Chasing Life (1)

I’d seen him once before — from behind. His gait was a bit lopsided, as if one leg was not working properly. It swung out and around a bit with each and every step. It didn’t slow him down. Mara and I never caught up that day. By the time we reached the parking lot, he was in his car and driving away.

Today though, we met head on. He was on his way out and Mara and I were on our way into the marsh. I leashed Mara when I saw him approaching. Mara protested the leash by sniffing madly at a clump of grass and refusing to move forward. When he was within hearing distance I called, “How are the bugs?”

I was rewarded with a great big smile and a report of, “The deer flies are annoying and the mosquitos are up early today.”

I’m a poor judge of age, but I’d say my fellow conversant was in his mid-seventies to eighties. He wore long athletic pants, a long sleeved t-shirt and a baseball cap. Sweat glistened on his forehead.

“Are you playing hooky today,” he asked.

I replied, “No, I don’t work. I’m a dog mom, a boy mom.” In retrospect, I wish I’d said, “I’m a writer and make my own schedule. I’m actually working now. My best ideas come while walking.”

“How many kids you got?” he asked.

“Just one,” I said.

“I’m working on this thing I read about called intervals,” he said. “You heard about that?”

“Yes, I have,” I replied. “You exercise hard, back off for a short time and push again, alternating between the two, right?”

“That’s right. I’ve been driving straight ahead — at a walk, I don’t run — as hard as I can for three minutes. Then I back off for two and repeat. I really pushed it just now — I was trying to keep up with that train.” Train tracks run along the marsh path and a thrum could be heard in the distance.

He continued, “Looks like your dog has got a few years on her.”

“She’s ten,” I said, glancing at her grey face and paws.

“Had to put mine down a few years back. He was twelve and a half,” he offered.

“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“I want to get a red and white border collie for my next one,” he said.

A red and white, I pondered — never heard of that. As if he was reading my thoughts, he said, “They’re hard to come by. I might be in a walker by the time I get one.”

I bid him good day — said maybe our paths would cross again.

Throughout the rest of my walk, and up until the moment of putting these words to page, I’ve thought about this man who could be sitting at home under an afghan watching The Price Is Right. Instead, he is out walking intervals, chasing trains and dreaming about his next dog.

If I cannot find a lesson in that, maybe I’m the one who needs an afghan.

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