Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

The summer of 2013 has been the hardest. Every time the phone rings: another log on the fire. I’m running out of refuge and real estate with work resuming in September. So we retreated Up North, to my wife’s parents’ house, one final getaway. It’s my favorite place. And my favorite part of “Up North” is a network of trails on the backside of a cemetery across the road. Said trails cut four miles through the wheelhouse of the Adirondacks. Every day when visiting, I walk my three dogs, sans leashes, as the nature sounds emanate on all sides. It’s a homerun workout for the body and mind. The world is all right on that trail.

Today my wife decided to walk with us. She’s ready to resume her normal load. Before leaving, she asked if I had my cell phone, she didn’t have hers. I said mine was dead, so we hit the cemetery then woods--a family of five--with no tool to communicate with the outside world. I’m sick of phones anyway. The sun shined bright and the bugs were few. It was a great day to walk. It was Sunday. We’d have the show to ourselves. So off we went, watching the dogs run, and sniff, and piss wherever felt right. Isn't life grand?

Two miles in, where the trail splits, we took the elevated path with no borders. The dogs bounded a few yards ahead, weaving free on the narrow pass, paws blackened on the few spots of still-wet mud. Suddenly the sounds of approaching ATV’s. This isn’t uncommon. The riders know to slow down then brake for dog walkers. It's understood. But these ATV’s were coming fast, fast, too fast! Then the two vehicles (one red, one white) showed themselves on the horizon, rock n’ rolling around a sharp turn thirty feet in front. I raised both hands so they’d see us between the trees, where the sun shot blinding bars. But these riders weren’t slowing down. Right behind me, my wife stood, and behind her, all three dogs (30-35 lbs each) like bowling pins on the path, frozen in fear. These ATV’s were coming. Nowhere to run. No escape. No time. My wife screamed. I side stepped to rip the first rider off his machine, but missed. He was free of me. I was helpless. He wasn’t stopping. My whole life was on that trail. Nowhere to run, straight drop offs on both sides. We entered those woods as an intact family of five. No way were we leaving the same way. He wasn’t stopping. Mass carnage cometh.

Then time hiccupped. That’s the only way I can describe it. It stopped, started again, and when it did, my wife and dogs were miraculously untouched by the death machine, now fifty feet down the trail, easing to a stop. Without thinking, I grabbed a five-pound rock and raced towards the hillbilly who almost sliced and diced my world. I screamed. I yelled. He sat slack-jawed. When my rant went dry, he told me he had no brakes, couldn’t stop. I wielded that readied rock. I was on fire. He finally vvvrrrmmed away with his friend, amazingly no harm done. When I got my three dogs together, hugged my wife, I was left to wonder how we survived that surefire collision. How did no one get hurt? How did he miss me, my wife, ALL THREE DOGS? How?

I was feeling total shock, and relief. How? That's when a third ATV emerged out of the darkness, moving slowly, and I knew not to be afraid, even though my heart was still in my throat. When the sun shone through, showed the rider's clean-shaven face, I knew why I wasn’t afraid. Understood. I knew that face from another life. Not "his" face, of course. But "that" face. This stranger rode towards me on his yellow 4-wheeler, cut the engine, and there he was. I guessed his height (as he stayed seated) at about 5’4”. His hair: shaved on the sides, number two on top. The jeans were frayed at the ankles. But it was the eyes that told me this stranger was no stranger. It was my old friend incarnate, and he said, in north-country drawl, that he’d heard screaming, came to investigate. I explained what "almost" happened. My new/old friend said he “patrolled these trails." When I told him who I was married to, he recognized the last name (ah, small towns), said he’d "absolutely" get to the bottom of the brake-less driver. The last thing he told me: “Don’t worry,” then he rode away. The sun swallowed him up, and he was gone. Twenty minutes later, my family walked out of those woods. Intact. Together. Safe.

As I write this, my wife is on the couch by the sliding doors that look out on the backyard and cemetery across the way, where the woods border on the backside. My three dogs are on the rug near the couch, sleeping, dreaming. Lola’s on the left. Pepper’s around the top, protecting her sisters like she always does. Sophie’s in the middle, and she snores. My family.

We were spared on that trail.

Thank you, old friend, thank you.

Brian Huba

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