You're walking slightly ahead of me, as you've been for twelve miles. It'll be another eight (and change) until we collapse, salt-streaked and pack-bent, back into the car. I've been watching you swat this onslaught of gnats for hours as we climb; watching the black soil dust your ankles and calves like cocoa. I worry for your exposed skin. The poison oak is always thick in this canyon, and it's turned the warning-sign crimson of late summer. I'm so hungry that I swear I can smell the deli sandwich buried under the sleeping bag I don't realize I've been carrying in vain. I listen to the owls and the bugs and the talksome birds - and the occasional helicopter, but that's the way of it up here. My mind is full of plans and memories and account balances and think-I'm-gonnas. I watch your hands, and your step, and the backs of your shoulders, and marvel again at what we've built.
It's going to be impossible to find the shirt in this brown-water river, but we're laughing anyway; we'll just have to go back to Thailand and get you another one. We float together past the bespoke backyards of the Bakersfield elite, your long body rolling easy over the end-of-season bumps in the water. On the boat, our cologne-commercial-beautiful nineteen-year-old river guide makes up ludicrous stories about the landscape to pass the time - Vietnam and the Mayans figure in here. Boulders roll under the boat, sliding underfoot like schools of turtles, bucking and bouncing and eliciting delighted shrieks from us womenfolk. You men roughhouse and knock each other in, all play-growls and bravado and dunking. You drive two more hours to bring us home, all quiet and smiling.
It's been such a long time since we've had a night like this - a table full of friends, and pizza, and Red Hook, and wandering around the beloved neighborhood that's suddenly new because it's (essentially) new to everybody else. It's pints and laughter and feeling out the deeper limits of the conversation. And more pints. And more laughter. And forcing people to play video game themes on an the guitar. And telling stories that you, like, totally wouldn't tell otherwise. And, in the process, solidifying something between different-but-the-same people.
The summer's over now. Bring on the fall. It's going to be a good one.