Friday, April 16, 2010

Four Strangers in the Park

On Wednesday I suddenly snapped: I was overtired, confused, and frustrated. I was making too many mistakes. When I asked my manager if I could have the rest of the week off she said "Sure!" and the world suddenly became a better place.

One thing I wanted to accomplish during my long weekend was to get my taxes done, so today I sorted all my papers and started the long walk to Conestoga Mall. I could either take a ridiculous detour along impersonal major streets I already knew...or I could finally explore Hillside Park., whose network of trails goes there almost directly. Thank goodness I decided to do the latter.

Ever since I've moved here I've known the park was on my doorstep, and I'd seen aerial views of it on Google, but I'd never actually been inside until today. Its unspoiled lushness (complete with marshes, branching trails, crumbling 19th century foundations, and -- apparently -- foxes) makes it appear much larger than it is...I assume the illusion of total wilderness will be complete once the summer leaves grow.

It was while walking one of the trails at 11:30 this morning that I spotted a plaque of some sort located about 40 feet down a small secondary path. Wanting to read it, I started down the path when I noticed a woman sitting further down, mostly obscured by the bushes. "Hello!" she shouted to me.

You don't spend long exploring these trails in Kitchener/Waterloo before you discover the makeshift camps of homeless people. I've never had any problems, but I'm understandably wary about stepping into a home where people have been drinking all day, and probably pooping in the corner.

But this woman sounded sober so I shouted "Hello!" back, and walked down the path towards her, thinking I was just going to be briefly trapped by a gregarious person who wanted to chat.

As I got closer she said, "You know that saying, 'I've fallen and I can't get up?' Well, it's just happened to me." She was sitting on the ground next to an electric scooter. She'd driven down the path to pick up a blanket that somebody had left there -- she's a great lover of the trails and doesn't like to see them used as a junkyard -- and her scooter had hit a muddy pothole, throwing her down. She'd been sitting there in the dirt for a long time, without a cel phone, invisible to the people on the main trail, listening to the birds and totally unable to get up.

We tried a few things but I simply wasn't strong enough; she was quite heavy and had almost no lifting power in her legs. After a bit she got exhausted, so we sat back down and chatted and tried to come up with a plan.

Since *I* could look over the bushes I was able to see the main trail, and when an old man walked by I ran after him and asked him to please help. He came back and we both tried to lift chance.

I saw a hiker and brought her back as well. So there we were in the bushes, four people trying to accomplish a heavy-lifting task, and us lifters were hilariously ill-suited to the job: I've got a torn-up right shoulder, the old man was wiry and somewhat frail, and the hiker was small and couldn't even lift half of what I could.

We jostled and pushed and pulled, rested, chatted, and jostled and pulled some more. Eventually the woman got discouraged and said we'd simply have to call the police...but not only were we unable to LIFT anything, none of us even had a PHONE.

Meanwhile I'd been toying with a big log, and I reasoned that the woman's problem was that she couldn't expend the strength necessary to BOTH stand AND position her legs. We couldn't raise her up to a standing position while she was sitting on the ground...but maybe we could divide the job in half by getting her to sit on the log first, THEN -- with her weight already off the ground -- pull her into a position where she could get her legs in gear.

It was worth a try! The old man and I rolled the log over, and with some pushing and pulling we got her onto it, squashing a large number of beetles that I thought it best not to mention. Then we found some broken wooden planks and wedged them under the log to keep it from moving, and the old man pushed from behind while the hiker and I pulled from the front. Amazing! Within minutes she was back in her cart and we were almost as dirty as she was.

What was particularly strange about this is that we had to spend so much time with each other -- twenty minutes, I'd say -- but we were almost a random sample of people. To add to the social barrier we'd been intimately grabbing a perfect stranger, meanwhile trying to figure out exactly what she was capable of in terms of movement and strength. By some fluke the four of us were so darn POLITE: there wasn't a take-charge, natural leader among us, so it was like "Well, I was thinking that maybe this would work--" "Oh, you think? Would that help?" "I'm not sure, here, we can try..." "Oh, excuse me, sorry..."

In terms of social rewards, I think we were all happy in our own ways: the woman was thrilled that she didn't need to call the police, and the rest of us -- none of whom had been in any sort of hurry -- felt awfully good about saving the damsel in distress. I was also happy that I'd seemed nice and genuine enough to convince total strangers to follow me into the bushes.

The old man went his own way, and because the hiker and I were both going in the same direction but had never been in the park before, the suddenly-mobile woman gave us a guided tour of her favourite spots. Gradually we split off until it was just me in a gorgeous forest, under a warm and cloudy sky, in no particular hurry and walking on my own again. So nice!


Oh, yeah, my taxes: "It's busy," said the tax people. "Come back on Sunday."


Raven said...

What a wonderful story. Well done!

Brian Busby said...

Yes, well done! Do not let it be said that courtesy is dead.

Hey, what about that plaque?

Adam Thornton said...

The plaque was a total anti-climax, and I think we were all too befuddled to really notice what was on it. Something about how the park got its name...

Brian Busby said...

" named for its location on the side of this hill."

I get it.

jj said...



jj said...

Plus if you all had phones, you would have ended up exchanging contact nos. :-p

Adam Thornton said...

It's true! What were the chances in 2010?

Actually I don't think we would have changed contacts...we all got along very well when we had to work together, but afterward there was no immediate connection. Odd!

Julia said...

I haven't had a look around here in a while (condolences about poor, departed, ZZ!) so I am late to comment. I love this story, for so many reasons. Glad you were able to help out, and thanks for posting.