I pulled out the new tablecloth and white candles. "Will you want red with the steak?"
"That would be lovely," Aya said as she licked one finger seductively tasting the dressing. "Microwave baked potatoes okay?"
"Absolutely," I answered as I reached for a bottle of Chianti Classico.
I stacked the Franklin stove with paper, some kindling and three split logs. I lit the paper and closed the door. The paper burst into flame. Whether Aya would see anything in me or not, I didn't know. I just knew that I was going to try and make this whole evening as romantic as I could.
I watched Aya's slender hands and fingers carefully dice green onions as I washed my hands in the kitchen sink. It was well dark outside now.
"Let's get everything ready and we can sit outside while the steaks are on the barbeque," I said to her, "I want to show you something."
Aya gazed at me with a puzzled expression.
"You'll need a light jacket."
Everything was ready. The plates were on the table, steak knives and forks, paper napkins. I lit the candles. The fire was roaring and the heat from the stove was warming the room.
I held the screen door open with my back while holding the steak laden plate in one hand and my wine glass in the other. Aya walked through the door holding her wine glass.
"Oh my God!" she gazed up into the sky. Her jaw had dropped and she almost stumbled in bewilderment, "Oh my God!"
I smiled realizing, as I suspected, she'd never seen a night sky as spectacular as was laid out before her eyes.
"I've seen pictures, b...but...nothing like this before." She couldn't stop gazing upwards. "There's millions...I don't believe it."
"Billions and billions Carl Sagan would say."
The night sky was clear and bright. Countless stars filled the sky and opened up the heavens. The familiar constellations were drowned in light, receding back into eternity. The moon was just a crescent sliver.
Aya sat on the top step of the deck and leaned back, never taking her eyes from the sky. She was dumb struck, unable to speak.
"Awesome, I think is the proper term", I suggested.
"Awesome indeed," she managed. "The stars at night have always been beautiful, but this...this is unbelievable."
I smiled as I flipped the steaks. Aya was like a little girl again. My heart swelled with the realization that I was able to bring such joy to Aya. And it wasn't my doing. We were just blessed that it wasn't cloudy or raining outside. All I did was have her come out to see something that had been there forever, albeit hidden by city lights.
"A shooting star! I saw a shooting star! Did you see it?"
I flipped the steaks again and chuckled. "You're lucky. Make a wish." I'm the lucky one I knew.
The cabin was warm as we made our way back inside. Aya wiped tears from her cheeks with a tissue as I popped Mozart's Requiem into the CD. "I hope this is okay with you?" I asked as we sat down to the table.
"Beautiful," she answered still wiping tears from her eyes, "just beautiful."
We ate in silence as the fire crackled in the stove only interrupted by the occasional "Mmm." It was a surreal moment. I could see the grandeur of the sky still burning in Aya's eyes as she gazed at me. The Requiem Mass gently drifted in our ears. God's music played in our tiny temple as the heavens swirled outside. Aya was clearly humbled by the experience. And I was humbled by her reaction. What a beautiful human being I was sharing dinner with tonight.
"Aya what's wrong?" I asked as her hands were sunk into dishwater cleaning up. I could hear her sobbing to herself. I stood next to her holding a dish towel as she turned to me pulling her soapy hands from the water. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. "What's wrong?"
Aya wrapped her soapy hands around my neck looking into my eyes and whispered "Kiss me."
I pulled her close and lowered my lips to hers. Her lips were soft, full, quivering as I pushed my lips down onto hers harder. She pulled me down. We kissed for a moment then I pulled away kissing a tear from her cheek.
"Aya why are you crying?"
She tried to wipe her runny nose with the back of her hand but only managed to cover the side of her nose with a cluster of soap bubbles. "Oh," she laughed at herself, trying to recover by wiping her face with her forearm. Tears were still streaming from her eyes, but she was grinning through it all realizing just how silly she looked as more soap came off in her black hair.
"I'm sorry Rob," sniffling. She pulled the dishcloth from my hands and cleaned off her hands stepping in search of a tissue.
"I know I must look silly," she said blowing her nose and clearing the tears from her eyes.
"I think you look beautiful, simply stunning." I said calmly.
Tears welled up again and she grabbed another tissue and blew her nose again. I still didn't know why she was crying.
