There is just one other car when I pull up to the dog park. Usually on a Saturday afternoon, the parking lot is jammed. But today, the lot is empty except for a grey minivan with a ‘Disabled’ sign hanging from the rear-view mirror.
For a minute, I think the Parks Department must have locked the gate and that is why no one is here. The park has been very muddy lately and in the indecipherable calculus that is sometimes parks management, I can imagine their thinking that more use would deteriorate the trails. But, in this case, the trails are already pretty deteriorated, heavily used, muddy, with makeshift ‘bridges’ over gullies where the water can be seen flowing from one side of the trail to the other. A few times a year, the Parks Department spreads new wood chips. The upgrade doesn’t last long.
This is also the only park I’ve ever gone to that has signs warning of falling trees. The signs show a bare tree tilting toward an alarmed-looking person. Many trees have already fallen, the broken branches are everywhere, and half-severed limbs of large trees are part of the scenery. This is not a park for the dainty.
I wear my old hiking boots. And Swirl, well, Swirl has his big sled dog feet. We are prepared and set off. The gate flaps open because the wind has picked up. It is overcast and cold and now very windy, so, maybe that explains why no one is here. I walk down the wide trail and sink into two inches of mud. Swirl is off the trail, in the brush, and so he has easier going. He sniffs every bush, needing to get a sense of who has passed by and when.
And then I see the person from the minivan in the parking lot. He is a young thin man wearing a hoodie and a light parka, grey or tan, I think. I focus on his shoes which are red tennis shoes, thin canvas, and that seems extraordinary to me that someone would tackle the rivers of mud in the dog park wearing only sneakers. But that isn’t as extraordinary as the fact that he is propelling himself down the trail on crutches. One leg gets the step and the other comes along swinging. He has two dogs with him, one a big husky and the other a squat, square dog with fur that stands on end.
When I pass him the first time, he doesn’t acknowledge me, but on the second pass, I say “Hi!” too loud to ignore and he grins but doesn’t stop. He keeps moving, planting his crutches, and bringing the good leg to as solid a place as possible. He plows through mud that is now coming over the top of the toe of my boot, mud so deep, there is a sucking sound when I take a step. I’ve seen him before, sailing down the trail, but not with this mud, not with all the other regulars taking a pass because of the weather, not on a day like this. It occurs to me that I’m glad to be in his company.
What a beautiful dog… And, “intrepid” is the perfect word for all of you.
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Perfect title word for your walker friend and you are both much more hardy than I…