Charlotte and Derek
How We Met
2.5 years ago, I met the love of my life. It was August of 2013 and we’d been flirting for weeks over social media (we had many mutual friends, went to high school in the same city, but had only crossed paths a handful of times) and he was finally coming back to San Diego for a weekend from his Wildland Fire job in Flagstaff, AZ. The moment we saw each other, I knew. I knew he was my person, I knew he would show and teach me things I had been too scared to find for myself and because he was in my life, I would be better. Derek’s fire season ended a couple months later and he was back in San Diego. He had applied for an apprenticeship with the US Forest Service and I had grand dreams of him being stationed close to home. A few months later, he called me while I was working to tell me he had been accepted into the apprenticeship program and I was ecstatic! But there was a catch, it was 12 hours away in the Smith River National Forest.
There isn’t much in the northern parts of California, or even the Southern Parts of Oregon, for a beach girl with a Public Relations degree. My excitement turned to nerves and my nerves turned to sadness. It’s a strange feeling to be so excited for the person you know you were meant for and so heartbroken for yourself. Derek was his normal, calm self. “It will be fine! I’m doing this for our future, so that we can have our lives together. It’s not forever.”
I was resolved in never moving outside of San Diego- I mean…who would ever make a conscious decision to leave San Diego? – So that May, Derek made the trek to Gasquet, California (I know, I’d never heard of either; if you blinked while driving by, you would actually miss it.) Fire season was long, hard and unforgiving to my hotshot. At the end of September, I was finally able to plan our first (and only) visit. I flew to Portland (5 hours from his station) and we had a couple of blissful, fun days together. He was slim, and tired and the smell of smoke refused to leave his hair and beard. But he was right there, in front of me and it was the best 2 days of my life.
In November, the season ended and Derek finally came home, we adopted a sweet pup named Maverick and we had made a decision- I would move to Grants Pass, OR (where a few of the “settled down” crew members lived with their families). On December 1st, we moved to a 40 acre farm, with cows, goats, wild turkeys and no Target- a “major adjustment” is one way to describe it. A couple weeks later, we adopted our second pup, Hunter.
How He Asked
I took a short day on Friday- Derek had planned us a weekend getaway to Bend, OR. Bend was supposed to be kind of like San Diego in terms of activities we like (breweries, hiking, food) so I was really excited. I was also a little homesick at the time, so I had hoped the weekend would help mull it away. On the three hour drive, I partook in my normal road trip activities: talking for hours on end, singing to songs I didn’t really know the words to, pointing out cute animals in people’s yards or farms and telling my dogs how “so freaking cute!” they are. Derek was pretty quiet, but this is TOTALLY normal; guys who spend months on end fighting fire in the forest have their own kind of communication and pop culture/celebrity gossip isn’t really it.
I had been having a little bit of a weird feeling- the night before, we were at our good friend’s Melissa and Forrest’s house. Forrest works with Derek and Melissa and I had quickly become really good friends. As we were leaving, Forrest told us to “have a great time!” and “let me know how it goes!” When I asked why he’d wanted to know how it went, he claimed he’d never been to Bend and “it sounded really cool!” “Weirdo,” I said to Derek on the way out. “Uh..yeah, super weird,” Derek said back.
The night we arrived, we had dinner at burger place near the river, which was all lit up by twinkle lights. I kept thinking to myself how gorgeous it was, a little “maybe tonight?” kept flickering in my head, but I was also pretty sure I was being “that girl” and pushed the thought to the back of my brain. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and got all settled in with the boys. “We’ll want to be up early,” Derek said, “so we can get to the falls before it gets crowded.” “Isn’t this VACATION?” I thought to myself, but instead said “Great! Pancakes for breakfast?”
Saturday morning, we woke up early and stopped at the pancake shop across from our hotel. Derek was quiet, but again, he’s basically always quiet- I talk enough for the both of us. We drove outside town to Tumalo Falls in the Deschutes National Forest. It had snowed leading up to our trip and when we arrived at the parking area- Derek let out a “Crap…” When I asked what was wrong, he’d said that during the summer months, visitors can park at the entrance to the falls and walk up the steps for the view, but it looked like we were going to have to trek the almost two miles in through the slush, snow, ice and water. “Oh, well!” I chirped (this was a part of my ever-evolving attitude since meeting Derek- going with the flow). After a few slips, trips and falls (mostly me) Maverick and Hunter trying to decide if they actually liked snow and only passing two other people, we arrived at the Falls.
Maverick, Hunter, Derek and I walked up the stairs to the Falls and I was amazed: it was incredibly gorgeous! I immediately began taking photos of the Falls and the gorgeous scenery (taking entirely too many photos is one of my favorite pastimes). Derek was going on about how much he loved me, if I knew how much he loved me and he was so happy we were together. “Yeah, I know, but did you see how pretty it is?” I was pretty sure he hadn’t even taken one look at the Falls! “Charlotte,” he said as he knelt to one knee…and then, my brain turned to mush, my body did this weird thing where I literally had no control and I felt like everything was going in slow motion.
Derek always says that when it came time for me to answer, I did this weird gasp thing, fanned my face and just said “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh” over and over again, but I’m 76% sure I said yes. We called our parents- mine first because he’d already done the rounds of telling everyone on his own anyway and then we called my grandmother. My grandmother is really important to me. She and my grandfather were together since she was in high school and he in college. They were entirely meant for each other, and I’ve never met two people more in love. In 2009, before Derek and I met, my grandfather had a massive heart attack while on a cruise in Bora Bora with my grandmother. He was there one moment and gone the next- but he lived every single one of those moments and he was in love with with grandmother until his last. When we told my grandmother she said “Derek reminds me of your grandfather- he would be so incredibly proud of you both.”