north towards Eureka

(continued from here)

On the day after Thanksgiving, we find perfect. Rather, we make it. We carve it out, hour by hour, along the two-lane highway heading north toward Eureka. Avenue of the Giants Scenic Byway. I am selfishly thrilled to have him all to myself for the day. One hand stroking the back of his neck while he drives, the other on the playlist running through my phone.

Townships tick by. Mostly quiet, we absorb the majesty of our surroundings. Towering redwoods, rivulets that fill out to creeks that suddenly become the latte-colored Eel River. Criss-crossing it through Phillipsville, Miranda, Myers Flat. Every roadside tourist trap inducing us with the promise of cornball laughs. Chainsaw Carvings. Drive-through Tree, Five Dollars. We buy buffalo jerky from a manic-seeming local whose warp speed spiel (Alrightyfolksletmejusttellyoualittlebitaboutourjerkiesgoaheadandusethetoothpicktospearyourselfapiecenowgoaheadandturnthattoothpickaroundthatsitjustlikethat) lends itself to a Kate McKinnon character. I consult a map.

"Would you rather see the Immortal Tree or the Eternal Tree?"

"Immortal, probably."

"Would you rather be immortal or eternal?"

"Eternal, definitely."

The rain flushes most of the traffic from the road. When other cars do stack up behind us, Timo pulls over to let them pass. We just want to cruise, just want to take our time.

We wonder aloud about the sorts of people that live out here, and how many inhabitants it takes to make a town, anyway. We joke about murder-y looking motels, which triggers Timo to tell stories about backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. I press my face against the window, watching the tops of trees whiz by.

In a turnoff somewhere along the state reserve route, we grab hats from the backseat and climb out into a strikingly silent grove. My rain boots sink into a forest floor of soaking pine needles, and Timo withdraws hands from warm pockets to pull me up beside him. On the ageless carcass of a fallen sequoia we survey the grove. The afternoon has brought just the right amount of rain, which we're mostly protected from anyway, under the canopy. There's something sacred about the space, the isolation and quiet. We take advantage of it, feeling brazen in the lush, wet wilderness, despite being so close to the road.

Later, stopping for snacks at a grocery store in a Stepford-esque sawmill town, I get the creeps. Something about the hollow way the music drifts down the aisles. The tinny, sad echo of it, getting lost among banks of fluorescent lights lining a disproportionately high ceiling. Everything and everyone seems cold and stale.

"Let's go," I say edgily, garnering a curious look from Timo. After we pay the dead-eyed teenage cashier for a bag of potato chips, I try to explain my unease. "It just feels like a place time has forgotten. But for circumstance, I could be here, living here, shopping here."

"Don't move here, and you won't live here," he replies in his problem-solved tone.

We play questions on the way home - his lighthearted and forgettable, mine studied and serious. I practice the art of not reading too much into his answers.

Back at the house, he fixes us plates of leftovers, cubing the roast pork and frying the mashed potatoes in little pancakes. He joins the others in front of the TV, and I drift away to the bedroom to blog. A huge, unbroken chunk of time for me just to write, and for him just to read, watch movies, and hang out.

We agree it's a pretty perfect ending to a pretty perfect day.