After decades of membership in my walking/hiking club, I thought I knew my hiking buddies. For instance, I’ve always envied Evelyn for what I thought was her natural and effortless beauty. But the first morning of a hiking trip her travel alarm went off at seven a.m. She spent the next two hours in an elaborate grooming ritual, applying creams and lotions and a full face of makeup, and changed her clothes three times. Who was she trying to impress? The squirrels?

Later, at breakfast, I found out how she maintains her girlish figure. “Is the bacon lean?” she asked the server. “If so, I’ll take it lightly grilled on one side only. If the bread is whole grain I’d like it toasted, sliced on the diagonal, buttered with low fat margarine, with the crusts trimmed. I want oatmeal. If it’s thin, I’ll take brown sugar on the side. If it’s stiff, I want sugar-free applesauce and skim milk on top, unless the milk is not fresh, then skip the oatmeal and I’ll just have hot tea and a biscuit with honey, but only if the honey is locally sourced.”

Then I discovered hiking buddy Brenda had a serious body odor problem. After a couple of hours in the hot sun, even Pepe Le Pew the cartoon skunk would have fled. Taping an entire bottle of deoderant under each arm would’ve been inadequate. When she raised her arm to point at scenic vistas, vegetation withered and hapless woodland creatures dropped dead in her path.

Veronica whined the whole hike about foot pain. An herbologist had recommended magnetic inner soles in her hiking boots. They didn’t really work, and we got a bit nervous about possibly losing Veronica near the golf course, in case her magnets latched onto a golfers five-iron in mid-swing. The last time we saw her might be as she was soaring over the sand trap between holes 16 and 17.

The trip was capped off by an unfortunate incident on our last evening at the park lodge. Members of the group agreed to meet in one of our rooms for a late-night card game. After changing into comfortable nightware, Rita and Mary were to carry a table down the hall from their room to mine, where the game would be played. Unfortunately, they knocked on the wrong door. The gentleman who answered the late-night knock was startled to find Rita and Mary dressed like geriatric hookers in flannel nightgowns and fuzzy slippers, carrying bottles of wine and what looked like a massage table. The man’s wife, who was peering over his shoulder, looked puzzled and angry. I think Rita and Mary may have caused a monumental domestic disturbance as he tried to convince his wife he had no idea why they were there.

At least on this trip I was able to put to use my new-found knowledge of bird calls, thanks to the kitchen clock I got as a Christmas gift. Each strike of the hour features a picture of a different bird, accompanied by the bird’s true call. My friends knew of the gift and (assuming I’d learned a few bird calls as a result) heard a bird calling in the woods and said, “Denise, do you recognize that one?”

Listening intently, I replied with pride, “Why, yes, I do! That definitely is the call of the two o’clock bird.” I decided not to tell them about that problem that clock caused at work that week. I heard the call of a tufted titmouse and went home, because I thought it was five o’clock. In reality, it was only half-past mockingbird. The boss warned that from now on, if I left work one minute before blue jay, I’d be fired.


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