Below are the words I've written for days 1 - 3 of another 1000 Words of Summer.
Early the next morning, Larry and I woke up cheerful and relaxed. A fresh start for our second honeymoon. We picked up some coffee and a few vegan muffins at the snack shop, then took a drive to the sanctuary. The sun was hot and the blazing by 9 o' clock, but the air was dry. And dusty. We followed a ways back from another couple that were also headed to the sanctuary, but the trail dust still hung thick in the air. And the air conditioning in the FJ was on the fritz. So we had to roll the windows down. Good thing I remembered to take my Zyrtec before we left, or I would've sneezed my head off from the dust before we even got there.
We pulled into the sanctuary parking lot -- a double-wide-sized, packed-dirt patch of land with a couple of official-looking Jeeps on it. After getting out of the FJ and stretching my legs, I saw that my green t-shirt was coated in beige dust. I looked in the side-view mirror and sure enough, the dust had stuck to my sunscreen-coated face as well. With a perfect outline of where my sunglasses had been. Larry looked at me and laughed.
"That's another reason I don't use sunscreen. So I don't become a dust magnet. Here, wipe yourself off." He held out a roll of paper towel sand a bottled water from the duffel bag we packed.
"No thanks," I told him. "I don't want to have to reapply my sunscreen so soon. Plus if I do that, I will just get dusty again."
Suit yourself," he said, shaking his head.
The sanctuary was enormous -- over 40 acres of meadow and swampland home to over 20 species of Earthlings, according to the sign out front. I looked out over the field that didn't seem to be home to anything other than a bunch of flying bugs. Then in the distance, I saw the high chain-link fence. Behind that, a row of tall, bushy trees.
We walked up the narrow path to the stucco building with the rustic, faded sign that said "Welcome Animals." "Well done Animals?" Larry said. "That's a strange name for a place that rescues animals. Sounds more like the name of a steakhouse to me," he said a little too loudly. Then he laughed.
"Larry, please," I said. "It's "Welcome Animals. Please try to keep your carnist... so-called humor in check."
Larry didn't say anything. Oh well. So much for our fresh start. Same bickering we always do. Why couldn't he just go vegan? Just try it? I decided to stay upbeat. That was the only strategy I had for finally making him grok veganism.
The inside of the building was bright, spacious, and air-conditioned. It smelled faintly of bleach. But I enjoyed the giant posters of wildlife on the walls, and the friendly smiles of the staff. We signed in and one of the staff led us out a side door into a greenhouse.
"If you like, you can look around here at our Amphibian Rescue House," the guide said.
I looked over at Larry. He was standing arms akimbo, with a frown, wrinkling his nose.
"Smells like... algae. The stuff you eat."
"It does not," I said. "And I don't eat algae. I eat seaweed."
"There's a difference?"
"Yes. Algae is... " I struggled to think of the difference between the two. "Look, you're not very interested, so why are you asking?"
Larry's frown softened. "I'm interested, hon; I'm not making fun of it. I just don't like the smell."
"The big animals are going to smell even more. So maybe you should volunteer in the Amphibian Rescue House."
"Is that where you're gonna volunteer?'
"I want to see the cows and pigs and horses. I want to pet them, if they'll let me. You can't really pet an amphibian."
"So while you'll be petting a pig, I'll be feeding the frogs. I thought this was supposed to be a couples' retreat."
"It is!" I said a little too loudly. "I mean, couples can do whatever they want. And the sanctuary isn't officially part of the retreat. It's a bonus for animal lovers."
Larry laughed. "So now I'm an animal lover?"
"Yes, everyone who has ever loved someone is an animal lover."
Larry stared at me. "Ah, because you think people are animals."
"Well, they are. It's science. Biology."
Just then the guide returned and waved us over from the door. I quickly walked over and asked if Larry and I could stay in the amphibian house and do something useful. She smiled and led me to a cleaning supplies closet with a couple of mops and mop buckets inside.
"The instructions are posted on the wall. We use non-toxic clears here for the animals, so everything's safe. If you have any questions, just press this button right here." She pointed to a red button above a small speaker grid on the wall of the closet. "And Chris from the front desk will answer."
Then she left and joined the two other couples who were waiting outside. I watched them drive away in a camo Jeep. Sighing, I read the mopping instructions, grabbed the supplies, and met Larry at the frog pond.
"Here you go," I said. We're gonna mop the floors as a couple. Very romantic."
Larry grinned. "I just wanna spend time with you on our retreat. But if you really wanna go pet the pigs, I'll go with you."
"The pig-petting party already left."
"Then mop the floors it is!" Larry said, grabbing a bucket.
We found a spigot and mixed the mopping solution and got to work. The cleaner had an odd lime smell, but it didn't trigger my allergies. But after five minutes Larry started sneezing. A lot.
