Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Road Not Taken

I had a birthday week-before-last. I turned the big double nickel. Fifty-five. A number that makes me cringe as none ever has. Not thirty, forty or fifty made me feel so odd. Not old, but odd. As if it is time for me to stop thinking I'm a young person trapped in a middle-aged body, and just deal with the fact that I'm middle aged now. Whatever that means. It's just a number, right? I'm still the same person-the girl who gets the dirty jokes, and loves to take long walks on tough paths. Literally and figuratively. One of the gifts that I got was a pair of walking shoes, for rocky paths. They are by a company called "Keen," whose name may mean "keen," or I guess it could be the founder's last name, but they really are keen! They are also waterproof, and anti-microbial, and I'm not supposed to wear socks with them. So yesterday I decided it was time to use these new rock/trail walking shoes for something other than walking the concrete paths that our beloved city has created for us.

We live in Fort Worth, TX, and have a trail system that goes all around the city based on the Trinity River. It is called, for obvious reasons, The Trinity Trails, and several smaller trails that Abigail, my beloved dog (whom I sometimes refer to as my copilot here in Zeus' Chariot) have narrowed it down to two that we like to use the most. Each of them have some feature that we really like-one has creeks easily available for her to drink from when she gets hot toward the end of our walks. This one has more walkers and dogs, and fewer bike riders; as I've said in other posts, when one is walking, the bikers are the least friendly and most selfish users of the trails. The other one has many, many more bikers, fewer walkers, and even fewer dogs. But it has great canopies of trees that cover the trail with shade, so it is usually much cooler, even in the heat of a North Central Texas summer. This is the one we use the most. It is a bit longer, 4.36 miles vs 3 miles. So we get a better workout. It is also closer to where we live, so we don't have to drive as far to get there.

When we walk either trail, Abigail is wont to come home covered with burrs. I mean COVERED. The time-before-last that we walked the favored trail, she had burrs so heavily in her coat that I could not brush them all out. She had tried to use her paws to remove some of the ones around her face, and it only served to mat her hair over her eyes, and I butchered her poor hair by cutting them out, but there was no other way. I was clearly not a professional groomer, which was commented on by some of our neighbors the next time we saw them. So last week I went to the groomer and had her buzzed, 1/4 inch all over, leaving only her Schnauzer-like eyebrows. It changed her look so completely; I never knew she had a white, spotted Ermine-like "stole" around her shoulders. She also has a very rounded muzzle, which, without her beard, when she smiles or yawns, she has a gaping, toothy smile, a bit like a pit-bull (a breed I love.)

Abigail's Ermine Stole
So, the no-longer-a-burr-magnet, Abigail and I took off the concrete path (hereon I will call it the path, and the rocky trail we were on, the trail.) It was kind of fun; more hilly, so we were burning more calories. (I'm sure only I think of that. But there were also NO trees to speak of, only bushes. And brambles. And twisted limbs that had fallen from trees and been moved toward the trail by floods or the people who cut the trees to make the paths. I noticed after awhile that there was not much actual "trail" at all, just indentations where a few people had pressed down the grasses. We would find rock croppings that we climbed up; her much faster than me, since I had my fanny pack, her leash, and my iPod playing a shuffle of all the songs I have recorded there. I pushed through some briers and brambles, and noticed a burning sensation on my ankles. I looked down and there was a series of long scratches on the bottom of my legs.

