Running up trails at the SnowBowl, Lewie and I suddenly find ourselves in the company of a dog. Large, dark, and quietly padding toward us, she’s three times Lewie’s size. Her intentions are not clear, but her head is lowered in a stalking pose. It’s cool, everything’s cool, let’s all be friends, I am saying in what I hope is a friendly, good energy tone. She and Lewie work things out as dogs usually do, deciding neither is a threat to the other and after some slow circling and a bit of sniffing, Lewie is off and running again, heading up the steep trail under the chairlift with me chugging along some distance behind. New Dog appears to be without people, but her confidence and now jolly energy would suggest she is not lost. I keep thinking she will peel off and rejoin her people, wherever they are. But through tall weeds and around corners I keep catching glimpses of her leaving the trail and rejoining it. She and Lewie continue to mostly ignore each other, engaged in something like parallel play.
At some point it becomes clear New Dog is choosing to join our adventure. And at some point I decide not to stop and retrace my steps or pause to listen in case someone is calling her back. I decide not to really adjust my plan in any way. At some point, I decide New Dog is not, eventually, as I originally thought, going to decide she has strayed too far from her people and turn around. She continues to choose us. I continue on and we run through puddles and over roots and rocks down the Long Trail, heading south to some as yet to be determined point. And finally I realize I have now, passively, by doing nothing and making no decision other than to go forward with my planned run, decided to take responsibility for New Dog. We’ve gone too far now. What was “not my circus, not my monkey” an hour ago is surely mine now. I hope her people are not fretting and wondering where she’s gone. I know I would be. She army crawls through mud and sprints ahead down the trail, my little short-legged Lewie straining to match her pace. Having broken through the are we friends yet? barrier, both dogs are now tail-wagging and smile-panting and having a grand time, chasing each other in an exuberant game of canine tag.
The breeze cools my skin and dries my sweat into a salty crust as we pause for a view of the Champlain Valley through a rare break in the trees. Then on we run, feeling the joyous freedom of legs and arms pumping and feet landing and pushing off again. The trail does not care that we are here, but we are so glad of the trail.