Burnt Creek Puzzle

I walked along the trail today. It is a capricious spring day with occasional out-of-control showers and outbursts of magnificent sunlight. This was a rare day where the park was not crowded. Usually there is somebody walking a dog, an occasional jogger or people on their bicycle. But not today, there was absolutely nobody in the park. It was enjoyable watching the ever-changing sky and letting the dogs enjoy their walk. Trillium lined either side of the trail and as I walked around a bend, I approached a familiar park bench. On this park bench sat a pair of crutches with no person attached to them. And the concept of crutches usually infers that one cannot actually walk. So somebody had to walk away from this pair of crutches.

So of course I did the next logical thing. I completed my walk, headed back home and looked in my closet for the coolest looking hat that would pass as detective cover. It was an old hat my father left behind on one of his trips and it made me feel a little bit like Colombo or Guy Noir. For this time of year it was rather cold and it also kept my head warm.

Detective work is not one I am cut out, as I am too trusting of people. But that’s what I’m going do today. I’m going to discover what happened to the invisible man on the trail. There I go assuming that the person turned invisible which is quite improbable but that’s all I got right now. Wearing my detective hat, and my two sidekicks Cooper the black lab and Luna the Jack Russell terrier we headed back towards the trail. The dogs were rather happy, as this was their second walk of the day. We first took the steep muddy trail that led to an obscure side trail heading down toward the bench. The trail smelled of earth and spring and was overflowing with the first blooms and buddings of spring. I don’t know why I decided to wear shorts but as I started to sweat I started getting a stinging sensation down my legs. Oh those stinging nettle burning up and down my ever tired legs in their own electrical sort of way. And that reminded me of something that I had not thought of before.

I made my way through the same semi dense under growth, hit the main trail and headed back towards the crutches that sat on the park bench. They were still there. There had been no ghost sightings that day, or not that I believe in ghosts, however these were crutches without a person. I sat down on the bench and inspected the crutches for any indication of who the owner might be. You know how some people get their cast signed when injured? Maybe they do that now with crutches, who knows? I glanced up and down the crutch and yes there were some initials haphazardly etched, much like one would carve a tree during a first love.

JK with a distorted heart was visibly etched weakly into the metal. It appeared that it had been inscribed fairly recently. The park remained empty once again except for an occasional runner, a gal on a skateboard and a woman walking her black lab. I headed home thinking about those crutches and in the long run it may not matter much but there was something about those crutches that I could not exactly put my finger on.

The next day I returned to the park, taking almost the same route and headed for that familiar bench and the crutches were no longer there. I guess that solves that mystery for the day. The worldwide pandemic creates abnormal interactions with life. We spend a lot of time inside our heads without any feedback from others so when an idea pops into our head in general there’s no one there to refute it. Basically, my conclusion that there was great mystery and imagination around these walking implements was fairly half-baked. I decided to continue back on the trail heading towards the trailhead.

To my right, there was a couple gathering nettles from this year‘s harvest. Nettles are quite rather delicious in recipes even though I’ve never mastered that skill. It is a Pacific Northwest art form. They had their dog with them; we didn’t get to talk all that long even though I was hungry for conversation. It’s just the nature of owning a Jack Russell terrier. I then ventured down the trail another hundred yards and there sat another bench and much to my surprise there were the crutches once again. They happened to be, the same crutches on a different bench on a different day.

I picked up the crutches and once again examined them. This seemed quite silly at this time as what are the chances of another set of crutches sitting in the park. My little brain could not fathom that we had a serial crutch problem in Burnt Creek Park. But yes they were the same set of crutches with the initials JK still etched in the handle. I picked up the crutches and started using them to walk around the park. I kind of figured out the owner of the crutches more than likely was about the same height as me. And I am the same height as most males on this planet assuming five foot nine is average. This caught me off guard a little bit, as one of the dogs caught scent of a squirrel as I was using the crutches. Luna, the Jack Russell, immediately figured the error of her ways and came back and gave me a kiss on the cheek as I sat sprawled in the middle of the trail. I did scratch the crutches somewhat, and ironically limped back to the bench and set the crutches down where I had found them.

This pattern continued for the next week, as the crutches would alternate benches in the park, generally within a quarter-mile of where I had originally found them. There was no need to inspect the crutches as I’ve come to know them quite well. There had to be a human being connected to the crutches. Crutches do not walk around parks on their own. I am not one who believes in superstition, ghosts or other supernatural coincidences. But I’m pretty much in the minority. For me there has to be a logical reason as to why things happen. I did want to get to the bottom of this mystery as it was bugging me a little bit. The reason being, I usually take interest in quirky permutations I scanned the park, each time I found the crutches. I scanned for people, patterns or even a lack of pattern. I was not getting any closer and kind of let it fade away as something I probably will never explain.

