By the time shadows were beginning to grow long and the air cooled down a bit, we had ten flakes and the nugget of gold in her little bottle. She asked me how much it was all worth and I estimated about five dollars or so.
“Really? That much for just this little bit? Why isn’t anyone up here mining this then?”
“Lots of reasons. First is simply logistics. To get a full mining rig up here is expensive and when winter comes you can’t mine anything under the ice in this stream without destroying it. Second is that there isn’t enough here to make an operation pay for itself.” I held up a hand as she started to say something. “Wait. That means that even though we found this much, look how long we took to get it.” I looked at my watch. “About three hours – almost four – for just five dollars. It’s just not economically feasible for a company to get up here for that amount of gold.”
She nodded, looking a little deflated. She perked up when I added that private citizens have been known to take as much as several hundred dollars in a summer up here in these hills. “It beats sitting in Boulder and spending money. That’s for sure.” I said.
“Sure does. I’m getting tired now. Can we go back to the cabin?”
“Sure we can. Let me pack this stuff up and we’ll go.” I went around and gathered up the items we’d taken out of our packs and stored them. We both stood, dusted off our knees, and shouldered our packs.
Nora looked at the stream and said, “I’ll be back,” in a passable Terminator accent. I snickered and she began to chuckle. Soon the trees echoed with our laughter. She took my hand and we went down the trail back home.
“Bear to your left,” I said.
She turned to me with a puzzled look. “I thought we came from that direction.” She said, pointing right.
“Well … we did. But in this case I actually meant bear to your left.” I said quietly, gripping her hand hard and tugged her to a stop.
She slowly turned and spied what I’d seen in a meadow across the canyon about a quarter mile away. A medium-sized black bear was ambling through the grass, heading away from us fortunately, and had almost disappeared into the woods. “Yikes!” Nora squeaked quietly. Gripping my hand even tighter. “I thought you said bears were hibernating now.”
“I guess at least one isn’t yet. We’ll just stand here until it goes down that draw. Might even have a den over there.”
We watched the bear as it sampled some bushes then went past the front row of pine trees. We could occasionally spot it as it passed through bare areas, but eventually it did go over the hill and disappear. “We can go now.” I tugged on Nora’s hand. Reluctantly, she started walking but kept her head turned towards the area we’d seen the bear leave.
We were silent for a while, but then she spoke. “Are we in any danger?”
“I doubt it very much. That was probably an old female looking for her place to bed down. Once she finds it, she’ll sleep for a couple of months and never leave the den. As long as we don’t mess around over there we’ll be fine.”
She looked up at me, searching my face, and then nodded. “Okay. I trust you.”
I squeezed her hand. “I sure hope so.”
The silence around us was perfect. Even the wind seemed to die down as we walked along. A pine squirrel, annoyed by our passage, chattered from a tree and threw a pine cone at us. Nora jumped, and then laughed when she saw what it was. “Do they actually throw them, or was that an accident?”
“They really can toss cones. I’ve seen them do it. They use both hands and look like a basketball player making a free throw.” She looked at me derisively. I put my hand to my heart. “It’s true!”
Just then another cone dropped down at us. “See!” I said, pointing up. The squirrel was running along a branch above us and chattering.
Nora chuckled, “Well, that’s just fine. Squirrels that throw stuff. Now I’ve seen everything.”
I quoted from one of my favorite tee shirts: “’It’s better to bear arms than arm bears’”
She stared at me for a moment and then broke out in peals of laughter. I joined in, snickering to myself. She certainly was a naïf out in the woods. I’d also like to be the one to teach her all I knew about living off the land. She was one special person.
We arrived back at the cabin just at dusk. The mountain had shielded the sun from us for the last hour so darkness was falling fast. I built up the fire, gathered some more wood beside the fireplace, and replenished the supply outside the little back door. We made privy calls and then fixed some dinner. This time we were having grilled fish steaks – frozen, but still good in a sandwich when heated; with mayonnaise, lemon, and butter added.
After dinner, Nora went behind the curtain and changed into her leotard again. She emerged, looking as good as she had before; which is to say really well. I gave a low whistle. She curtseyed and gave me a dimpled smile.
She sat on the bear rug and lifted her feet into that impossible position again. “Thank you. Are you sure you don’t want to do these with me?”
I grimaced. “Sorry, I just don’t think I can do that sitting bit. I might try though in a couple of days. You go ahead and I’ll read.”
She lifted herself on her hands and turned towards the fire. I saw her in profile as she began stretching and pointing with her arms and fingers, back arched. This threw her breasts into stark relief against the yellow of the fire. They weren’t large, by any means, but seemed very proportionate to her overall size. I watched her for a while and then turned to my book. If I hadn’t, I would probably begin a little fantasizing and ended up on the floor with her – not necessarily doing her style of exercising. And that, of course, was out of the question at the moment.
I read a chapter or two but then my attention began to drift over to her on the rug. She was now lying flat on her stomach and alternately raising and lowering one leg at a time. As she lifted one, her same-side arm came back and she held the ankle with her fingers. The backs of my thighs actually began to hurt watching her do this. She stopped and laid flat on her face, doing deep breathing for a moment.
She must have felt my eyes. “Are you watching me?”
“Of course.” No point in lying. “Much better than reading this old book.” More truth.
She giggled. “Okay. I bet even you could do this next set.” She rolled over onto her back and laid at attention, arms to her side and feet straight out with toes pointed downward. Then she lifted her arms until they were outstretched above her head.
Very slowly she lifted her legs, bent at the knee, until her knees were pressed against her chest; ankles pressed against her buttocks. Then she extended her legs straight up to the ceiling until her knees locked. She was the letter “L” now. She held this pose for perhaps ten seconds and then carefully lowered her legs to the rug.
