Erin sat on a flat rock overlooking the gorge. She set her backpack on the ground beside her, and considered whether to eat her sandwich now, or wait a few minutes. The soft breeze tousled her pony-tailed hair and cooled her cheeks. She closed her eyes and listened to the birds trilling in the trees and the river’s soft babble floating upwards the rocky crags of the gorge. Trees and plants clung onto the cliff wall; their gnarled tendrils snaked downwards towards the fertile earth by the riverbed.
She had followed the narrow, knobby, pebbled path that hiked up, up, up through the forest; its thick canopy only allowed weedy shafts of sunlight to peek through its branches. Erin had gasped as she had burst through the trees; the world, wide and tall and warm and sunlit, had appeared before her in all its marvelous expanse.
Something rustled in the trees behind her, and Erin opened her eyes. The blue, cloudless sky shimmered above her, while the river gushed so far below that its thunderous roar reached her ears like a mere sputtering gurgle. Dark silhouettes of mountains rose ahead like prehistoric and unreachable worlds.
“The bigness of it all,” Erin murmured, recalling that, only a couple of hours before, the metal shell of her car had enclosed her. And the walls of her house had sheltered her, yet imprisoned her at the same time.
Erin reached into her pack and took out her cell phone. She fought the urge to open the addicting game that kept her cooped up with its encroaching narrowness and instead turned on the camera. She pointed the lens at the gorge; sunlight obliterated the images on the screen. Blinking, Erin snapped a picture.
She put the phone away and laid back against an adjacent rock, as if the landscape had created a hard, bumpy little divan just for her. Erin fought the urge to reclaim the phone and open the game. She placed her arms behind her head like a living pillow and interlaced those itchy fingers. She glanced upwards as the fluffy, white clouds rolled through the blue sky.
Another rustle; Erin turned her cheek towards the sound and watched as a man emerged from the forest path. She noticed the man’s clothing: breeches with thick knee-high socks and short boots. He wore a short, belted frock coat and flat cap. He seemed to carry something burdensome, but as he reached the overlook, the man glimmered in the light, colors fading into a blur. The sun stung Erin’s eyes, and she closed them. The man seemed not to notice her.
Listening, she pictured the man’s movements. He bustled about and traipsed over the uneven ground. He stopped. A soft tapping of wood as he opened what sounded to her like a folding chair. His treading footfalls, and more tapping, clapping and rustling mingled with the sounds of the gorge.
He’s setting up his camera, I suppose, Erin thought as the warm breeze kissed her cheeks. She wrinkled her nose. The breeze carried a faint scent of chemicals mingled with the overpowering aroma of pine, moss, and damp earth. Erin tried to open her eyes, but the light burst through her eyelashes. She could have turned her head away from the sunlight, but preferred the breeze blowing in her face.
The sounds the man made soon faded away. Erin dozed on the rocks, with the babbling river below her, the cerulean expanse of sky above, the colossal mountains beyond, and the dense, cool forest at her back.
A shadow passed over her and darkened the inside of her eyelids.
The soft clearing of a man’s throat rumbled, “Pardon me, madam.”
Erin blinked her eyes open; the man’s young, smiling face towered over her. His smile crept over his features despite the bushy, dark eyebrows and eyelashes shading his twinkling eyes, and a thick vandyke beard hiding his lips. She caught his smile and returned it.
“I did not wish to disturb you,” he said in a gruff voice and tobacco scented breath, “but your placidity enchanted me, and I wished to capture the moment.”
He held out a thin iron plate towards her, “Please forgive me for intruding on your rest, and accept this token of gratitude for your peaceful company this afternoon.”
“You’re not bothering me,” she said, “the sun’s so bright! I snapped a picture with my phone, but the glare… I couldn’t see anything on the screen.”
Erin took the plate he handed her.
“I beg pardon,” the man said, his eyebrows knitted together in confusion, “I had no trouble with my camera, and I placed my portable darkroom tent beneath the shaded boughs. Tintypes are excellent for outdoor photography.”
Erin sat up and glanced at the thin sheet of metal in her hands.
Fixed upon the plate was a grainy black-and-white image of herself asleep on the rocks.
“Thank you,” she said, “what a beautiful picture.”
The man smiled and nodded, giving his cap a light tap.
Erin gazed down at the picture and admired its prodigious detail. The man must be a pro, she thought, even if he is an odd duck in old-fashioned clothing.
She turned to the man, wanting to say something kind. A heavy wind gusted from the forest and snatched the words from her tongue. The man had gone, leaving the twirling leaves in his wake.
Was he a vision? A dream? A ghost?
Yet, the tintype remained in her hands.