On the east end of this park, resided a little poetry box where one could pull out a poem and read it or if you chose. You may also write a poem and leave it for someone else to read. In many cases, people put their email address or some reference back to who wrote the poem, but not always. In many cases the poems are religious in nature usually quoting scripture or a reference to scripture but once in a while you find a little gem. I keep, the ones I have collected, in a desk drawer. I’ve made up a poem off the top of my head and dropped it in. There is usually a little golf pencil nearby. It was a rather cold blustery late April afternoon and I decided to grab a poem out of the box and give it a read. I usually reach my hand in and grab the first one available as they are usually scattered all over the place with little rhyme nor reason. I guess that is why they call it a poetry box.

When I opened up the box, it lacked the expected chaos. Rather it was a series of 3 x 5 cards stacked on top of each other. So I just grabbed one off the top and started to read. This was not religious in nature at all; there were 3 x 5 cards with recipes on them very much like ones your grandmother would store in a little decorated recipe box. These recipes were not type written. These recipes were written using good old fashion cursive writing. The writing looked very much like my grandmother’s. You know that font, slant and perfect alignment in handwriting that comes from women of another generation. I read slowly and it was a recipe for vegetable pasta sauce made from the same nettle plants along the trail. I picked up a second recipe card containing a completely different recipe using the same plant. This time it was a stir-fry. Another card listed the medical benefits of the nettle.

I walked back in the direction I had come, and checked all the park benches for the set of crutches. Against the run of play and much to my surprise, I could not find them. I took a different route back, through a meadow and walked along the stream that ran through the park. The dogs like to go swimming there and I thought I’d let them take a dip at their favorite little swimming hole. It’s a little known park secret and I rarely ever see anybody by this secluded swimming hole. Before I got to the swimming hole, I spotted a bald eagle flying overhead and then another. They soared with such grace and precision. Much to my surprise, one of the eagles landed on top of one of the bat boxes that sat in the park. I’m not sure exactly how they work, but the bat boxes are designed for bats to nest, sleep and whatever bats do. They are very good at eating insects in the summertime. The eagle sat on top of the bat box for a few seconds and took off to the top of a nearby tree. It seemed to be watching over the park, making sure nothing was a mess. Nature is wonderful and strange that way. I was glad I took that back trail today. It was something to see.

I approached the dirt bank leading down to the little swimming hole, and then made a right to get down to the spot where the dogs usually went into the water. Once again, there were the crutches. I did not pick them up, did not inspect them and let the dogs enjoy their little swim. After a minute or two, the little dog started to bark as if she spotted something. That wasn’t out of the ordinary, as it could’ve been a squirrel, deer or even another dog. But no, it was a human being cleansing herself in the water of the stream. She sat scrubbing her arms and legs as if they were on fire. She scrubbed and scrubbed without even taking notice of the dogs or me.

The sun hit, where we were standing, at an acute angle. I shifted my detective hat in order to clear my vision. The women in the water squinted as if trying to make me out from the background. She hardly seemed startled when she recognized me standing on the bank. The dogs were upstream a little and were of little bother to her. They had other things to do. She looked at me, her hair dripping with water, and said.

“Hey could you give me a hand here so I can get out of the water.”

It was a struggle, using a small tree as an anchor; I was able to pull her up on the stream bank.

“Thank you very much,” she said as she steadied herself along the bank. She picked up a blanket, I had not seen before, and let the woolen warmth surround her. The dogs greeted her with a mix of suspension and something new to smell. To them it must have appeared that this being had mysteriously emerged from the water.

“This is not the best day for a swim.” I said to her knowing I was stating the obvious.

She scratched her legs feverishly, at first, and then backed off as it appeared the itch subsided.

She flashed what appeared to be a candy bar or possibly a bar of soap. “This soap is the only thing that works on those stingy nettles. Damp days like today it is difficult not to get stung.”

“Did you see my crutches on the way in?”  She said as she let her long flowing hair fall out of the blankets.

“The crutches with the initial JK etched in them?”

“I have been using those for a while. Goddamn Joe didn’t even know his initials were on them. I use those things for support during the spring. It can be so slippery in spots, when looking for nettles. I don’t always take them with me I. I usually set them on a bench and people are pretty nice about it.”

“I’ll bet they are?”

“Joe used to often run along these trails. He loved it here, but he was a competitive  mother fucker. He lent me those after my car crash. It’s the only piece of Joe I still have.”

“He must have been a special guy.”

“He made a Killer pasta sauce from the nettles. I printed out a few recipe cards and left them in the poetry box.”

“That kind of makes sense.” I said more to my self more than as a reply.

“I am going back to where I started the day. Could you be so kind as to carry this for me?

I smiled in a knowing way as she handed me a large burlap bag filled with branches from the nettle bushes. We walked beck toward the main trail, me carrying the burlap bag, and her on crutches.

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