"You alright, hon?" I said.
"My eyes are stinging. Are your eyes stinging?"
"Mercifully, no. I must do well with natural formulas. You wanna take a break and walk around outside?"
I set out a "Wet Floor" sign and put the supplies back in the closet. When I shut the door and turned around, Larry was gone. Then I remembered the call button in the closet, and wondered whether I should let the front desk know we were going to walk around outside. But then I thought better of it. They would likely try to find something for us to "do," and I didn't want to subject Larry to any more cleaning fumes. So I went out the door that the guide used when she left. It had gotten even hotter outside... it felt like one hundred degrees in the shade of the overhang. I took a walk around the building, trying to keep out of the sun. Still no sign of Larry. So annoying. Day two of our three-day "couples' retreat" and Larry still wasn't vegan, and I still wasn't communing with the animals. I walked back through the door and through the amphibian house to the front desk. Then I heard Larry's voice and his laughter coming from the room behind the desk. None of the employees were about, so I peeked through the door window. Larry was holding court with one of his "wacky wife" stories. Eavesdropping, I could tell it was about the time I tried to hatch chicks from a carton of store-bought eggs. In my defense, I had read an article about somebody in the UK doing that. It seemed implausible, but the Brit got four out of the dozen to hatch out. None of mine hatched, even though I studied up on proper hatching methods and invested in the right equipment. I had wanted to save the chicks, of course, but I also wanted to make a statement. If I had gotten a chick to hatch, it would've made the news here in America. So I had been sure to document everything with photos and a motion-sensitive video camera. I composted the eggs when they started to stink.
Just then I heard a bell. It was the bell on the front door -- the sanctuary had another group of visitors. So I quickly walked around the desk so they wouldn't think I worked there.
"Hello, we're the Wilson clan," a plump woman with a safari shirt told me as she approached.
"Hello, my name is Cindy," I replied. The rest of her family hung back, dispersed, like they were trying to cool off by spreading out. She stood there and just stared at me for a few seconds. I was a bit uncomfortable, and I remembered all the dust on my face. But then she held out her hand, as if she wanted me to shake it. So I awkwardly did. "Nice to meet you," I said, smiling. "Hot outside, huh?"
"Yes. But we're really looking forward to the tour," she said. I nodded at her. "Will one be starting soon?"
"I don't know," I told her. I smiled again, but she just kept staring at me. I made a mental note to check my face in a restroom mirror.
"Could you possibly check that for me?" she said rather snarkily. Her family started to gather round -- a bored-looking man in a sweat-stained polo shirt and four teen boys sporting scowls and buzz cuts.
"Check what?" By then I was even more annoyed. I glanced over my shoulder to check whether Larry had come out of the break room and he was standing right behind me -- startled, I jumped. But he simply laughed.
"She thinks you work here," he said.
"Oh... Right." I turned back around, but the woman and her family were gone. "Where did they go?"
"Then left. They got tired of waiting for their tour."
"Why didn't you stop them?"
Larry shrugged. "I was having fun listening in." He winked.
I nodded. "Well, I'm relieved you're in a good mood. What do you wanna do now?"
"There's a sitting area down the corridor." He lifted up our duffel and pointed toward the back of the building. "We could have our lunch there. And they have cold drink machines."
We started walking down the corridor, but then heard yelling coming front the front desk area. We turned around and saw that the woman and her family were back. Apparently she had changed her mind about leaving without a tour of the place.
"Never mind them," I said, seeing a restroom. "I wanna check my face." Larry took a seat on a bench and I stepped inside the restroom. Looking at my reflection, I saw that the dust on my face was dark with sweat and my hair was windblown. So I washed my face and put my hair in a ponytail.
"Oh! You're pale again," Larry said when I stepped back out.
"I'm free of the dust and also the sunscreen." We walked the rest of the way down the corridor and I walked to the back while Larry put some change into a drink machine.
"You know it. Thanks."
Larry joined me at a table and we popped open our drinks. At the sound of the pops, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look, and there was a long green lizard walking on the floor along the wall. "Oh look," said, pointing. "I wonder if that's an official resident. We should tell someone at the front desk."
"Nah. They probably get lizards from the outside in here all the time." He took a bit of his sandwich.
"Wild lizards in New Hampshire?"
"Sure. There are wild lizards all over America." He smiled.
"I never can tell when you're kidding. Are you kidding?"
"Yeah. It probably lives here. A rescue. You wanna pet it?"
"Why not? It looks tame." I bit into my granola bar and studied the lizard. "It doesn't have fur."
"I thought you loved all animals."
"I do. I just don't think lizards like to be petted."
"Sure they do. You should pet it. That why we're here. So you could pet the animals."
