It was clear and visibility unlimited, the kind of day that Californians insist upon.
Lucas, Gracie and I were making the most of it on a stretch of old road between I-5 and Trestles beach. The pups were in heaven. Gracie was tracking every worthy scent, her front end buried in the brush alongside the road. Lucas and I were matching strides, the earthy fragrance of the wild flowers inducing our pace.
One dedicated cyclist pedaled by and the small specter of someone appeared in the distance. The sun warmed us as we crossed the short bridge over the marsh below. It was unusual to be walking alone out here. Normally, dog lovers and groups of cyclists enjoyed this old route. The traveler neared. Instinctively, I called out to Gracie, curtailing her curiosity. He passed barefoot and without a sound, must’ve been about 50 with frizzy, sandy gray hair framing his bronzed face. His leathered skin stretched over a drooping chest atop a paunch. Long, muscled calves met flipper-sized feet.
Wait a minute – go back! Back up to the…yup, this stranger’s free swinging appendage swaying back and forth like the long arm of a pendulum marking time to his sauntering gait. He was in the buff – stem to stern, and was completely oblivious to us; thankfully, the full width of the road apart.
I did a double take. Was this unabashed nature lover harmless? Without a cell phone on me, I had to wait until Lucas, Gracie and I hustled back to the car before calling 9-1-1 with my concern.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“Yes ma’am.” I cleared my throat. “My dogs and I just passed a tall, bronzed, middle-aged man at Trestles, sporting his silver bells…oh, and a Merry Christmas to you.”
Leslie Williams, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, lives in Mission Viejo. Recently, her personal essay, “The Grey Ghost,” was published in the Saddleback Wall Literary Journal 2015. Silver Bells is nonfiction.