When Gracie and I are out walking, we never know who we might meet.
Last week, Gracie and I were cruising along our usual path on the lane that runs between the back of the high school and the surrounding forest. Incidentally, this is prime rabbit country, a fact that will figure into my second story for today.
But in this first scenario, we encountered no rabbits. In fact, we rarely see even humans on this stretch of our walk. Occasionally, we bump into other happy pairs of people and dogs, but mostly back here, if we come across anyone, it's teenage students using the back lane as a shortcut between the nearby Starbucks/Subway/Walgreen's shops and their homes. I see their sandwich bags or their drink cups, and I know exactly what's up.
So it was a bit out of the ordinary that on this particular day, Gracie and I came across a pair of older teens, maybe even college students - a guy and a girl - walking toward us. The two were deep in animated conversation as my puppers and I entered their range. I stopped to collect Gracie at my side in a proper heel and gather up her long leash when I noticed that the guy, who had been doing most of the talking, had abruptly fallen silent.
I looked at his face, and saw a huge beaming smile aimed right at me.
"Hey!" he called out as one might greet Odysseus upon his return to Ithaca, "I've seen you walking your dog around this school for years and years and years! Your dog's leash is so amazing. I've always noticed you."
Well. I was pretty much speechless. But I smiled, said something in response though I don't remember what, and we all went our separate ways without much further ado.
But I will always remember that mostly-grown teenage man-boy. And I'll continue to imagine the 10-, 12-, 13-year-old version of him that noticed me from afar, remembering me, tucking my memory into a tiny place in his brain, and thinking who knows what about me.
By his smile, I am guessing he mostly thought good things.
And for me, I will take this chance encounter as a lovely reminder that we impact each others' lives far, far more deeply than we ever dream.
* * * * *
Yesterday, Gracie and I wound our way along and earlier section of that same lane, and took a hard right into the aforementioned prime rabbit country.
At the exact same spot, in fact, where Gracie had recently raced a rabbit.
Lo and behold, there sat another fit and athletic brown bunny, twitchy to be sure, but just as calmly accepting of Gracie's presence as the Trojans were of their new wooden horse.
In a flash, Gracie leaped through the railings and gave chase.
Off the two dashed, my red-headed dog and her cotton-tailed friend, sailing along the strip of green grass along the backside of two portable classrooms.
And just as I had done last time, I took a deep breath and dropped my end of the rapidly disappearing leash, leaving my dog to seek her own destiny.
Now, the last time I did this, I lost trust in my girl. I assumed she would lose her head over this rabbit business and forget to come back to me. So I went looking for her. Gracie proved her faithfulness by returning to the exact spot where we parted ways and then, finding me gone, coming to look for me.
These thoughts blasted through my mind as I watched hound and hare disappear around the far end of the second portable, both still moving at warp nine..
Just like last time, my immediate instinct was to run wildly after my overheated dog. But I forced myself to stop and think.
Wait here, my brain demanded. See what happens next.
Oh, how I was about to be rewarded.
Within three seconds, my dog came back around the same corner from which she had disappeared.
She was sprinting at top speed, tearing along in a straight line. Headed right for me.
About halfway down, she made eye contact with me, still absolutely blasting along the grass.
Eyes locked on mine, she soared up the final embankment and sprang through the railings with a flourish, landing neatly at my feet.
Immediately, her engines dropped to neutral and she stood patiently as I breathlessly gathered up her leash. She was barely even panting.
And then, as if none of that had ever happened, Gracie calmly resumed on our walk.
I tucked this lesson away in my brain, filed under T for trust.
We haven't seen the rabbit since.