The lizard looked friendly enough. And despite Larry's teasing, I had a feeling it must have been somebody's surrendered pet. Either it was an unexpected birthday gift, and the recipient wasn't a lizard-lover, or an overly ambitious apartment dweller bought the lizard thinking it would be an easy pet and not need much care. Just an aquarium, some water, and the occasional bug. But lizards are people too, and they need love and attention. After all, people came from lizards; we still partially have reptilian brains. And lizards, like people, know when they are cared for. I finished my granola bar and slowly stood up.
"I'm going over to say 'hi' to my new friend," I told Larry.
"Be careful, it could be a baby Komodo dragon," he replied.
"No, baby Komodo dragons live in trees."
"Do you see any trees in here?"
"Exactly! That's why it's not a baby Komodo."
"Very funny." He went back to eating his sandwich.
I carefully approached the lizard, moving slowly and quietly so as not to send it scampering away. I could tell it was studying me as I drew nearer. Within a few feet, I crouched and put my hand palm-up on the floor.
"Hi, lizard. Do you live here? Do you like people?"
The lizard stood still.
"Were you somebody's pet? Do you like to get petted, even though you don't have fur?"
The lizard twitched. I knew it could understand me on some level! A benevolent meeting of reptilian brain lobes. And all sentient animals can sense friendliness. It's a survival instinct. Just then, I heard Larry scoot his chair back with a screech, and the lizard bolted.
"Larry! Why'd you do that? You made my new friend run away!" I scowled at him over my shoulder.
"Oh, sorry. I'm just done with lunch. I had to get up."
When I looked back at the floor, the lizard was gone. I stood and walked in the direction I had seen it run. No sign.
"Did you see where it went?"
"No. I was busy having my lunch."
"We're at an animal sanctuary, and you have a chance to see an animal up close and personal without any staff hovering over you, and you don't even look? Why are you even here?"
"This is a couples' retreat, remember?" he stared at me with a puzzled look.
"Oh. right." I felt my cheeks flush. I had almost blown my cover. "I just got excited about the critter. You know how I am. Sorry, hon."
Larry walked up and gave me a hug. "Thanks for being friendly to great apes," I said, giggling. "Well, some of them. Let's am-scray outta here," I added.
"Now yer talkin'!"
"The rest of the day is yours," I said. "Anything you want to do."
"As long as... you know."
"As long as what?"
"You know. As long as you don't ask me to do that one thing. "
"You want me to say it? Here? In this animal sanctuary? Saying out loud wouldn't seem right."
"What are you talking about? Saying what out loud?"
"Your ... meat business. I don't want to, you know... eat at a meat place."
"I already know you're vegan."
I laughed. "That's a relief."
"How about we go on a nature walk back at the hotel?" he said.
"Sure! It will be cooler in the shade of the trees."
The drive back to the resort was just as hot and dusty as the drive up. Back at the cabin, we showered and put on fresh clothes. I grabbed a map of the trails while Larry backed a backpack with a camera, waters, and granola bars. "Still early in the day," I said. "We'll have time to do one of the long trails if you'd like."
"How about we try a short one first, and see how that goes?"
We stepped out of our cabin and followed the map up the sidewalk to a tall bridge. On the other side of the bridge, the trail forked. "The short trails are Ladybug Lane, Butterfly Byway, and June Bug Jump."
"June Bug Jump in June."
We took the far left path to a dry basin with a copse of thick pine trees on in middle. The path wound around the basin and up the side of a grassy hill. "I don't see any June bugs," Larry said.
"I think they named these trails just to be cute," I said.
" 'June Bug Jump' is cute?"
"Of course it is. Alliteration. Like with Ladybug Lane and Butterfly Byway."
We continued walking up the hill to the summit, then followed the trail down the same side.
"I thought we were gonna see a bunch of jumping June bugs on the trail."
"Really? I can't ever tell when you're kidding."
"I'm not kidding. That's why I picked this trail. For the June bugs."
"Even if they did name the trail for jumping June bugs, do you think the June bugs would stick around after people kept clamoring by every day?"
"Why not? Every June bug I've ever met just as soon will fly right in your face as fly anywhere else. They don't care. They're just dumb bugs."
"They are not dumb."
"Jesus. Don't tell me June bugs are people too."
"I wasn't gonna say that." I tried to think of something else to say. "June bugs are as smart as they need to be," I finally said.
Then Larry said, "Look!" and pointed back up the trail. Dozens of little shiny black shapes arcing off the top of the hill and falling down onto the basin below. June bugs. Jumping. "So I was right. They named it for a practical reason."
"But why would June bugs jump from such a high place?"
"Evolution," he said. "They probably were designed to crawl up through the grass, eating things along the way, then jump down so they can do it all over again.