It is an asphalt path about three feet wide that winds around a large county lake in western Missouri. It is on the western side of the lake, travelling north to south in a serpentine manner to get as much length out of it as possible without becoming boring for the walkers, the joggers, the bicyclists and the dog walkers. I fall into the dog walker category taking my dog, Dutch, to the path everyday for an hour long walk that my doctor insists that I take and I insist that Dutch goes with me. I see no reason why I should be required to walk while he stays home. We will be tired together. I believe that is why God gave dogs to men, so that the men would have someone to commiserate with about wives and home life and to give men an exercise partner as well.
The shelter house at the marina is shelter number 14. Within a mile and a half the path works its way around shelter numbers 13 and 12 keeping fairly close to the lake’s shoreline. This part of the path is in open land for the most part with very few trees to block the view of the lake or the road.
After shelter number 12 the path circles a small cove that is popular with the fishermen and comes to a tunnel that sneaks beneath a road that leads to the swimming beach. Out of the tunnel the path makes one last journey through clear land in front of the beach before leaning away from the lake and into a small grouping of trees that quickly become tall woods that hide any sign that a lake is nearby.
During the winter when the path population is sparse and the snow and cold winds are a constant companion, Dutch and I walk from the marina to the tunnel and back. During the spring and summer when the path becomes crowded, we head onto the part of the path that heads into the woods. Not as many people take the wooded part of the path because it is a very long stretch that is essentially in the middle of nowhere. It is a good three miles before it breaks out of the woods around shelter number 11 and people like to be closer to civilization I suppose. There is a picnic table her and there for weary participants who take to the woods but for the most part you are out there on your own with all of the strange sounds and noises coming from inside the woods not to mention a high power line that bisects the path. There are a lot of stories about the dangers of high power lines but just to reassure you, I have not heard it buzzing or seen a metal bicycle floating along under a magnetic spell from it.
The wildlife comes alive in the woods. Birds chatter through the whole course of the path. We have seen rabbits scamper off and squirrels climb trees as we pass. We have seen gophers, prairie dogs, a raccoon and several deer cross the path in front of us. It is relaxing to see nature like this and for me makes the walk more enjoyable. This nature raises Dutch’s curiosity to the point of raising either his level of bravery or his level of cowardice, depending on the mood he is in on a particular day. We walk to the second picnic table before turning around and heading back through the woods to the car taking us right at an hour to walk and this is where the story begins.
It was a cool spring April day that found us walking into the woods. The sun was out and a light breeze was making its way through the trees. Dutch was all ears and was a bit skittish, this being one of his cowardly days. We came upon the first picnic table to find a sight that Dutch had not witnessed before. There were people sitting at the picnic table. It was a young couple who were involved in a quiet serious conversation. The young man was sitting on the seat of the picnic table while the young lady was sitting on top of it. He was looking at his fingers as he pick at his fingernails while she looked at him with very soft eyes talking low and sincere. Dutch, of course, immediately changed direction to get behind my legs to have something between him and the couple. The man looked over at Dutch when the dog took steps to protect himself and smile. I looked at the man and said “you scared him”. After a small smile the man said “He scared me.” We both gave a light laugh and Dutch and I continued on towards the second picnic table.
When we arrived at the second picnic table the obligatory “stop and pet Dutch” moment was observed before heading back through the woods. As we approached the first picnic table once again, I could hear children’s voices and when we made the turn to be in sight of the picnic table, the young couple had been replaced by a young family with noisy kids. I looked up the path and saw the young couple walking away, arms around each other’s waists and walking slowly.
I decided to let them have their time alone together so each time it seemed that Dutch and I were closing in, we would stop and pet and peer off into the woods. The couple did not pick up any speed so it became a longer walk time wise than we usually do. Then it happened.
As the couple were exiting the woods and coming out into the open part of the path, they disengaged their arms. They each moved to an opposite side of the path, her arms folded in front of her and his hands clapping slowly in front of him as they continued to talk. It was obvious to me that their relationship was one that was not to be known to others. They continued this slow walk, apart from each other but still talking all the way through the tunnel and to the parking lot at shelter number 12 where they each got in a separate vehicle and left.
A certain sadness came over my mood as I watched them drive away. It looked to me as if they were in love, but something was stopping them from acting upon that love. It could have been that one of them was not free or neither of them was free to move down the road they wanted to take with each other. Perhaps it was a Shakespearian family quarrel that kept them apart. Perhaps as simple of a thing as an age difference was the culprit. I do not know what it was but I do know what drifted through my mind at that point. Of all the emotions or feelings that God bestowed upon us, love has to be the cruelest. It is love that brings on grief and grief, as bad as it is can be put into the back of ones mind by distraction. All of our other emotions, hate, anger, greed and so on are started by love in some way or another. All of our other emotions can be set aside by busying ourselves with other things. Love is different. Love is the foundation for all those other emotions and love can not be set aside when convenient. It stays there, burning in our souls with intensity. It never goes away completely.
I have not seen the couple since that day and in a way I am glad I haven’t. If this young couple were truly in love, it will haunt them the rest of their lives and this saddened me.