I had a crummy day at work. So, I parked my truck at the south side of Hartley Park and walked up to the jersey barriers that mark the entrance to the trails. I thought a run would burn the carbon out.
An old man sat on one of the pieces of concrete, hunched over and looking at something in his hand. I thought he needed help. As I got closer, he stood up and walked toward me. He had a friendly, fit face, a baseball cap, and a hearing aid in each ear. His voice was clear when he asked, “Are you a wildflower guy?”
I was caught off guard and said, “I can be, I guess.”
He said, “This is monkshood.” He showed me the cluster of blue and white flowers he held in his hand. “I’ve been watching a patch for about four years and it’s doing really well now.”
I said, “Well, that’s something. Take care,” and turned to run into the trees. I’d never seen monkshood before, and I’ve spent a lot of my life outdoors.
There were no other cars at the end of the trail. That man was by himself and maybe he would’ve walked home alone, the sole viewer of those plants, as far as he knew. He took the time to reach out to a stranger and show him some flowers. I wondered if his age gave him a finer appreciation for beauty or he thought things were better when shared.
I thought of the time I drove from Alaska to Alabama when I had a month off in my twenties. I soaked in the Liard River Hot Springs in Canada. Rode my mountain bike above Jasper. Downhill skied at Lake Louise. Saw hanging glaciers near Banff. Learned what a loony was. Backpacked into Glacier National Park. Saw my first black bear. Caught some more spring skiing on the west side of the Grand Teton. Got a speeding ticket in Oklahoma. But, mostly, I remember being alone. It was an awesome month, but I didn’t have somebody to share it with. He’s on to something, I thought.
About a week later, I figured I’d go for a new dose of Hartley Park trail running to purge another bad day. After fifteen minutes of running and an incident with an unleashed “good” dog, I was truly toxic. I dialed up the pace to try to escape myself and pounded down the trail: overweight, middle-aged, and pissed.
There was a flash of blue and white. I stopped and smiled like a big dope at the patch of monkshood. I was suddenly and involuntarily happy.
Son of gun, I thought. I’m a wildflower guy.