My shorts-yes, my shorts, were COVERED with burrs. These aren't the kind of burrs that stick you like a needle and burn when you pull them out...these are the kind that stick to you like some super-velcro, and do not want to come out. Ever. How they jumped up on my shorts, I don't know, but when I saw them all the way up there, I thought perhaps they were not plant matter at all, but some alien life form that could actually jump. I've also been sneezing ever since I got home, so maybe these alien life forms can also blow some kind of allergen into our faces by which they will one day control all of mankind. The thing about my keen shoes is that, without socks, they stuck to the insides and outsides of the shoes, and made the red ring around  my ankles by rubbing into my skin with every step. But I traversed on, poor Abigail being almost invisible in the thickets, and panting from heat and exertion. The one thing about this trail is that civilization is never far from view. When we got to the top, there were rooftops of fine homes clearly nearby. When the trail started to run out, we were right next to a golf course on one side, and the Trinity on the other. There were several beautiful homes, with excellent fences and pools just after the golf course. But there was no path left to take. There was one part of the water that was full enough of rock for us to climb down and over the other side. Abigail, of course, climbed right down, but the downward slope was pretty much only peat-layers and layers of leaves from years of blowing and dampness. Quite slippery for a large human, so I had to sit down and do a crab walk down. If Abigail were human I'm sure she would have found it quite amusing. I was only a tad worried about awaking a sleeping snake or giant spider. I'm afraid of neither, but if they are threatened, they will protect themselves, as would any living thing. I'm sure they would see me as a threat. We've had what is now being called an "epidemic" of West Nile Virus in our area, and several deaths, so when I caught a mosquito on my arm I quickly flicked it away, being certain that near a heavily shaded river would be the one place that a mosquito might carry the virus. There was no blood when I got him, so I figured I was safe, but when I got home there were other bites on me. So now we get to see if I have, as I've always insisted, a super immune system. I'm absolutely sure that I'm not allergic to poison oak or ivy because there were so many vines twisted into the vegetation on the ground, that there had to be something there that could cause a rash! But no spiders or snakes woke up, and my Keen, waterproof shoes got me across the rocks, while Abigail drank up in the creek water. This was my first chance to look at her, and she was covered, literally covered, with the same burrs that I was covered with. So much for helping her with burrs by cutting her hair. I suddenly realized that I had removed her protection. She kept trying to get them off her face, and they were only going into her eyes. I took some time to get them off the area around her eyes, and some had gone into her eyes, which couldn't have felt good!!! We got to the other side, only to learn that there was no other side that led back to the trail itself. The only choice we had was to turn around and go back the exact same way. It was hot-leaving the path meant leaving the canopy, and the sun was burning down pretty hard by now. The funny thing is that when we left home the temperature was below 80. We'd had a fairly cool start to the day for midsummer, but now the sun was winning that battle. Sweat, scratches and burrs make for a great burn on one's skin. One thing I had figured out is that in order for Abigail not to be strangled by the leash was to take it off. Brambles, briers, branches and burrs do conspire to hold the leash and confuse a dog so that they only become more entangled as they try to get around the thatch that holds them. So I had taken the leash off, and was carrying it. When we got back to the creek, Abigail scampered right over to wait for me. The trouble was that getting down the creek was much easier than getting back up. I finally had to throw off the leash, and taken out my earbuds, which had been yanked out of my ears several times already by these conspiratorial alien life forms. Or vegetation, as the case may be. It was okay though, because Leon Russell and Bob Dylan were starting to wear on my nerves and disrupt my problem solving skills, much as I love them both. I sat down again, and had to hold the bars of one of those fine fences in one hand, and a tree root in the other to jump back and climb up the creek side. Abigail waiting patiently by, probably wondering why it takes us humans so long to go such a short distance.

Interestingly, once we got back to the trail it seemed  much easier and shorter. But I couldn't have felt sorrier for Abigail. I've never seen a dog covered head-to-toe with so many burrs. Normally when we do a trail walk, she is so happy just going for a ride that on the way she hangs her head out the window, like any normal dog would. Then on the way home she is so tired, that she gets a drink and lies down all the way home. Today, she couldn't lie down because of the burrs all over her little body. I had them too, but I felt more sorry for her because I chose that route, she didn't. But she never left my side, and when I was struggling to get up a rocky slope, or down one, she just waited for me. That is why she is my copilot ;I couldn't ask for better. So I got home and took my clothes off, and started trying to get the burrs out of her. I'm almost done, nearly 24 hours later. She still has a few left on her face, and one bunch left in her right ear.

My husbands rather sarcastic comment when he saw us was, "I bet you'll never do that again." My response back was, "Hell, yes I will."  But I might wait til after a freeze takes care of the burrs. Or maybe I'll find some rocky trail that doesn't have living, breathing burrs on it. I wonder where that is? Yellowstone? The Yukon Territories? Wherever it is, I know that no matter how hard the trail, my copilot will hang in with me to the end.

But I also have to say, that taking the road less traveled by, does make a big difference; sometimes it hurts. But sometimes it's keen.

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