Wednesday was a heartbreaking end-of-summer day. Beautiful. Perfect. But sad because even without looking at the weather report, you know you might not have another one like it for a long, long time.
So Ava and I took advantage as much as possible. I worked and read and knitted (another dragon) outdoors while she lounged and barked at the neighbors’ invading chickens (which they’ve given up attempting to keep in their hole-y yard).
In the afternoon, we took a long drive, followed by a walk along the river. And there we had one of those odd moments where it’s hard to know what to think of it.
Our walking path began in the city, next to sidewalks and commercial buildings. But it ends, after a short distance, on high riverbank in what feels like country.
We’d taken only a few steps down the path and I’d just let Ava off her leash when I saw a young man seemingly come out of nowhere, behind us on the trail. He looked like another walker. Normal-seeming guy wearing sweats. But as I moved to put Ava back on leash to let him go past us, the man plunged — violently rooted — into what I’d always thought was an impenetrable thicket at the opening of the trail. He made guttural noises as he did so. Well, I’d make noise, too. That’s all brambles and steep slopes in that spot.
A moment later, he was back on the path, again without me being able to observe where he’d come from. Then there he went, rooting into the thicket again. Finally he emerged onto the trail once more and strode determinedly out of sight. I had no way of knowing whether he’d gone off or was just on the other side of all that brush. Never in all this did he appear to notice my existence, though he looked right at me a couple of times.
Now I had a dilemma. This clearly wasn’t Mr. Normal, and whether he was harmless or not I didn’t care to be spending my lovely summer afternoon in his vicinity. But. The trail is on an old, raised railroad right-of-way and has only one exit — back beside that thicket. In a pinch, I could jump off the trail into the river or a muddy wetland. But if I wanted to leave in orderly fashion, I’d have to go right past that spot. Having no idea whether Mr. Strange was still there. Having no idea what Mr. Strange was up to. Maybe he was just a homeless guy with an encampment in the thicket. Maybe he was looking for his lost dog. Maybe he was a psycho lunatic. How would I know?
So I decided to heck with it. I’m armed. I’ll have my walk. Give him a chance to go away. And if he doesn’t go away, but comes down the trail, I’ll be able to see him in plenty of time.
So Ava and I walked to the end of the trail, where I sat on the ruins of an old railroad trestle and she ran circles around the trestle, wading in the river and getting happily muddy. I was never completely at ease, nor should I have been. I kept an eye on that trail. But I was able to enjoy the sun and the fresh aromas of the river, the grasses, and the old cedar tree near where I sat. I was able to stay as long as I liked, feeling reasonably confident because I knew I was equipped to handle the situation if there was any situation to be handled.
After half an hour or so, I put Ava back on leash to make sure she’d be at my side, headed back down the trail (laying my hand on the butt of my gun as we approached the thicket), and we walked uneventfully back to Old Blue. No sign of Mr. Strange. I noticed that somebody had punched an opening into the thicket where none had been before, so possibly there’s a mini-encampment down there now, or maybe a teenage make-out spot, or who knows what else (I’m never stumbling down that steep slope to check it out).
But once again, merely having a firearm and knowing I could defend myself made all the difference between Total Female Freakout and being able to be watchful but calm and happy.
This is the second time within the year that I’ve laid hand on the butt of my gun because a situation seemed hinky. In neither case did the hinkiness develop into anything more and perhaps neither situation ever would have. Both encounters may have been creepy but innocent. I’m glad not to have to trust the mercy of the fates on that issue, though. Even in low-crime small towns, stuff happens.
Don’t plan to use that bit of trail any time in the near future.