Monday, August 17, 2009

Yep, we're just RABID about hiking...

Giddy with the success of our inaugural hike, we decided to hit a local park on Saturday for a pleasant walk around Lake Needwood. At one point I drifted ahead of the boys, who were deep into some kind of Nature Lecture given by my husband. (He lives for this sort of "educational moment in the woods." Me, I'm just here for the landscape...)

On the broad, gravelly path, I approached what at first glance appeared to be a heartwarming family scene...a father out walking with his two young sons, pushing his infant daughter in her stroller. Suddenly, one of the boys held up a hand in warning, calling in his little voice, "Stop! Don't come closer!" My pace slowed automatically as I scanned the area, taking in more details--like the fact that the man was holding an animal down on the ground with a long, thick tree branch. The poor creature was an emaciated, raggedy, panting fox, and in a few quick sentences, my fellow hiker told me the story of how it had just bitten a lady...AND her husband. Now, I'm no Animal Expert, but I know what that means: a sick beast (I didn't even want to THINK the "R-word" at that point.) The lady who had been bitten, a pleasant grandmotherly type, sauntered back from calling the Park Police. She was calm...even chipper, like this was a thrilling Outdoor Amusement Park, and she had just ridden the Rabid Fox rollercoaster. (Her husband, at least, had the sense to look pale and shaken.)

Meanwhile, the baby had begun to wail, and my husband and sons had caught up and been filled in on the drama. I offered to have Husband take over the big stick, so the other dad could try to calm his rapidly-escalating little howler. So we waited tensely, all eyes locked on the miserable fox..except for the grandmother, who chirpily peppered my husband with questions to pass the time. Once she wandered back to me and stated confidently, "He's with the Red Cross, he'll take care of it." He was wearing his free Red Cross t-shirt from the last time he donated blood, so I ALMOST hated to disillusion her...but I thought honesty might be best, so I gently set her straight. Her smile never wavered, "Well, then, he's with the Park Police." "No, he's just my husband," I finally blurted. She seemed momentarily shocked, but recovered and continued chattering away conversationally. I had explained "rabies" to my kids while we were idling, so Derek turned to me and asked worriedly under his breath, "Do you think it's affecting her already?"

Finally we spotted the welcome red and blue lights of the Park Police cars as they slowly crunched up the trail towards us. When I had been thinking ahead to this moment, I envisioned an Animal Control Officer with heavy gloves and a box, to collect the fox and take it in for testing. However, the lady had of course already accosted the Officers for information, and she wandered back to cheerfully convey the news: "They're going to have to shoot it now." "Aahhh!" I screamed in my head, while hastily herding the boys further down the path away from the site. My husband, having been relieved of his stick, joined us at a near-run, but none of us was prepared for the sharp sound of one gunshot from behind us as we retreated. In the emotional moment, I could appreciate the irony: the presence of a probably-rabid fox I handled with ease, but the shot that put him down completely unnerved me.

So, I think that is QUITE ENOUGH natural excitement--and dangerous wild animals--for me for a while. Jeez, all I wanted was some scenery, and relaxing, enjoyable family time. But maybe everyone would be better off if I just stayed out of the woods altogether. Unless stress and a little terror enhances cardio-vascular conditioning...?!

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