I hadn’t been on the creek path for five minutes this evening when I saw that I was about to overtake a long-legged woman with her hair up in a ball cap. It seemed that she had been looking for blackberries, and was just getting back up to speed, as she glanced back at me and revealed a soft and friendly face. But I was without a doubt gaining on her, and as I came up alongside I said, “I thought you would be speeding ahead of me, because your legs are longer.”
“Oh, I already had my workout for the day…this is just my pleasure walk,” she said, slowly enough that I had to adjust my gait to hear her out. It didn’t seem polite, since I had started the conversation, to rush away. And she continued, “You seem to be going at a good pace.”
“I’m trying to work out the kinks I got from gardening all afternoon,” I answered, and when she went on,
“Oh, I love gardening…I used to do a lot of gardening, and I had a nice garden until….” I think she might have sped up a little, and I stayed a tiny bit slower, just so we could keep chatting.
She began to tell about how she had included catnip in her 12′ x 12′ garden, and after it had grown peacefully for some weeks or months, the neighborhood cats discovered it all together one night and had a riotous party. She could hear their noise through the window, and didn’t know was going on, and when she saw her garden in the morning she was crushed. Her garden had been devastated by the excited cats, who had smashed plants, scattered cherry tomatoes, and even broken a cantaloupe. Indeed, a neighbor testified that she had found her cat sleeping off the party in the bathroom with cantaloupe seeds stuck to his fur.
After my surprised comments — really, have you heard such a tale? — she easily, but without any hurry, began to talk about how she had found a turtle one time, on the path we were on, and taken it down to the creek where it would be safer, giving it a kiss on its shell to say goodbye and good luck. She described seeing lots of baby turtles in springtime, lined up on a log by the water, and how cute they are.
I have never seen a turtle in all the years we have lived here. That may be because I am walking too fast on the creek path, or I’m over at the gym reading at the treadmill. I wanted to stay with my lanky lady and listen to her, so I changed my route to match hers as long as I could.
She mentioned finding little turtles as a child, and how at that time you could sell them, but then they were found to be carrying salmonella, so that nowadays they have to be a minimum size to be sold. So I asked her where she grew up, and it was Michigan, and she said that though it does get cold here, she likes that better than Michigan where it stayed hot all night in the summer. She was wearing a down vest over her flannel shirt, and I also had on a lumberjack weight flannel shirt, and we talked about the weather. I told her how I wasn’t able to go to sleep the other night until I changed into a flannel nightgown and added leggings and socks to my sleeping outfit, and she said she had had to do the same thing last week.
But she liked to talk about animals. We were passing by an elementary school and she mentioned a puddle that forms near there every winter. I know it well; Mr. Glad and I on our walks used to have to make a wide arc to get around it. She said, “I take a big bucket of water over to that puddle every year and scoop all the polliwogs out of it and into my bucket…they think that is a spacious hotel! And then I take them down and pour them in the creek.”
I had been with my friend only about five minutes, and our paths diverged when she headed toward the apartments where she lives, on the other side of the creek from the school. She didn’t try to keep talking to me; we just said, “See you later!” While I was with her she never gave me the impression that she was desperate for company, though she did like sharing her stories. I had to walk another twenty minutes or more before I got home, and the whole way I was musing on our short but sweet encounter. I stopped at a bridge to look at the wild fennel crowding the banks of the drying-up creek, and I thought about her frogs relaxing in the cool water down there.
If you had encouraged me to go for a walk after dinner, because I was going to meet a woman who would make my walk more enjoyable by sharing a few minutes of it, I would have stayed home. For me, something like this has to come as a complete, and completely happy, surprise.