"Rob, it's just that..." she sniffled again, "I realized that I've not been this happy...this happy in years." She blew her nose again. "Rob, you've made me this happy. This has been a perfect day."
I smiled at Aya and pulled her tight to my chest. She wrapped her arms around me.
"Thank you Rob. That you so much for everything."
"All I did was drive and flip a couple of steaks Aya. You did all the rest."
"Don't be silly Rob." She tilted her head up and we kissed again. Our tongues touched, just momentarily but I had enough to savour Aya's sweetness. I could feel tears well up in my eyes as my chest beat against hers.
"Let's finish the dishes Aya."
She pulled away from me and smiled.
We sat on the couch in front of the fire with Aya curled up, snuggled next to me. We each nursed the last of our wine. As much as I would have liked to, I knew that I couldn't make a pass for her. Plus, I still couldn't get my head around why such a beautiful, vivacious woman would want anything to do with me romantically. I was content just to sit there in front of the fire and feel the warmth from Aya against my chest.
I caught her glass as it almost slipped from her fingers. Gently I placed it on the table. She was asleep. Asleep in my arms. I studied her face. Perfect. I wanted to kiss her but I didn't dare. I just drank up her beauty.
The fire needed another log, my wine was finished, my eyelids were getting heavy and most urgently I needed to pee. "C'mon Aya, time to go to bed." I gently shook Aya's shoulder. Her eyes opened up, she paused trying to figure out where she was then sat up. She smiled at me, kissed my cheek and stumbled off to the bathroom. I cleaned up the wine glasses and corked the bottle. She came out of the bathroom and straight to her bedroom as I closed the door on the stove. Finally.
I woke up in the middle of the night sensing that the stove could use another log or two. As I sat on the toilet and gazed out the window, I knew what I had to do.
"Aya wake up." I shook her shoulder gently. She was still dressed. "Wake up."
"Wake up, get out of bed, I have another surprise for you."
"C'mon get out of bed. Get dressed." I pulled her up. "Put this on." I handed her a baseball cap. "Put your coat on we're going outside."
She flopped back down onto the bed. "I've seen the stars. I'm tired."
Pulling her back up and placing the cap on her head, I said "Trust me."
With great effort she swung her legs off the side of the bed, rubbing her face.
"Put your coat on, let's go."
She stood up and went into the bathroom. I found my flashlight and put my jacket on. It was two thirty in the morning.
Aya stumbled out of the bathroom then returned from her room carrying her coat and shoes. "I don't know what you want Rob. I hope this is worth it."
With the flashlight illuminating each step we made our way down to the dock, her hand in mine. "Now sit here," I said wiggling the flashlight to indicate the spot. Holding onto my arm she sat on the dock.
"Oh my God!"
Above our heads danced the most brilliant display of the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis, that I'd ever seen in my life. Massive curtains of green, blue and white light towered over our heads reaching up to unimaginable heights. The entire sky danced to a luminescent silent symphony as the stars watched in approval from their inky depths. At once blue pulses of light shimmered slowly in one part of the sky while a long, green sweeping tail lazily snaked through another. Sudden brilliant flashes crashed as soundless cymbals then disappeared into a glistening echo. The sky was simultaneously hot and icy. A silent luminous beat pulsed above us.
My heart beat wildly to the unimaginable beauty unfolding above us. My eyes watered in the cool air. The sheer majesty of the spectacle completely overwhelmed my senses.
Aya was silent. Her mouth was agape.
We both lay on the dock gazing to the heavens. I watched as Aya reached up to try touch the light curtains, giggling.
We lay motionless for many long minutes mesmerized by the glorious heavenly ballet, holding hands.
No words were spoken. None could augment the moment, only detract.
After a few minutes Aya rolled over on top of me, her lips found mine and we kissed. Her black hair tempered only by the baseball cap on her head was surrounded by a halo of green, blue and white brilliance.
"You must be a wizard, conjuring up the heavens for me," she whispered. She kissed me passionately, her tongue played with mine. I squeezed her tight. I was holding an angel, a true star child.
Eventually we went back inside. We had been outside for a full hour. She kissed me again before we retired to our separate bedrooms.
"Thank you," I said in silence to the gods above.
