As I ate breakfast, I saw my aunt and cousin had posted Facebook updates about a shooting in Aurora, Colorado--where most of my extended family lives. A quick trip to any news website told the horrific story of a shooting spree during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie. I was shaken to know that something like this could happen less than two miles from my grandparents' house, across the street from the shopping center where my aunts and I would walk to Starbucks, at the very movie theater where I saw Toy Story 3 before I moved back east. Thankfully, none of my family was there. But reading the reports scared me. I love going to movies--even bad ones--and not just because I have a tiny AC unit that I think is older than I am in my apartment. I love to sit in the theater and observe how everyone responds to the movie, whether that's the women in the Magic Mike theater yelling out, "There's too many previews, bring on the men!" (no, that wasn't me--I like previews, too) or the audience in Benjamin Button anticipating my sister's chuckling and beating her to it by the 5th time the man said, "Did I ever tell ya I've been struck by lightning 7 times?" The fact that such senseless violence could happen in a place where I've always felt safe was almost too much for me. I thought about crawling back into bed with my coffee and a book (one of the other places that I always feel safe).
Barley had other ideas, though. Even though it was overcast, Weather.com assured me that I could expect dry conditions for the next 6 hours and the temperature was perfect--around 68 degrees--and Barley was ready to go. Doggin' Cleveland was sitting on the couch beside me and I'd already looked up trail maps for Penitentiary Glen the night before. Barley had also made it clear that poor Soth was not going to get any cat naps in today if we didn't get out for some exercise soon. So, we hopped in the car and ventured out.
Despite the incredible number of cars in the parking lot, Barley and I had the trails to ourselves and I couldn't have been happier. Even though most people caution against hiking alone, to me empty trails are safer. If there are no people, there's a good chance there are no dogs. If there are no dogs, there's a good chance Barley will behave (one day we'll get to the story of how I learned I have a reactive dog). Also, if there are no people, there's a good chance no small children will run up and throw their arms around Barley's neck before I have a chance to distract her with treats. Basically, the natural dangers (snakes, spiders, ledges, poison ivy) seem much more bearable to me than people and other pets. Barley and I try to minimize the risks as much as possible. I study the trail maps so that I at least have a vague idea where we're at all the time. My mom and my sister get regular texts of where we're hiking in case someone needs to alert the authorities; usually, they get at least 1 picture text of Barley being cute somewhere along the trail, so they have time-stamped messages of where we were and when.
|Like this picture my mom got of the 141 stairs Bar and I tackled|
Plus, I have no doubt in my mind that Barley would risk her life to save mine should some creeper appear. (This has been proven on two occasions: once when we saw someone I knew, but did not want to see, on a trail and Bar continuously circled around me, despite her trailing, to make sure she stayed between us at all times and once when the creepy guy my neighbors wanted me to date showed up unannounced on my door step and Barley sat between us with her nose in his crotch growling--he did not stay long.)
When we hike, I do not take unnecessary risks. Leaving home and going out on the trails is the biggest risk I take. Barley even wears a harness that buckles into the seat belt on the way there. I am not like my mountain goat cousins, who climb on any rocks they can find.
|Cousins perched on top of rocks while my feet are firmly on the ground|
We started our hike on the Gorge Rim Loop at Penitentiary Glen. There's a 141-step staircase that takes you down to a little overlook by Stoney Brook Falls. The overlook has a three-rail fence all around the edge and a sign that reminds you to stay on the improved trails for your safety.
|(Stoney Brook Falls: they might be more impressive in less dry seasons, but I thought they were pretty anyway)|
|You think this fence is a problem, Mom?|
|Sitting on the naughty bench after I convinced her to crawl back under the fence.|
When I was sixteen, I went to photojournalism camp at Penn State. I don't remember much of the lessons we focused on there--most were on using digital cameras and the ones we were using were the ones that used floppy discs instead of memory cards, so it's probably ok that I've forgotten those lessons--but I do remember two things our instructor taught us. One, don't take pictures of squirrels. Everybody takes pictures of squirrels. (I'll admit, I've broken this rule--but the black squirrels in parts of Ohio are just so stinkin' cute!) Two, good photographers take risks to get the shots they want; sometimes this means climbing on to roofs even if you're afraid of heights or inching out onto a tree branch even if you're unsure it will hold your weight. Today, my dog was perfectly willing to blaze a trail and take a risk and leave the beaten path; I was not and because I wasn't it, I have several adorable pictures of my dog, but not the pictures I wanted to take today. There was enough room on the other side of the fence to find the shot I wanted; one segment even had a locked gate that opened onto the path that is used for guided tours into the gorge. There were no other people on the trail, so I probably could have gotten away with a five-minute excursion off the path to get my pictures without anyone ever knowing. But today, I couldn't bring myself to take that risk.