Thirty three years ago this summer, I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania, sitting along the state game lands road above Rt 183, enjoying a snack when a game commission food and cover truck roared by, splashing muddy water on my hiking partner and myself-. “HEY!” we yelled. The driver felt so badly, that he threw his truck into reverse and drove back to apologize. That man, Hoppy May, became one of my very best friends for the last 34 years. We have seen each other through multiple wives, boyfriends, parents’ deaths, births of our children and on and on, and he has been my hunting buddy for decades.
So when spring gobbler season rolled around and Hop wanted to know if I was coming up to his gem of a home on the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning in the elk range, I whined that I had too much work to do and couldn’t. But as I sat at my desk struggling with a story, I said, “Screw it, I’m going, I need it.”
We hiked through hemlock canyons, stepping over mossy rocks with cascading waterfalls, saw bobbing burgundy colored trilliums in the sun, heard the raspy call of a 16 inch pileated woodpecker, saw where a bull elk ran his velvet antlers across a sapling, ripping off the bark and followed the tracks of a bobcat in the mud. We sat side by side and rested our backs against a huge white pine, and closed our eyes in the sun, still listening for gobblers. The gobblers weren’t talking at all this morning, but Hop and I sure were- about our dreams, our fears, our spouses, our kids. We walked hand in hand down Lick Island Run and we told each other that we loved each other…actually multiple times, for I was so grateful for the morning away in the woods and for his friendship. And very grateful for our spouses who both honor this special friendship that we have and never feel threatened by it.
Before I left for home this afternoon, after a big plate of buckwheat waffles and homemade maple syrup (as Hop has a sugar patch that he harvests), we were talking about their cat, who strangely drools. My kids grew up visiting Hop and his wife, Jane, and always thought this drooling cat was fascinating. The cat stopped drooling for awhile but has begun again. As we laughed about it, I confessed, “I still drool sometimes,” and Hop said “I know.”
And I was shocked, for I thought this idiosyncrasy about myself that usually occurs in the privacy of my home at my desk when I am concentrating and my mouth is open (I have over active saliva glands, the dentist once told me) was only known by my husband and kids.
And Hop reveals, “Of course I know that you drool. You’ve ALWAYS drooled,” and I got red and all hot and we all started laughing so hard and his wife said, “Cindy probably knows all kinds of stuff about YOU Hop, that you don’t even know.”
Driving home, I got all teary eyed thinking of Hop and the last 33 years and I was reminded of a new friend that I recently made who early on, showed me his heart and his soul and I made the “mistake” of telling him that I loved him. But he couldn’t handle it (or me) so a thick wall was thrown up. Maybe he found he didn’t really like me once he got to know me, (and I don’t think he’s ever seen me drool.) But someone like Hop, celebrates my friendship and my love for him, and after 34 years, certainly knows all my faults, (like drooling!), and loves me right back despite it all. What a huge gift.