The coffee was through before Aya stumbled from her slumber. "Good morning," she said with a smile as she kissed me on the lips. I handed her a mug of coffee, she opened the fridge in search of milk.
I smiled at the sight of her in cozy pajamas, a pink housecoat and fluffy pink slippers. Her hair was a complete mess. I was trying to contain myself as she fixed her coffee. The fire was going again and it was light out. Another clear beautiful day looked in store.
"That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life," she said as she snuggled up on the couch next to me.
"I've seen the Northern Lights several times," I said, "but never as brilliant as last night. The gods smiled down on you last night, that's for sure."
Aya smiled gently at me and reached out to tickle me behind my right ear. "I'm not sure about that, but as long as you're smiling at me I'll be alright." She followed that up with a wet kiss on my cheek.
I was smitten.
My Best of New Riders of the Purple Sage CD was playing as we made ourselves a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, jam and big fresh navel oranges. We both rocked to the music looking forward to our day on the water and whatever adventures awaited us.
"Lots of layers," I said as we finished cleaning up, "It could get warm today."
It was a glorious morning as we set off in the little boat. We were packed with all the equipment we needed for the bonsai hunt plus fishing rods and tackle box. I stored a six pack of Moosehead cans under the seat next to the lunch box that Aya had prepared and a backpack containing raingear. We had binoculars around our necks.
I held the topographical map encased within a zip-lock bag in my hand. "Your job Aya is to sit in front and watch the water. If you see anything, anything at all that looks the least bit different, then simply point to it. I'll see you pointing."
"Like what?" she asked.
"Like a log or a rock or a beaver, anything that makes the water ripple just a tiny bit differently. It's perfectly fine if you're mistaken. We don't want to bump into anything out in the water."
"Okay," she said as she swung her legs to the bow.
Aya couldn't contain her enthusiasm. She was almost bouncing in her seat as we glided across the smooth almost glass-like cold water. The silhouette of the shoreline trees was perfectly reflected in the water below. Everything was pristine. I angled the boat towards a rocky island, slowing down to just a crawl.
"Okay Aya. Turn around." She did. "Bonsai hunting one oh one. Be careful as you step in and out of the boat. Each movement has to be measured, steady. The same applies to when we get ashore." She listened to me intently. "I'm going to bring the boat into that rock over there." She turned her head to take a look. "You are going turn around, take the rope in your hand then stand up at the front of the boat. When the boat touches the rock, swing one leg from the boat but don't transfer your weight until you are sure your footing is steady and secure. Then hold the rope get out and pull the boat back towards you so I can get out too. Leave your binoculars in the boat. Ready?"
I kicked the motor into neutral and glided in. Aya spun around in her seat, then stood up. She held the rope in her gloved hand. The boat eased up to the rock. She caught it with the hiking boot on her left leg. I watched her pretty ass in khaki coloured jeans as she hopped out of the boat smiling, pleased with her effort. She did it perfectly.
I cut the engine and walked out of the boat taking the rope from her. "We don't need anything else." I secured the rope to a small shrub and said, "Let's go."
The island was a typical lichen wonderland. Red granite peeked out between broad swathes of grey-green reindeer lichen crunching under foot. The granite graced with quartz veins locked together in a multi-billion year loving embrace. There were sparse trees, red lichens and green lichens bursting into patches. Leafy grey lichens resembled paper thin mushrooms and green brown ones that appeared as exquisitely fashioned waxy paper ears, as if the depths of the shield itself listened in on the world outside. Broken sticks and twigs were scattered everywhere. Small shrubs were just coming back to life. The jack pines were covered in a grey lichen, clinging to the branches struggling for a spot to thrive, thankful for its host. Everything smelled fresh. Twigs embedded within the reindeer lichen poked through waiting to be swallowed in nature's due course.
Aya's eyes were like saucers as she walked over the undulating grey carpet. A red-winged blackbird gurgled his familiar rising liquid song 'coke-la-ree' at water's edge, flashing his brilliant red epaulets, utterly unconcerned with our presence.
"This is a Jack Pine," I said to Aya holding a sparse branch, "Pinus banksiana. Fantastic bonsai material. Look at these pairs of needles. Short, stout. Look at the scaly bark, the natural sinewy nature of its growth." She held the branch in her hand smelling the aroma. "Jack pine is the tree that Tom Thompson painted in his famous West Wind."
