Cromwell Valley Park sits just above the beltway. It borders Loch Raven Reservoir. Despite being only a mile and a half from about 8 lanes of traffic, it is remarkably serene. I used to live about 3 miles away and walked my dog there several times a week. She was the first dog I had as an adult: a black Rottweiler-Shepherd mix named Sadie. Sadie was headstrong, protective, loyal.
One Saturday morning, Sadie and I were hiking. I unhooked her leash. She stayed close for a while. The woods are sprawling, expansive. A deer rustled in the distance. Sadie trotted ahead. She slowed for a moment, must have caught a glimpse or scent of something, and then she took off. Gone into the leaves, the foliage, the fallen trees, disappeared.
I spent over an hour criss-crossing the park, combing the hills, calling her name, hearing only my feet dragging through the leaves. Eventually, heartbroken, I got in my car and went home. Tears burned my eyes as I drove. How do you go home without your dog?
The light on the answering machine was blinking when I walked in. A man’s voice I did not recognize spoke. He said that he had found Sadie and had brought her home with him. I called back immediately.
He said that Sadie had trotted up to him and his dog in the parking lot. Sadie befriended the two of them. She was always a flirt. The man waited a while to see if an owner arrived. When no one did, he took her home with them. He lived a few miles away. I got back in the car and headed over.
When I pulled up, the front door of the townhouse was open. Sadie and the other dog were standing in front of the storm door. The other dog was large as well, maybe some sort of Shepherd. They were standing there, smiling, looking like a welcome wagon to a house party. I was furious and overjoyed and relieved. I gave the man a box of dog treats and thanked him profusely.
I live farther away now and get to Cromwell now only periodically. It does not lose anything with less frequent visits.
I went there recently with my current dog, the second. She is a red pitbull. Her name is Jada. She is a much different dog. Jada is not the dog I thought I would have next. She has changed my perception of pits completely. She is devoted. She is a ninny. She wants to be told what to do.
I took her out to Cromwell on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago. Cromwell has a large rise in the middle of the park. We walked around the edge, and then along the back side. A small stream runs along the that side of the park before emptying into Loch Raven.
Not many people were out that deep in the park. We passed a group of about eight hiking with a single dog. I heard them before I saw them. Their conversation rose to a crescendo as they walked by and then faded again. We were left with our steps, sometimes silent along the trail, and the occasional jangle of Jada’s tags.
It was a bright morning, about 50, in the first half of March. Buds dotted some of the trees. The weather, while not warm, was not bone-chilling. Daylight savings time had just started and I had more energy. I am always hopeful during this time of year, as if the warmer weather will actually come. As if the world will bloom again.
We walked along the stream for a while and then down to the edge. I unhooked her leash, a red one I had with Sadie. I did not want it to get soaked and then have to hold onto a damp leash the rest of the way. Jada got a drink.
The sun was nearly overhead at this point. She looked toward the light. Her eyes were soft and relaxed. I took her picture a few times to remember the moment. She is now nearing ten. She is a regal looking dog, distinguished in her older age. The white that ran along her muzzle several years ago has now spread past her eyes, flecking up by her ears. None of us outrun time.
Later I was daydreaming and got us off the trail. We had to inch our way down a hill to get back onto the route. I dropped the leash, needing my hands for balance as I turned around and edged down backward, holding onto roots and the trunks of trees. Jada went ahead. I got down to the bottom of the hill and looked around quickly. I flashed back to the day with Sadie and panicked momentarily that Jada would tear off at a squirrel or rustling leaves.
Jada was there watching me, waiting patiently. She is a different dog. I picked up her leash. We continued.