Remember the best friend you had when you were twelve? The friend that was quirky and funny, who cried with you when you were sad, and celebrated your accomplishments as heartily as if they were their own? The one with whom you could lose hours of a day in conversation, without ever running out of things to say? The one you could sit comfortably with, in silence, knowing that words weren’t necessary? I’ve been dreaming about finding that friend for most of my life. I finally found her, in Jaki.
Jaki and I first met at the Wild Writing Retreat last October. Although we were bunkmates, sharing a cabin, we didn’t really get to know each other until after the retreat was over. A fellow poet, Jaki emailed me one day and asked if I’d be interested in meeting for a coffee and maybe share some poetry. From that first meeting, I knew I’d stumbled on to something special.
“Let’s go for a drive,” Jaki said. “I’ll pay for gas and bring a lunch. You do the driving and take pictures.”
Sounded like a good deal to me.
The air was thick with smoke from the fires across the border when I got to Jaki’s house. She and Tusket-the-Dog were ready to get out of town. I’d chosen Brown Lake as our destination. I remembered how much I enjoyed the drive the last time I went out that way, and I was eager to share it with Jaki.
We drove up McCulloch Road, stopping whenever the mood struck us. I took pictures and Jaki looked at the wildflowers and trees.
It was too early for the Tamarack trees to have turned to gold, but autumn was definitely in the air. The further in we went, the more the vegetation crowded the roadside. We turned off the music and the air conditioning, and rolled down the windows. The air here was sweet, as if the trees were filtering out the acrid smoke. I was busy appreciating the stumps.
This one looks like a little boy fishing on the banks of a stream.
Jaki pointed out all of the different plants she knew to be edible, and which parts of them were best to eat.
“Look at that mushroom!” I said, pulling over.
“Oh, those are very good to eat,” she said, “fried up with butter. But you have to eat them right away or they turn black and slimy.”
“I’ve got a camp stove in the back, and probably a frying pan.”
“I’ve got butter.”
Who brings butter on a road trip? I love this woman. But we left the mushroom where it was.
We talked and laughed, sharing stories from our childhood. I can’t even begin to tell you what a pleasure it was to be with someone who understood my reference to Treebeard, someone whose knowledge of Middle Earth pre-dated Peter Jackson, before Tolkien became cool.
Jaki, whose memory is much sharper than mine, recited poetry. I tried to reciprocate, but the only snippets of poetry I know are all Robert Frost. Cousin Bob, as Jaki likes to call him. Apparently, her husband was a distant relative.
“Do you suppose that someday, years from now, two little old ladies will be out driving the back roads reciting our forest poems to each other?” I asked.
“Oh, absolutely,” Jaki said, and we laughed. We’re both geeks.
Eventually we found our way to Brown Lake and had our picnic.
Jaki frowned at her sandwich.
“Needs salt,” she said. “Oh, wait. I have some in my purse.”
Salt in her purse… Did I mention that I love this woman?
After a delightful lunch – food always tastes better when you eat outside – we got back on the road. From Brown Lake, the highway comes very quickly. We made one final stop before leaving the woods. The sun was just starting to go down and the trees were glowing in the late afternoon light. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day, and I felt better than I’ve felt in weeks.
The Pioneer Girls used to have a saying. “A friend hears the song in my heart, and sings it to me when my memory fails.”
Thank you, Jaki, for singing to me.