I have mentioned before, but our yard backs onto 27 hectares of conservation land. It’s full of trees and wetlands and wildlife and more trees, and there are trails crisscrossing it for hikers and walkers to enjoy. We often go for walks and look for deer and porcupines and woodpeckers and other creatures, and it’s nice to be in the quiet, feeling like you are away from the city for awhile.
Another benefit is that it is cool and shady on a hot day, so sometimes Stinkerbelle and I will go walking in the morning to enjoy the shade and the cool and whatever breezes there might be. And so it was that on one of the very last truly hot days of the summer, we put on some bug spray and headed out.
We took a trail we normally follow, just after we leave the subdivision. It runs off the main, maintained trail that was put in when the subdivision was built but parallel to it. We like it because it’s more in the trees, and it’s quieter because there are less people and it’s not stroller or casual-walker friendly.
As we headed further along the trail, we heard a ruckus closing in behind us. There’s an obnoxious woman on our street who runs a daycare (beyond legal limits but that is another story) who fairly regularly takes her gang of charges out into the woods with her three dogs for walks. They are noisy and ill-behaved, but unfortunately Stinkerbelle cannot resist another child in the wild and often times, we are stuck socializing and walking with the group.
I don’t enjoy it.
So when I heard them coming, I suggested to That Girl that we duck down another, less followed trail in order to avoid them. It was an adventure. The start of that branch of the trail was full of boardwalks, which I thought might be fun for spotting porcupines and other creatures, and also easy to follow since we’d not walked it before.
Shortly after starting down the trail, we met a mom with her three kids. They told us there were some deer just along the path a way, and we got to chatting. They were brand new to the city and were just getting to know the trails, so we advised a trail that we normally follow that would be a nice walk for them. And we went our separate ways.
We ambled along, and after awhile boardwalk became trail. It was fun, exploring a new area of the woods. There were few people, but we could hear the noise from outside the park, so it was not as thick as our usual trails. And it was not as well maintained, either. But because the woman and her family had come from this direction and they were new to the area, I figured it would not be long before we came upon one of the main branches of the trail close by a subdivision.
But we did not.
We found ourselves walking along and coming to parts of the trail that were seemingly abandoned where the watershed made trail disappear into marsh. We’d cross on some downed trees and tried to pick it up again, but had to turn back. And then we’d follow another fork that was better maintained.
And then, suddenly, we found ourselves walking out into an industrial park. An industrial park which is on the extreme southwest side of the park, clear across the entire park from where we had originally entered on the northeast side.
We looked for someone to ask for directions back to the main trailhead, but there was no one. NO ONE. It was 10:30 am on a workday, so there were no schoolkids or dog walkers or anyone. It was getting warmer, and we had been walking for an hour, so I just decided to go back the way we came.
We went back in on the trail we came out on, and started back towards familiar territory. Only, it didn’t become familiar. Although the trail was a main, well-trodden one, and didn’t seem to branch off much, apparently we must have taken a wrong fork in the road somewhere. Spaces we had walked through did not reappear. There were no markers I recognized. And only one guy with a dog came in, and dashed off too quickly for us to ask directions.
We were lost.
I know the trails are marked, and so I tried following the trail markers painted on trees. I thought that the trail markers in our series of trails were blue, and so I followed blue trail markers. Except, as it turns out, ALL the trails seemed to be marked in blue. So we were getting deeper and deeper into unfamiliar territory.
And Stinkerbelle was getting concerned.
Now, my kid may have some delays, but one thing she excels at, and has done since she was a tiny child, is a sense of direction. She has a preternaturally well-developed sense of direction. As a very small child, she could not understand basics questions or name her colours or things like that, but driving in the car she could point out landmarks she had passed maybe once before. She had a look over my shoulder at a Google street view map, and knew exactly where it was. It’s uncanny.
So, she just KNEW we were lost. And started to get scared.
She was also tired, and she knew I was tired, so I knew I had to make light of things and jolly her along or scared would soon turn to panic and crying and it would not be good. So, I plonked her on my back and we would sing songs. Or I would declare that we could NOT be lost, because we were SUPERHEROES! And we would dash along and soon find our way out, easy peasy.
