The Nature Center
A handsome young man led me through the woods this morning.
Justin. His name was Justin. He was young, probably several years out of college. Even with two long-sleeved shirts to dispel the coolness of the late Spring morning, I could see his slenderness. It was a good slender, not sickly, more like a runner or a gardener of flowers. He was strong, a hint of muscle mass occasionally pressing the underside of his garments, casting off shadows, exposing but exposed. When I met him, he had a Detroit Tigers baseball cap on, which lent his head to bend down a bit when he spoke, to keep out the rising rays of the sun. His brown eyes would emerge as he threw his head back to laugh. Which he did often. As the morning slid on, and the heat danced around us, he removed the cap. Dark straight hair, dark straight eyes.
His stature and stroll reminded me of boys I knew when I was a girl among girls. I grew up playing hide and seek, playing statues and freeze tag, playing doctor, playing with fireflies and grapevines, with boys no taller than me, boys skinnier than me, boys who could talk about anything with whispered wonder and a vision of science fiction worlds they could create. I knew his type, and was immediately inclined to fall in step behind him.
He led me out of the barn, the wooden toys left behind for others to discover, through groves of hollyhocks, which he tempted, “they’re sweet when you sip them”. Up and down a rolling bridge which sung high above a baritone stream, slippery with rocks. He pointed out the tap holes in the sugar maples, picked up pine needles and, with bemused eyes, told the story of how settlers would chew them for the vitamins, brew them for tea, stuff pillows with them for their ragged, traveled heads.
Children were everywhere, grabbing at twigs, stalking spiders, crowing loudly about the size of the mushroom they found. Justin chatted with them, laughed at their mocking horror of pioneer children not having Playstation, and winked at the adults when listing off the decades of progress we would be leaving behind…1980, 1969, 1958. All this chatter, I thought, no wonder he put in earplugs!
I’ve been to concerts before with experienced sound guys, guys who knew enough to protect their hearing, so aware of the potential loss that they kept small boxes of spongy earplugs in their pockets, passing out the extras to the unsuspecting. Justin appeared to be wearing...just one?
The tumblers clicked. Justin was talking to T.J., the hearing impaired boy. I heard the words, “We’re in the same boat.” Ah. A hearing aid. Justin had not the speech concerns so evident in the hearing impaired I had been with just nights before. He had no hesitation standing in front of our crowd and joking, laughing, challenging. Justin looked up, and right at me, his eyes in a crinkle of a smile. I jolted, and grinned. I had an immediate and intense crush.
As the teacher handed out chocolate-studded cookies midway through the walk, Justin pointed skyward to the giant legs of white pines mingling with elm, maple, cherry, shafts of light pulling through, the needles under our feet making our footsteps nothing more than cat paws on carpet. Pfff, pfff, pfff. I wanted to picnic there. I wanted to sit and drink wine and listen. I wanted to inhale the quiet.
We wound up our walk at the door of a log cabin. Inside, herbs hung from the hand-hewn rafters. A cast-iron stove stood ready for tea, and a spinning wheel stopped silent along the back wall. Justin led our group up the narrow stairs, to the bedrooms once occupied by children of other days, to the checkers and the chamber pots, the straw hats and the rope beds. Justin and I caught each others eyes as we watched the children examine the articles of their long-ago peers. He smiled. I smiled. I thought, he’ll make a great dad some day.
Justin led us on a serpentine path to the parking lot. He said goodbye to all of us, and we thanked him and clapped our hands. He grinned. We grinned. Walking past, I could feel him looking at me. I snuck a glance as I ascended the steps of the school bus. He was watching, a hand outstretched in a fluttering goodbye.
This morning I chaperoned a trip to the nature center. And there I met a young man. Justin of the dark straight hair. Justin of the dark straight eyes.