A brief encounter, an act of kindness.
The woman was thin; too thin I would say. Her face had a kind of beauty about it but not real pretty. She looked of someone whom lived in these mountains all her life. She was deeply tanned, and leather worn. Her hair was auburn, and straight; pulled back tight as if it would be a nuisance if left to itself. Her dress was plain, made for summer. It was old and worn and hung loose. Her eyes though, seemed bright and happy, belying the hard life she had always known. And, as she came closer. I stood up straight, put my coffee on the roof of my car and sort of primed myself for an encounter. She again smiled with a nervous shyness, which revealed a gap between her front teeth. She seemed embarrassed by it and was trying her best to hide it without being obvious. I ignored that part of her and said “hello.” She said “hello” Back, brushing an annoying stray hair from her face. I could see her pail was almost filled with blackberries. I could also see that her hands were not immune to hard work. They too, like her face were deeply tanned from the sun and elements, but strong looking, sinewy, and calloused. Her fingernails were bitten down, which told me she might be a worrier. Her life surely was not a life of ease; I could tell right off. I don’t think anyone’s life in these parts would be easy, but when I looked past her over at the cliffs across Chapel Pond and realized their beauty I understood why one might never want to leave this place. It took my breath away.
“I am surprised there are not more people living up this way,” I said.
“Mister, life here in these mountains is not without hardship.”
“Rough winters, I suppose.”
She looked up at me in all seriousness and let it be known that no man, or woman here lived lightly. “Our means here is only by strong backs, shear will, and a love for these mountains. It is not for the weak, I tell you.”
An old pickup truck had rumbled up the road toward us and slowed down considerably. There were three very large muscular young men sitting in the bed of that old truck, leaning up against the cab. Their faces were grimy, and they looked dog tired from a long day’s work. But, not so tired that they didn’t notice me with a certain amount of concern. There were two older, smaller, thinner, just as dirty and tired gentlemen sitting in the cab. From their appearance I figured these fellas to be lumberjacks. The driver of the truck eyed me up and down thoroughly with an almost look of contempt; it made me nervous to say the least. I thought it wise that maybe I should get in my car and just leave. I figured why provoke them. The woman looked back at him, smiled, then waved the men along. The truck coasted to a stop as the driver gave me one last cursory look. He then tipped his greasy dirty cap at the woman and stuck his head out the window spitting a gob of brown sludge tobacco onto the middle of the road. The truck sputtered and roared as the men in the back jerked with the acceleration. One of them put his hand up to hold his hat, but never took his eyes off me.
“Friends of yours?” I asked.
“No; cousins,” She replied.
“You’re not from around here,” she said. “Just the same, you’re welcome. Pay those boy’s no mind. They was just lookin’ out for me.”
“I figured that much.”
She was looking over my car and peered into the driver’s side window. I could see she was eying something. My wallet which was devoid of any cash was on the dashboard, and a small grocery bag was folded up laying on the console between the seats. Except for those two Items my car was clean. I did not want to be rude and say anything that might bring those fellas back on not so friendly terms; she was kind of making me uncomfortable with her snooping and all. I didn’t know these parts well, so who knows what could happen. There’s a lot of mountain right here where you could leave a fella for dead and he’d never be found. But, then again, maybe I have read too many Stephen King novels.
“You married, Mister?” She asked.
Now I was getting more nervous. All I could think was every farmers daughter joke I had ever heard was about to become a reality. I was ashamed for even thinking such a thing.
“Yes I am. Going on fifteen years; Very happily.”
I added the very happily in hopes she would not get any ideas, or at least know that I had someone dear to me to go home to. But, then again, I think I was the only one there with all the ideas. My head was working overtime.
“If you have no use for that bag in there why don’t you get it for me.”
I was a bit confused. What would she want with an old grocery bag. I stood there a moment and looked her up and down just as she had done me. But, in the end I quickly figured her for a decent sort and I obliged her. I opened the door and reached in, pulled the bag from off the center console and handed it to her. She asked me if I would open it for her, which I did. She then lifted the pail of blackberries and began to tip its entire contents of blackberries into the bag.
“Does your wife make pies, Mister?”
“Oh yes. She makes excellent pies; the best I have ever had.”
‘Well then, she’ll know what to do with these.”
After the last blackberry rolled from the pail into the bag the woman wished me a safe journey to wherever I was going. I guess she didn’t care much about my business, nor did she reveal hers. I do know one thing though. She was kind. I would not say she was real pretty, but, when I watched her walk away, up that road that ran along Chapel Pond into the Keene Valley, my only thought was, how beautiful.