Day Four: In the Woods

“Who will show up in my life today?”

It was a good morning question. The answer came in the form of Pil, a well-bearded family friend who waltzed into Jo and Lydia’s kitchen shortly after noon. As we sat in the dining room over lunch, I learned that he was a retired surgeon who was in hospital last week as a patient, with an arterial thrombosis. We had a good conversation about blood clots and then he and Lydia started talking about something.

My plan was to head off to the shower but before I could make a move in that direction, here was Pil again, inviting me to spend the afternoon with him in the woods. I went small inside my head, wondering if my injured knee could handle a lot of rough ground. Seconds later, though, I smiled a “yes” at him.

“Do you have rubber boots?”

Oops. What was I getting myself into? Soon Pil was helping me get into a pair that Jo had. I didn’t know that the idea was to roll your socks down under the soles of your feet, wrap the cuffs of your pants around your ankles and pull the socks over them. Then shove your feet into the boots. The things you learn from a Belgian outdoorsman.

Next, Pil helped me get into coverings for my legs. He was so patient. I was just wondering how wet we were going to get! No matter … it was time for an adventure.

We stopped at Pil’s house in Roonse to pick up an important addition – his dog Chip, a black lab. He came right up to me in the hall and let me pet him. So cool. Soon the three of us were off to a world of narrow, twisting streets and long views across farm fields to tall stands of trees. Pil pointed out the hospital where he used to work and got me close to a stunning 1000-year-old church which just last week was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After a couple of gate openings, we were rolling through groves of trees, some ancient and some planted within the last four years. Then it was a transfer to a 4×4 for some rough trail riding. Yee haw! Pil’s first job was to refill about fifteen seed containers with corn for the pheasants. And we saw lots of them – scurrying along the paths with their red-ringed necks, and taking flight if Chip got too close, which he was good at.

Mr. Chip is a hunting dog and Pil came fully equipped with a squeaky orange ball. Many, many times I threw it in the air and watched as Chip leapt up to catch it in his mouth, usually on the first bounce. Once I tossed the ball into the bush and saw Chip dive in after it. He kept emerging without the ball, and when I investigated, I saw that the target was a thick bramble of raspberry bushes, armed effectively with thorns. Not to be deterred, Pil whipped out a machete and started whacking away. Maybe three minutes later, an orange globe revealed itself on the ground.

Pil loves his land and the beings who inhabit it. The pigeons overhead, the roe deer, the young deciduous trees, the pheasants, the ducks – but probably not the rats. He is a steward of at least 100 acres and he wants life to thrive there. For part of our time, he wrapped saplings with plastic shields that prevents animals from damaging the young ones.

At one point, we stopped beside a small pond. I launched the orange missile again and again, and each time Chip burst into the water and swam like an Olympian towards the floating ball. Back onshore, he shook for all he was worth and ran to me for some roughhousing. Hence the protective wear over my pants.

Almost two months ago, I was bitten by a tiny dog in Cincinnati, Ohio. And here I was today, virtually pummeling Chip and being well pummeled back, and reaching in to get the ball out of his mouth. I smiled at my rediscovered courage.

Pil, Chip and me: what a happy threesome. The generous man asked the adventurous man to join him and his bouncing dog for an afternoon of fun and frolic. And it happened. Yay! Thank you, dear universe.

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