But we did not. And I was starting to feel a little panicked.
I decided to follow trails that headed for bright sunshine. As our conservation area is bordered on all sides by the city, you just have to walk until you get to an edge and you are out.
The problem then becomes finding your way from there. The first time, we emerged on the extreme south side of the park. That would mean walking several kilometres through industrial park and for several kilometres more along one side or the other of the park back to the northeast side, where we live.
And it was very hot, and very sunny, and we had no hats on and no phone to call for a taxi and no money to pay said theoretical taxi even if we could call one.
So, back into the woods we went.
The next time we emerged, we were getting pretty desperate. Stinkerbelle was starting to get too tired to walk, and getting too afraid to jolly along much more with cheerful songs and tales of superhero exploits. We were on the east side, and I knew that if we walked out there, we’d have about a kilometre out to the main road and then a couple of kilometres to home.
So, out we went.
It was ridiculously hot and humid. I had no idea what time it was, but from the shadows it was probably close to noon. I was sweating profusely. Stinkerbelle was tired and doing her best, but I could not expect her to walk the remaining kilometres and I would have to carry her.
I decided that if I came upon someone, anyone, I might beg for a ride home.
We walked along in the scorching heat of a sidewalk in a new and treeless subdivision. There was no one out. Until, up ahead, I saw someone, a woman, weeding her lawn.
We trudged along, and I was feeling hopeful. And my hopes were dashed when we got closer and I found the woman was actually a teenaged girl, out with a teenaged sister and some younger siblings. No hope for a ride there.
But I said hello, and I asked one of the girls what time it was. It was just after noon. I thanked her, and mentioned that we’d been lost in the woods since about 9:30 that morning. She asked where we lived, and I mentioned where, and asked if her street led out to the main street I would need to take to get home. She was shocked at the distance we’d have to walk, but said yes. I thanked her again, and took Stinkerbelle’s hand and headed out of the subdivision.
It took us a few minutes to get to the main drag, and we had a long walk ahead of us, but at least the traffic caused a bit of a breeze as it rushed by. We rounded the corner and started to head north up the road.
Suddenly there was shouting behind us. I turned around and there, running after us in flip flops and carrying two bottles of water, was the young girl we had spoken to a few minutes previously. She said she had felt so bad for us, being lost for so long on such a hot day and with so far to go, and she was sorry this was all she had to offer us.
I almost started to cry. I am tearing up just thinking of it.
I was so grateful. We were so hot and so thirsty and so tired. And although she could have just gone about her day and not given us a second thought, this young woman had gone into the house and run after us to give us a drink. And was apologetic that this was all she had to offer.
I was so grateful. I thanked her again and again for her kindness. The water was so good, and we were so parched. I asked her her name, and introduced myself and Stinkerbelle. I shook her hand and sincerely thanked her once more. And then she headed her way home and we started our long walk home.
We stopped along the way, in the shade of a small tree we found, and we drank some of our water. The bottles were also a nice diversion for That Girl to play with and keep her occupied as I put her up on my shoulders or on my back and carried her the last kilometres home.
And when we finally opened our door and stepped into the air conditioning, four hours after we had set out that morning, I almost wept with relief.
I told BDH the story, and he asked if I remembered the girl’s name or where her house was, so we could go over and thank them. But the problem was, although I was thinking that afternoon that I might beg for some help from someone, I never honestly expected anyone to help us out. I never really expected anything at all. So when I walked away from the house, my only thought was of the heat, and of how miserable I was, and of getting my daughter home as quickly and safely as possible.
I certainly did not expect to have someone chase after us, and go out of their way to be kind. And I was so overwhelmed at the time, her name completely slipped my mind in my rush to say thank you. And, if I am honest, to get some water into myself and Stinkerbelle.
I knew, sort of, where they lived. But I didn’t know for certain, and not well enough to go knocking on doors.
And so I let an opportunity to thank someone for their kindness, sincerely thank them, pass me by. I still regret it.
And probably in part because of that, I will always remember it, and hopefully be able to pay some kindness forward to someone else in their hour of need. And I will remember the lovely girl in the flip flops with the water when I do, and say thanks once again in my heart.