I drummed my fingers on the door of the car.
I had five hours to kill.
In a nearby county. An hour from home. On a Friday night. No Dogs. No husband. Just waiting on one kid immersed in an extra-curricular.
I was as alone and untethered as a middle-aged suburban mother in unfamiliar surroundings could be.
I won't lie. Going to a bar for a brew and a burger crossed my mind … but the idea of “bar-flying” alone in an unfamiliar place seemed, well … unseemly and possibly unsafe.
Instead, I chose to investigate the park. An inner-city wilderness where a five-mile trail winds its way around springs and creeks and meadows and shallow ravines.
As I walked around … mapless and alone. I hadn't thought this through.
I felt odd.
And somewhat vulnerable.
I jump when a twig snaps and leaves crinkle nearby. I forget to breathe. I don't see anyone around. I inhale the moment a little red squirrel hops into view.
Cute little critter. Explains the noise.
I hold my breath again when I realize it's barreling down the path, headed my way. It's not afraid of me.
Momentarily I think it might be attacking. Squirrels aren't rabid. Squirrels aren't rabid. Squirrels aren't rabid, right?!?
I smell skunk.
My inner voice bellows with a cartoon drawl: “What in the Sam Hill Tarnation ….”
Then, out of nowhere, two hoodied youths that had seamlessly blended with the landscape saw me and silently slunk away.
It occurred to me then that perhaps a walk in the park is not the harmless endeavor I imagined it to be.
This nature stuff isn't second nature to me.
Maybe the bar wouldn't have been such a bad idea after all.
I was no longer alone.
As I meandered into the woodland, humans sprang out of nowhere, out to see the sights and stretch their legs. Some brought their dogs, who were straining against leashes. Families gathered at grills to picnic. Runners passed by on trails, calling out they were “to your left.” A man in waders calmly fished while his two Viking children, clad only in summer bathing suits, thrashed around downstream.
I smile and shiver as I pass by; at once admiring their chutzpah for such an early-spring soak, but wishing they were wearing insulated wetsuits. I resist the urge to be the stereotypical mother figure, telling a child to put on a sweater just because she is cold. I am, after all, just a stranger in a park, taking a walk.
I smile at other people's kids. I ask to take pictures of cute dogs walking around in cute coats holding tightly to their prized sticks. I carry my phone and check on emails. I wander around the woods looking not at all “at one with nature.”
A couple holding a map at arm's length, and wearing backpacks and sensible hiking boots, stop to ask me if I happen to know where they might find the park's crown jewel. They think they might have made a wrong turn at the last dotted line.
I snort a little to myself. I had just passed the place they were looking for, so it would appear (wrongly) that I knew these woods.
The truth is I'm the neophyte lost in the forest. Not even possessing the common sense to stop at the park office and ask for a map. Instead, I was resigned just wandering around, hoping I might find my car before it gets dark or my cell phone battery gives out.
They laugh and offer the map for me to photograph just in case my plans don't work out.
Of course, it will be a few hours until this nature bar closes. There's still plenty of time before dusk.
I'm glad I came.
Daylight Saving Time offers a different sort of happy hour once the business day has ended.