Now, I’ve done lots of sit-ups and I know how much strain that puts on your stomach muscles. She did this without a ripple in her stomach other than a slight tension that I could see. I broke into a fantasy about having those legs tighten around my waist like that and pulling me down. And then… Mental slap! Foghorn Leghorn was shouting at me: ‘Pay attention, boy, or you’re going to be in trouble’! I watched her do five of these repetitions in the exact same way. A slight groan escaped me.
“These aren’t hard at all if you’re trained to do them right. I wish I could get your interested, Chet. They’d really tone you up.”
“Yeah. Probably would. I could stand to lose a pound or so. Those are almost like sit-ups. How come you don’t have to have anyone hold your shoulders?”
“You don’t need that because all the lifting is done with the hips.” She demonstrated by lifting and dropping her hips several times. Another fantasy hit me. This could get really bad if I watched her much longer. I realized then that I would be unable to leave the table until my body relaxed a little. Fortunately, the chair across from me was blocking her view of the table where I sat. With a deft movement, I adjusted things until the pain eased somewhat. I announced I was going to run the truck for a while to keep the battery charged; and I discharged, I mentally added.
“I’ll be back in a bit,” I said, tugging my boots on and throwing my coat over my shoulders. She said ‘okay’ and I closed the door on her. I stepped through the patchy snow, cleaned off the driver-side door and got in. I’d parked headed in so I could watch the front door in case she came out. When I got the heater working, I did a little relaxing of my own. ‘This is going to be a tough two weeks if I’m like this already’ I said to my reflection in the windshield. I knew I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t be the one to make any quick moves, but just the same my life was going to be hard – pun intended – if I just stood there and watched from the sidelines. Maybe I should let her teach me the exercises. I already knew I could use them.
I left the truck running and eased the driver's door open. When I crept across the porch and peeked into the window I was stunned! Nora had removed her leotard and was now doing exercises in the nude. I tried to turn away, but my little head overruled my big head and I stayed. Groaning, mostly to myself, I finally, and reluctantly, turned away and went back to the truck cab.
I was sure she was listening for the truck to stop running so when I shut it off, I waited a minute before slamming the door so she could hear it. Then I went around to the privy just to give her a little more time to change into something besides skin. When I entered the cabin, she was behind the curtain. I heard water splashing. “I’m done now. Do we have anything to snack on?”
I nearly blurted out my first response, which would have startled and/or shocked her if nothing else. “I think we have a box of Cheez-its somewhere. How about those and a cup of tea?”
“Sounds wonderful to me. Earl Grey, if you have any.”
“Sure. My favorite also. Can do.” I again reflected that this was going to be a tough twelve more days if something didn’t happen – and soon.
She came out from behind the curtain in a wrap-around flannel robe two sizes bigger than her. She’d tied the belt, but left the buttons alone. I took the basin of water and threw it out the door while she sat down at the table. I fixed two mugs of tea and set the crackers down in front of us.
We talked about things happening in our lives back in Boulder while we crunched on the crackers and sipped our tea. She again asked me if I would at least try to do some of the exercises. Since she sounded so sincere in her asking, I decided that I’d agree. “Okay. But not some of those pelvis-breaking ones because I don’t think I can do them.”
“Maybe not right away, but if you stay with them I bet you can do them in a month or so. Especially if you and I go to the Yoga classes.”
“I’ve already decided I’d like to do them with you, Nora. I’d be happy to go.”
“Goodie!” She clapped her hands. “Want to try tomorrow night?”
“Sure, why not?”
She reached over and took my hand in hers and stroked the back with her fingers. “Remember though that this can be a real commitment, Chet. Yoga is definitely not some sort of weird exercise program. It’s a whole way of life for some people. I’m not into it that much, but I do believe it will help my self image and how others perceive me.”
I suddenly realized just why it was I was attracted to Nora. She’d hit it precisely on the head: she was self-aware. Even the first time I’d seen her, surrounded by broken dishes and an overturned lunch tray, she didn’t panic, yell, or cry. She just stood there quietly until I came over to help her. Any other person, male or female, would have been really pissed off and perhaps start cussing, but she didn’t. I knew right at that moment that I could use a healthy dose of self-awareness myself because I would have become unglued in the same situation.
“I’m with you all the way, Nora. I’ll try everything you ask of me. I’m definitely hooked,” ‘On you,’ I mentally added, but didn’t say it out loud. She looked up at me with those big blue eyes and smiled. I cleared my throat. “Um, what do you want to do tomorrow? Go back and pan some more?”
“That would be nice. No bears though!”
I laughed. “No, no bears. I will bring the pistol though just in case. I won’t try shooting it, but the noise scares them away.”
“That makes me feel much better. Thanks.” She yawned behind a hand. “Oooh. Excuse me! I’d better get some sleep if we’re going hiking again tomorrow.” She seemed to hesitate in a half-stand but then continued standing. She bent over, put her arms on my shoulders, and pulled me towards her. I felt her lips brush mine in a soft kiss. “G’nite, Chet.”
She went over, unzipped her sleeping bag, pulled her robe off to reveal flannel pajamas, and slipped under the covers. After she moved around getting comfortable, and zipped up the bag it was only moments before she was softly buzzing in sleep.
I watched for ten minutes as she slowly inhaled and exhaled until I got sleepy myself. I banked the fire, stripped to my shorts and climbed into my bag also. I lay awake, on my back with my hands under my head, thinking about what might be and what could be if I just kept my cool and worked this right. I gave up after a while, whispered “sweet dreams, my love”, and faded to black.