A remarkable thing happened, just a few days ago. I was taking a midday walk around the reservoir, in a switch from my usual crack-of-dawn time slot. Which meant that none of my favorite morning regulars were about, the ones whose dogs wag their tails at me. I like that when I go early, I can count on seeing some friendly and familiar counter-clockwise travelers on my clockwise round the reservoir routine. By noontime, well, you never know whom you might run into.
This week’s wind and rain brought down the last of the maple leaves, the stubbornest of oak leaves.
Like, for instance…there’s a peculiar character in this little narrative, a fellow Cantabrigian reservoir walker. I call him Mr. 9-11-Vets-Against-the-War, which gives you a sense of what he’s about, as well as a sense for how long I’ve been aware of him. He comes to walk his dog, generally in the late morning hours. He also comes with an agenda. He’s just one reason why I like to go at dawn, and why I generally avoid high noon. The man can spoil my day like nobody else I know.
He starts by making eye contact, offering a smile from afar that makes you wonder, “Who is this person?” Then, at about the moment that you realize he’s not anyone you want to stop for, too bad for you, because he’s full tilt into his solicitation for whatever upcoming demonstration or rally is on his docket. Oh, he’s perfectly civil, so long as you give him the time of day. But if you cut him off, or say, “Sorry, not today,” or give him any other such rebuke, he can go a little…off, shall we say. His words bite, and always leave me churning. After one of these encounters, I spend the rest of my walk wracking my brain for the perfect response to his snipes, the kind that never comes when I need it. He is the last thing I want to encounter when I’m in my meditative bubble, observing the flora and fauna, soaking up vitamin D. Being belittled for not caring enough about the state of the world is a bummer, particularly when what I’m there for, what I’m specifically seeking, is solace.
And confession: I probably made it worse by trying to get Mr. 9/11 to remember me and my story—that I’m the one who has told him, at least a dozen times, that I come for the birds and the foliage and the light of this hour and to remember my sister and be alone with my thoughts, or to have pleasant interactions with my friends. I don’t come to be solicited. That much I’ve definitely told him. What I’ve only imagined saying to him is that my walk is my religion, the reservoir path is my cathedral, and every time he gets angry at me for not aligning with his agenda, it’s like he came into my church, marched down the center aisle, and farted. Loudly. I want to tell him that, but I don’t quite dare incur his wrath. What I’ve gotten over the years is more than enough.
All that said, I hadn’t gotten sucked in to his spiel in a long time, in part because I avoid his time slot, and in part because I can spot him from fifty paces–he with his kooky hat, his dog with the muzzle strapped over its snout. I’m good at turning on a dime when I see them coming.
Until the other day. There he was, just a short distance away, headed in my direction. I immediately had my defensive sunglasses deployed, the phone in my pocket at the ready if need be. Ah, good, he’s already got someone in conversation. If I walk quickly enough, I can zip by before he’s finished with his current victim. It’s like getting past well-intentioned college kids with clipboards and petitions in Harvard Square, except that there, I expect to be accosted by such do-gooders. On my reservoir walk, please, no.
Oh, shoot. He’s done talking with the woman ahead of me, and has released her back to her stroll. Now has me in his sights. Be ready. Be firm. Be polite. Don’t stop.
Luckily, I gave him just enough time of day to hear him speak these words:
“There’s a peregrine falcon up around the corner. Just beyond the tree where the cormorants hang out, up on the right.”
Well. Huh. My sworn reservoir obstacle, the man I rearrange my outings to avoid encountering, pointed me to the most glorious creature I could ask to see, on a beautiful November day. He offered up no other agenda items. He only did exactly what I would have done: share the wealth. A Peregrine! Falcon! Sitting in a nearby tree! It really doesn’t get any better than that.
Hands down, the highlight of my week. A wondrous gift, and a heightened appreciation for the treasure that is human kindness. Once more with feeling: be open, be ready to be amazed, and just maybe, you will be.