The first thing I noticed was the pleasantly acrid odor of overcooked hot dogs being seared beyond hope by an open flame. With only the smell to jog my memory, I could almost taste the carbonized skin of many hot dogs past. I was suddenly envious that someone was enjoying a campfire, but more so that I was not physically present.
Strange the jealousy that we experience when we see or smell a campfire; I never feel that way when I see a Range Rover.
I was traveling at a reasonable forty-seven to fifty miles per hour, but all the windows were down. Driving on a summer evening demands open window travel if only for the olfactory pleasures that abound all around us. Shutting myself into a sealed steel cave with factory air might be an option in southern regions, but a Maine summer evening offers so many fragrances that need examination; I don’t want to miss even one.
Last night’s ride was a pleasant saunter through an area peppered with small ponds that percolate from glacier-formed potholes on either side of a winding hilly drive. It’s an area of wild and rugged possibilities, with nary a homestead for miles.
As you peer through the wooded tracts that line the road, you can catch an occasional glimpse of boulder-strewn shorelines of ponds with forgotten names. The late afternoon sun shimmers on the outcroppings, seemingly unchanged and unchallenged by the creep of civilization. It’s a pleasant area to strain your eyes late in the day.
I crested a hill preparing for the steep pitch that follows, looking back at Ellie to see if her paws and claws were up to the task of clinging to the worn velour on the backseat as we prepared to be unsettled by the whoop-tee-doo that we all once wished for when dad drove— a bit fast— back when we were kids. Her wind-filled and watering brown eyes intently watched the roadside while her lips quivered and flapped in the 43-knot wind. She may have identified the odors before I did.
As I turned to gaze forward, I observed a small Honda sedan pulled over to the far right and precariously parked on the edge of a downward pitch. Swimwear—probably damp from a late afternoon dip—hung from the passenger side windows. The woodsmoke that recently warned me of overdone weiners wafted up and out of the woodline. The steep bank to the rocky water’s edge created a natural pathway for the smoke to travel upward.
Gray wood smoke drifting in the waning light of a slowly-fading afternoon is a pleasant sight when in the middle of nowhere in particular. I was suddenly gripped with a desire to pull over, park, and wander down the steep embankment to bask—uninvited—in the peacefulness of the pop-up Nirvana.
In a time when many of us demand to be entertained by electronic means, this young couple had found their respite on cool granite that would never share the details of their story. The wisps of smoke carried away their whispers, and the orange coals burned off the bitterness that we sometimes carry right into our weekends. Campfires are a magical abyss, and I was not an invitee to the gathering. Not in-person anyway.
However, for twenty seconds, I was part of an early evening picnic. Sure, in truth, I was a fleeting spectator with a dog in tow, but in my mind, I was a willing and relaxed participant at their quiet spot for an above-average evening on the jagged edge of America.
Strange, the jealously we experience when we see or smell a campfire; I never feel that way when I see a Range Rover.
(Copyright Tim Cotton 2021)
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