The last week in the parson's life had been a busy month. With hospital visits, pastoral counseling appointments, and a tornado rearranging the parish, the parson had found the week running him as opposed to the opposite. Something had to be done.
The forest is large, very large. It's much larger than most people imagine. Visitors tend to stay on the hiking paths adjacent to the camping areas. But with 25,000 acres, there's a much larger area to explore. And so, the parson along with Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion, and Princess Penny, Charlie Brown's live-in girl friend, headed down some forest trails seldom used by many.
The trail meandered down into a deep canyon. The waters that had cut the canyon eons ago cascaded over rocks, slowed in quiet recesses, and flowed again to another precipice over which they jumped. The parson carefully hopped along some stones to gain the far side of the stream without getting either foot wet, despite the pulling of two sixteen foot leashes attached to canines who had no problem with getting wet. It was a good day.
The far side of the stream announced the end of the maintained trail. “Come,” the parson said. Both companions did. The parson released the dogs from their leashes. The bounded off together. The parson followed the semblance of a trail that paralleled the stream down deeper into the valley.
Occasionally, his companions would come and join him for a couple hundred yards of hiking. Then they'd bound off into the forest. Sometimes the parson got the idea they were just checking on him. But both, as if they'd heard the dinner bell, came bounding toward him as he sat down, opened his backpack and pulled out the sandwich that was his lunch.
Charlie Brown and Princess Penny sat cocking their heads from one side to another, about five feet from the parson as he enjoyed the sandwich. He watched them smiling. Both stayed in place until the parson began to back the wrappings from the sandwich into the back pack. At that point Princess Penny stepped forward and licked the parson on his cheek. The parson retrieved two plastic storage dishes from the back pack, opened the covers, and sat them in front of his fellow hikers. It didn't take either as long as the parson to finish lunch.
The parson leaned back on his elbows and looked up toward the rim of the canyon. It was a long way up. About a thousand feet, a thousand steep feet. And that was where he'd parked the car. The parson took a deep breath to prepare for getting up and heading back up the canyon. He paused. What was the rush?
The parson reached into his pocket, retrieved the smartphone, set the timer for forty-five minutes, eased himself over about twelve feet into a patch of sunlight, placed the phone on his chest, and settled back as he closed his eyes. Both dogs settled down beside him, Charlie Brown with a grunt; Princess Penny with a lick.
The phone's insistent call woke the parson. He started to rouse himself up. He paused. Twenty feet above him and just a bit to the left a red shouldered hawk sat perched on a branch intently watching the trio. The parson didn't move. The dogs continued to sleep, both snoring.
The parson watched the hawk. The hawk watched the parson. The parson after five minutes or so eased himself into a sitting position. The hawk watched. Another couple of minutes and the parson stood. The hawk watched. Both the dogs got up. The hawk watched. The parson maneuvered the back pack onto his back. The hawk watched.
“We have to go now,” said the parson. The hawk watched as the parson and his two companions retraced their steps.
After crossing the stream again, this time with the dogs free of the leash, the parson knelt down. “Come,” he said. Both did. He attached their leash and the two began the ascent to the canyon's rim.
At the top of the canyon, the parson paused at a water fountain. He took two plastic bowls from the back pack, filled them with water and watched each dog lap up the liquid. The parson drank deeply from his water bottle. Then they walked to the car. The parson again released them from their leash. Both bounded into the car without any command.
The parson pulled his back pack off, opened the trunk and placed his back pack, along with his jacket, inside. He closed the trunk and started to get into the car. It was then he looked up a the tree directly in front of the car. The red shouldered hawk was perched there watching.
“We have to go now,” the parson said. He placed himself behind the steering wheel, cranked the car, released the parking brake, put the car into drive. It was then the hawk flew away, his stripped black and white tail and lower wings spread in full display.
It was a good day.