Presently, I am sitting on the bench by the river. It is sweltering hot, very little breeze and, probably because of that, there are more people and dogs down here than I have ever seen. This is my most favorite place to go. We bring the camp chair for Gene so he is comfortable whereas, even though the bench is hard, I am so happy here that it does not matter to me if it is comfortable.
Let’s see if I can paint a picture for you of all I see right now. There must be 50 people of all ages lying on the grass in the park next to the river. Walking to our spot, we passed a young couple lying on a blanket, talking quietly, obviously happy. There is a large group of boys, all pre-teen, with fit-looking men, and they are sitting together on the ground talking about something interesting.
We settled in our spot and I am so aware of the number of dogs here, each one with their person, all ignoring (as always) the NO DOGS ALLOWED signs in the park. Never once have I seen a problem with the dogs, and I don’t know why the signs are even there. It feels like everyone in Salida has a dog but me, and I never see abuse.
Right in front of us there is this huge boulder in the river. A young couple and their two big dogs — a pit bull and a mixed breed — have climbed onto the rock to sun bathe and play. For me, it’s like going to the movies to watch them play with their obviously adored pooches. The girl pushes one dog into the water, which makes the other dog splay out all four legs and jump in after it. The two swim against the current, splashing each other and then climb back up onto the rock, shake vigorously, spraying water all over their people.
Everybody laughs. The guy reaches his hand into the cold river water, fills them and tosses it onto the dogs. Just watching from the banks makes me laugh out loud. They hear me and wave to us.
Another older couple are sitting on a rock next to the bench.
They are hot. The lady asks me if I would watch her purse while they go to wade in the water. Of course I would. Can you imagine that happening most places? She does not know me. I doubt it crossed her mind that I might steal from her. Isn’t that lovely?
There’s a young man — maybe early 20s — who has made a cart with a seat and a roof overhead that he pulls with his bicycle. He hopes to take people around town for a fee. We talk to him today. He says business isn’t too good, that people seem to want to walk around town and shop. I always compliment him for being creative.
A stunningly beautiful, tanned and fit young lady comes by us on her bike. She is pulling a cart and in the cart sits her smiling bull dog. He is obviously enjoying the ride. As they pass us, I speak to her and she stops to talk. That is what every single person does here. If they pass us and I speak, they stop to chat.
Anyway, this beautiful lady tells us that she is teaching her dog to swim, that bulldogs can’t normally swim because their legs are too short, so she is teaching her dog to literally “dog paddle” with its front legs while its hind legs sort of just hang down, not moving. Only in Salida.
As they go on their way, I sit back and just take in the whole scene. I can see about 30 dogs right now — big ones, little ones, fuzzy ones, slick ones, wet ones, dry ones. I see people taking a nap on the grass, their dogs right beside them. I am so aware of the feeling of rest, of joy, of people and dogs all relaxing with each other. Then, suddenly, a siren pierces the air. It seems to be coming down from the nearest mountain on the other side of the river.
It is blaring and rude and so out of place somehow. The jarring from its shrillness grabbed me and shoved me back into reality. Less than 100 miles from us, 1,500 men and women are in the fight of their lives against just one of the horrid fires that are consuming our beautiful state of Colorado. It is like someone suddenly douses me with icy water. Here we are in kind of an Eden setting, the river waters dancing over rocks and glistening with sun light. If I listen, I hear laughter, dogs barking in sheer delight and total unawareness of the utter tragedy occurring just up the road. I shake my head. It is too much all of a sudden ,and I want to cry. I look at Gene and his eyes are closed. I know it is time to go home.
We gather up our stuff and head back to our lovely little house.
There it sits, untouched by fire, beds made, food in the fridge. We open the door and our two cats meet us. All they know is they are safe because we are home. Oh, how I wish that life were that simple.
Oh, how I pray that these fires can be stopped, that nobody else loses his home or — God forbid — his life trying to fight it.
I’ll bet tonight, when its time to go to bed, I will still be weighing the dichotomy of life. You know, it hits me that for us to be able to endure tragedy, maybe we must make sure we take time to sit by a river or an ocean or any place that soothes the soul. It may be that we cannot survive the one without the other.
The view from the mountains is wondrous, or will be again when the smoke clears.