Updated: Aug 1, 2021
“ Luke, who is wiggling down the slippery side of this place he has never been, not disoriented from being uprooted and catapulted 3,000 miles from everything he has ever known, but happy, as if he has arrived at Disneyland."
We pull into the muddy lot at the edge of the tunnel that takes the road around and through the mountain. Luke whines in anticipation, jumps out and darts for the head of the trail. He has smelled the woods for the last few miles in the way he always knew the cabin was near, and this is his reward for so many long days trapped in the back of the truck sleeping in a ball on an old pillow wedged against the back seat. The greens are both bright and deep in the Oregon woods and the wet pebbly dirt slides easily from the moss onto the narrow trail, where it becomes red and firm under our feet. I stop and look up the side of the park mountain, taking it in before I allow him his freedom with a “Go!” We make our way up and around the ridge, and I reattach him quietly to the leash whenever we see someone ahead on the path, then we slowly glide by as if he has been tethered the entire time before I unfasten it again. It is a scam we have perfected together and we are good at it. We get toward the top and turn around, far enough for the first day. Coming back down, we pass a pretty young Asian girl in a white parka, who speaks very little English and who gestures to ask me which way is out. “Well...down,” I say, then realize I have taken the wrong way myself. I look at her and she could be afraid, but she is not. I laugh. “It’s our first time here and I don’t know, either,” I say, shrugging, and we both smile. She joins us and we circle back the other way. “I’m sorry,” I admit to her, feeling responsible for helping her because she is now trying to call an Uber to pick her up here on the side of the mountain and it makes me giggle. A woman comes down another path with two dogs off-leash and I tighten Luke’s hold as a sign that it could be trouble. The first dog is named Wilfred and he looks playful and comes closer. I decide, for a change, to let them work it out. Instead of growling, Luke bows down to play and I tell her it will be ok. “Can you tell us which way is out?” I ask the woman, and she says “ I could, but why don’t I show you instead?” I turn to the girl who is with us and she says “Thank you,” and nods her approval before I can, so I let her speak for the pack. We all walk silently down the mountain together: The woman who doesn’t know us but offered to show us the way; her two dogs, who have welcomed Luke gently to their mountain; a girl who walks in faith with two strangers who speak a different language and three animals she has never met; Luke, who is wiggling down the slippery side of this place he has never been, not disoriented from being uprooted and catapulted 3,000 miles from everything he has ever known, but happy, as if he has arrived at Disneyland; and me, my heart and head spinning with the lessons of the last two years, shown on my very first walk into these new woods that simple kindness, a little faith and the genuineness of human spirit could actually be waiting at the top of every trail. We will see.