”. As he spoke he was turning the upper part of the handle in his hands, eyeing it thoughtfully. “Hickory…..hard as nails, and polished by hundreds of hours of handling. I suppose I’ll find some use for this”. He laid the two broken pieces of the shovel next to the pit, and climbed out.
It was then that she noticed that he was looking intently at her, in a direct way he never had before. There was a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. “You’re still wearing your sweatshirt, and here I am down to my T” he said.
“You’ve been digging. I’ve just been……..watching.” she said, smiling back at him slightly. He studied her for a moment, then reached down and took her hand. She tingled in response to his grasp, strong, confident, yet so unexpected.
“Do you know about the power of the October sun?” he asked. She stared directly into his eyes.
“No” she replied, and he pulled gently on her hand and said “Then let me show you”.
He led her just a few yards, through the tall yellow grass, to the edge of the ridge, where the slope dropped away sharply to the southeast. A large dead fir had fallen and lay in front of them, suspended 4 feet from the ground. He stopped her, stepped behind her, and placed his hands on her shoulders. His grip was firm, guiding her to within arm’s reach of the fallen fir. “Close your eyes” he said “and tilt your face up to the sun. Put your hands on the back of the log. Tell me what you feel”. She did as he instructed, and felt a slight shiver course through her. She did not know where he was going with this, but she knew she wanted to find out.
“The sun…..it feels good on my face. The log…..is still cold.”
“Now, slide your hands over the top of the log to the side away from you, slowly. Tell me what you feel now.” She moved her hands, gradually feeling the cold give way to warm, and then to nearly hot.
“North versus south aspect” she said smiling. “You taught us that in Forest Ecology.”
He laughed softly, still holding on to her shoulders. “Glad you remember something from then. Now, take off your sweatshirt.” It was not a demand. It was simply stated as if it were the next logical step. He dropped his hands from her shoulders as she peeled the heavy hooded sweatshirt over her head.
She glanced back at him and asked “what next?” He gently placed his hands on the side of her face and turned it back toward the sun.
To be continued….
Story Written by Professor