I preface this post with a reminder that the fictional character I most identify with is a small, anxious, stuttering, ever-out-gunned piglet. My nickname in high school (okay, one of my nicknames) was Mouse. I have trouble looking people in the eye. I have trouble calling people on the phone. I tend to stay home rather than court trouble by, you know, being present.
With that in mind, imagine the fortitude it has taken for me to stay out from under the covers today after an old lady attacked me on a nature trail. I know!
Here's the setting:
The Salmon Creek Trail is a wide, paved trail through a wetlands area. The trail is probably wider than some two-lane roads I remember traveling on by bus in Germany once, but it would make a dandy one-land road with turnouts. That's how wide the trail is.
Normally, during the time it takes Scotty and me to walk its three-mile length, I will have said "good morning" to a dozen people. Over the three miles it takes to reach the end and turn around. In other words, not a crowded trail.
With this in mind, I have to say that I learned years ago that you teach your dog to walk at your side - your left side - and not to cross over. This is how all dogs are taught if they are to compete, either in the conformation ring or in obedience trials. Although my dogs don't compete for anything other than attention, it has practical uses. It keeps dogs out of traffic when walking on the road (on the left-hand side, as safety rules require), and it keeps your right hand free for other stuff.
This means I am often found on the left side of the path, letting Scotty sniff (as he would never think of crossing over to the right side of my body).
Why am I explaining this to you? Because I got yelled at for walking on the left side of the road. The very wide road.
Here's how it went down:
I was approaching a couple, probably in their sixties. I was on the left side of the road, letting Scotty sniff. I noticed they were sticking to their right side of the road, which is unusual. Usually, folks scooch over a little. You know, so we don't collide on the one side of the very wide road.
Since they didn't, I stepped off the path entirely. But it was too late. This woman had already loaded her gun a long time ago, and it was on a hair trigger. "Why don't you stay over on the right, instead of making an old lady go around you!" (I guess she was the old lady in question, although she was in her gym shoes, out for a hike at the time.)
I said, "I thought I was the one getting out of your way."
She hollered something like, "Get over to the right where you belong!"
I said, "Wow."
This is an out-and-back trail, so I knew we were bound to meet again. Even though I considered explaining to her about the dog, or asking her if she was always like this, I decided against it. People like that rarely ever give you any satisfyingly happy ending. Instead, when I saw her coming, I just made a point of moving over to the right for her. I even tried to make eye contact and smile, but she was having none of it. Neither was her husband, either out of shared outrage, or embarrassment, I couldn't tell.
A less pigletty person would be better at shaking something like this off. I tried at first to laugh and move on, as it was such a bizarre thing for someone to get so worked up about.
Instead, I find myself wondering about her. What's she like to live with? What does she do when she has to walk by loose dogs? Skateboarders? Unruly children? Her life must be a constant stream of outrage. How does she do it? Or is her umbrage all saved up for left-hand-walkers? Could be.
I also find myself thinking about retraining my dog to walk on the right side. This is actually the second time I've been yelled at for walking on the left. The last one was a bicyclist last summer, on the same trail, who didn't even need to worry about where I was at all (wide road, remember?).
You tell me. Should I teach a dumb dog a new trick (ambidextrousness) and keep clear of further elder-abuse (abuse of me by elders), or walk how I damn well please on the very wide trail?