Aya almost stroked the tree with reverence.
"Look at the cone. Tight, twisted, resinous, coiled, waiting for a fire to release it."
I took a couple more steps, "This is my favourite bonsai subject, Northern White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis. Yes it's the normal cedar that you see in hedges, but here it's in its natural state. Superb bonsai material. The foliage can be pinched back into dense bundles or trained as graceful lines."
We sat down on the lichen and looked out over the water.
"Look across there. Do you see those trees reflected at water's edge?"
"Can you see that some have a green haze above them and some an almost purple colour above them?"
"Those are the buds, just starting to swell. From this distance both trees seem to have more or less the same shape and size. In fact, the trees with the purple haze are our familiar Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera. The green haze trees have a slightly greyer, less papery bark, it's Quaking Aspen, Populus trembuloides. Aspen is the favourite food of our friend, Mr. Beaver."
"It's true. To a beaver aspen is like steak, pizza and chocolate all rolled up into one."
Aya gave me a playful whack on the arm, "Stop being silly."
She smiled taking it all in.
"And look way over there. See those tall pines?"
"Eastern White Pine, Pinus strobes."
"How can you tell from here?"
"Because they're so tall. See how they grow straight, then when they get to a certain height, when they tower over the rest of the forest, a prevailing wind tends to give them a funny top."
"At one time they were a valuable commercial tree supplying the shipping industry with masts. They're majestic aren't they?"
"Do they make good bonsai?"
"You bet. Slow growing though. It takes a long time to get fissured bark. It's our only five needle pine. The tree has this softness about it. Beautiful tree."
"It's beautiful here," she said.
She was right. It surely was. I gave her a hug. She kissed me on the cheek. I grinned in delight.
"Okay, time for lesson one-oh-two, c'mon get up Aya." She took my hand and brushed the lichen off of her sexy bum with the other. We walked up to a group of short jack pines and cedars.
"Oh look at this one!" she said as she rushed up to a gnarled twisted cedar, "it's perfect." She was beaming with delight at her find.
"Reach down," I said, "grab a hold of the trunk as low as you can and give it a wiggle and twist. Does it move?" She did as asked.
"No, not at all."
"Then forget about it. Even if you could get that tree out, its trunk will be deformed from where it is trapped within a granite fissure. Just move on to the next."
I picked up a small, young jack pine and in one move lifted it with the complete root ball from the lichen covered granite. "See Aya, either they are completely stuck in the granite or they can be pulled free, not always as easily as this, but there's very little grey area between. Often the root will trail off to some little depression ten feet away making it an unsuitable specimen. What we want to find is a gnarled old tree with the trunk all free and wiggly. When we find that, we have a chance to dig it out and collect it." She watched me in wonderment.
"How old do you think that tree is?" she said referring to her trapped gem.
"A hundred maybe two hundred years. Look at the bark. This puppy has been here for a while."
Aya's eyes widened again.
"Forget about it. Move on." I pointed to a spreading thatch of juniper. "See that juniper? Forget about them too, I've never found one that's not embedded in granite. Plus the needles will irritate your skin. Look for Thuja and jack pine."
We got back into the boat and continued our hunt. I explained to Aya that she needed to use the binoculars to scan the shoreline. What she had to look for was a small tree with a comparatively massive trunk and compact growth. We trawled along the shore. Several times I let her out and she would clamber up to check if the trunk moved on a particular tree, then climb back into the boat after establishing that the tree wasn't collectable. She was getting very good at getting in and out of the boat. I loved watching her ass as she scrambled up the granite to check out a tree or two. Bonsai collecting was never this much fun.
We came up to a massive granite rock on the shore, Aya hopped out of the boat pushing me off and made her way up the rock through a shallow crevasse angling to the right. I pulled out my fishing rod and took a few casts, although I knew it would probably be too deep where I was for pike at this time of year. The rock stretched along the shore for probably a couple of hundred yards to my left and fifty to my right. It was easily thirty foot high with what seemed to be another rock behind it twenty or thirty feet higher than the first, but extending the full length. I was starting to get a little worried about Aya when she appeared high above me and two hundred feet to my left.