A Walk Before the Storm
By Prudence Brighton
Juniper turned toward me and announced, “I haven’t had fresh air in a long time.” She is six and had just finished her remote learning for the day. We were out for a walk before a winter storm closed in.
Walking with Juniper is always a joyful adventure. She is kind and caring, inquisitive and creative. Time with her is always magical. This walk was also cold, but we were well-prepared with hats and mittens for the 25-degree weather.
She directed the walk–not surprisingly, because she is also a take-charge little girl–and held my dog’s leash for most of our hike. Her favorite jaunt is up a wooded hill in her neighborhood.
For this walk, she chose the steepest ascent.
Spotting a good-sized rock ahead, she saw a challenge. Handing the leash back to me, she accepted it. But this rock proved a disappointment, insufficiently challenging for someone of her skill-level. So she jumped down in search of other challenges.
She talked as we walked, and somehow in conversation, she asked me if ‘opposite’ is a big word. “Yes,” I said, explaining that it has three syllables. She looked puzzled, so I sounded it out: “op-po-site.”
“And how many syllables in your name?” I asked. Then I sounded out “ ju-ni-per.” Triumphantly, she said, “Three.”
We came to a point where the path diverged, downhill to a street in her neighborhood or uphill to the summit. I pointed up to the right. “I think there’s a rock, if we go this way,” she said obviously pleased with my choice. Of course, she knows full well there is a rock at the summit, but it still delights her.
We arrived at the summit with its elevation of 118 feet, and she scampered off to ‘her’ rock. At its pinnacle, the rock adds another five feet of the elevation to the hill.
From here, she rules her world. It is a world of fairies and princesses, whatever Disney character has captivated her imagination that day. She seems to hold her breath every time we approach, hoping that no one else is occupying it. In summer, there are sometimes sunbathers spoiling her delight or other children playing on it.
This time, however, she said loudly, “Look what’s here.” I wasn’t sure whether she was disgusted or pleased. I spotted a nearly full bottle of frozen orange soda on the rock, so I think it was disgust she was feeling.
I pulled a plastic dog waste bag from my pocket, struggling to open it in the cold air. She was able to drop it in the bag as I looked around for a trash barrel. I spotted none, but she assured me there was one at the base.
Having started picking up trash, Juniper decided we should continue. She spotted a frozen Coca Cola bottle which joined the orange soda. Then it was a blue safety glove, which I insisted on picking up. She spotted a paper bag in the tree branches but reluctantly decided we couldn’t take it with us. She wanted me to clamber up a small incline and follow her to another piece of trash. Somehow, I convinced her that my clambering days are in the past. That piece of trash is now for someone else to discover.
As we continued our steps downhill, she gave a running commentary on why leaving trash is a bad thing. “Animals can get hurt and people can get sick,” she explained.
Something else caught her attention as we neared the bottom, and she started running toward it. “Slow down and let me pick it up,” I called to her.
“Why?” she asked. “It’s a bag,” I answered. “ And we don’t know what’s in it. If there’s something sharp, I want to be the one who gets hurt and not you.” She liked that answer, but not what we actually discovered–dog waste. We were just a few steps from the trash barrel, so it joined the rest of the trash we’d found. At that, we headed back to her house to get warm and wash our hands.
Walking with Juniper is always magical. Luckily, encountering the thoughtlessness of humanity in general has yet to spoil my joy. And she is too young to be cynical about our species, although her highly developed sense of right and wrong does inform her actions.
I’m looking forward to snowplows and snowmelt to take me on another joyful hike up Juniper’s favorite hill.