That stopped us dead in our tracks. The last thing we wanted to do on this late afternoon was get splattered with paint. We squinted into the dark underbrush, looking to find the face of our protector, so we could thank her properly. I saw her first.
She had been sitting - or squatting in the trees and as she rose, her faded blue bandana was the first item to appear above the brush. It was tied gypsy style, covering all of her hair, but a few whisps of gray along her neck.
My eyes widened at the sheer the size of the six foot two, broad shouldered woman emerging from the sticks, but I managed to mumble a quick thanks and we turned to walk back the way we came.
"I'm Jean, would you like a cup of tea?" she asked. "We're camped just behind these trees and we have tea and listen to the most beautiful music every night about this time. We'd love for you to join us." she asked, but quickly looked down, afraid of rejection, like a dog that has been repeatedly kicked. My heart ached.
I looked quickly at my husband and he smiled, always game for a new experience. So off we went without thought to our safety, through the trees to a little campsite by the canal. We met her partner, a shy young lady with flowered tattoos, who didn't speak through her pierced lips. We learned that this was not just a campsite, but their home. They had made the best of a "down on their luck" situation with a large tent, a pickup with canopy, camp table, chairs and a makeshift kitchen. It was liveable.
The kettle was already boiling on the propane camp stove and we were immediately made comfortable by this sweet and vulnerable pair. We arranged our chairs to face the setting sun and sipped our tea. It was the first time I had heard the music of Secret Garden and I was unprepared for the peacefulness I felt.
Over the next few days, we visited this pair. The younger girl was somewhat like a wild animal guarded and untrusting of our friendship, but Jean and I hit it off and as she got to know us, she let us in on her life story and it was amazing, shocking, horrifying and heartbreaking.
I'll tell you that story in tomorrows post.