Lindsey decides to take a detour through the county farmland to enjoy the end of summer lull. The river meanders, muddy brown and serene, through the valley patchwork of golden shorn fields, vine maples along its banks already edging into fall crimson. Dark blue mountains in the distance etch sharp lines against the lighter blue sky flushed by rain of its August haze. Higher peaks still retain melting snowcaps dazzling white in the sunlight.
The openness of landscape broadens her thinking as she mulls over the Kwamish tribal project she and Damon have been focused on for the past month. The first goal is to “take the temperature of the tribe” about the contentious fishing and whaling rights issues and more. Can they visualize a convergence between preserving traditional ways and new environmental concerns? They’ve been gathering data, creating vision pieces, consulting with Lindsey’s friend Ayako and setting a fast-upcoming date for a “circularity” meeting with the tribe to get people talking.
Lindsey’s old high school pal, who squeaks in at 4 feet 11 if she stands tall, has always been a dynamo. And she’s found her niche, facilitating open forums for communication, working a lot with the tribes.
“Hey,” she’s told Lindsey, “I kind of sneak in under their radar. They start out ready to resist some honky giving them advice, and here I come in all petite and Japanese, kind of look like them or at least on their side of the non-Anglo fence. So then I just have to open it up and let them see we can all listen to each other.”
As Lindsey’s been working with Ayako, Damon’s been busy collecting state and federal grant-proposal possibilities. She’s glad for the business focus, moving on from Newman. And Damon’s been a bit more reserved, not pushing any overtures or touches. Maybe he’s succumbed to the bubbly charms of the new intern? Or maybe he’s just giving Lindsey the space she asked for.
But today they’re taking a break from the project to fill a gap in The Weekly Whiplash production with a quick piece on Lindsey’s native-plant restoration project in her creek ravine. He’s coming by to take photos.
She pulls into her drive and sees his car already there.
No answer, so she heads for the back yard. She finds him sitting crosslegged in the grass at the edge of the creek ravine, beneath the soaring green umbrella of the venerable big-leaf maple tree. Sombra is nestled in his lap, eyes closed as he pets her.
Damon looks up then and sees Lindsey. A slow smile warms his face as he continues stroking the black cat.
“Wow, that’s amazing.” Lindsey steps quietly closer, and the normally skittish cat doesn’t stir. “She’s been terrified of men, ever since Nick. I can’t believe she didn’t run and hide.”
“I told her she’s a beautiful warrior princess, and she liked it.” His smile widens into a grin. “What’s her name?”
“Shadow girl. Okay, Sombra, we have work to do.” He gently shifts her aside and rises.
Sombra stretches and wanders off.
“Sorry to keep you waiting. I was visiting my folks.”
“How’s Opal doing?” He’s been keeping updated, asking about her family.
“Better, with more help around the house. We hired salt of the earth Patsy, who’s just the ticket. Now we cross our fingers that Arlen will behave.”
“Families…. Here’s something from Nana.” He steps over to retrieve something from the yellow-cedar stump and hand it to Lindsey. “It’s for Opal.”
She’s speechless, staring at the beautiful woven-grass basket, like the one Nana was weaving in Damon’s photo. Inside the basket are several flat cards with images of flowers and birds, well-wishes written on the backs in different handwriting.
“It’s a hope basket. One of the things Nana and her friends do.”
“Wow, I’m….” Lindsey feels tears welling. “It’s beautiful. I can’t believe…. Opal will love it. So generous…. Nana doesn’t even know us!” She flings her arms impulsively around Damon. “Thank you. Thank her.”
He hugs her back, and his strong solidity feels good. Then he eases back, takes the basket and sets it again on the trunk. “Let’s not squish it!” He shrugs. “It’s what Nana does. Takes care of people.”
Lindsey’s fishing a tissue out of her jeans pocket to wipe her eyes.
He gives her space, wandering over to look up at the sheltering maple boughs. “This place is incredible, Lindsey! It just drew me to sit under here and look up at the light glowing through the leaves.”
“It’s my favorite place to sit when I need peace. It’s the Meredith tree.”
“She was my great-aunt. She left me enough money for the down payment on this place. That’s why I could keep it in the divorce settlement.”
“Well, thank you, Great-Aunt Meredith! So let’s get some photos of you under the tree. Then we’ll go down by the creek and see what you’ve been doing.”
They tour the native trees, bushes, and ground covers she planted years earlier with the help of local Stream Steward volunteers who provide plants to restore salmon-spawning streams with cooling shade. The dense green foliage has created a quiet oasis in the middle of town, a refuge not only for the salmon, but for Lindsey in the hard years with Nick and the divorce.
“Shhh.” Lindsey beckons Damon to follow her across her improvised log bridge over the mucky bog and onto the creek bank. Peering through the overhanging shrubs that have flourished in the past few years, they can see the red-tinged backs of spawning salmon. Undulating slowly, the salmon hang in the low current over the gravel spawning beds.
“Wow,” Damon whispers. “I thought this creek was too polluted from the mall parking lot runoff.”
“Work in progress. Still polluted, but the salmon give me hope.”
Damon smiles into her eyes, then they watch quietly for a while, the only sound the subdued lapping of the creek and a winter wren warbling its melodious song.
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