The Casual Observer: Situational Awareness

On clear autumn days, with even a hint of warmth, Janell and I grab the dog and dash over to Oswald West State Park before work.
This time of year, it’s calm, quiet and refreshing – a mighty dose of natural spirituality that gets the day going n the right way.
This past weekend was no different; we were the only ones in sight and we enjoyed the cool air and the smell of wet earth and trees.
We sat down by the creek, talked quietly and watched Lilo snap and paw at the swirling water.
A commotion on the trail snapped us from our reverie and we watched in dismay as a mother, her two young boys and their puppy crashed through the underbrush and almost into our laps.
Despite the interruption, I was glad to share the space: there were plenty of rocks, tree stumps and riverbank for all.
I returned to staring at moss growing on a nearby boulder and the family wandered loudly upstream to claim their own spot. Their noise receded to an acceptably dull roar.
I slipped off my boots and stuck my feet into the frigid stream, teasing the dog by kicking water at her and she thought it was the greatest game ever invented.
Labradors are so easy.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Janell start and look at something up the way. She stood, craned her neck and studied whatever it was while I returned my attention to tormenting the dog.
“Pssst,” Janell whispered. I thought she was trying to shoo away a squirrel.
“Pssssstttt!” she insisted. It sounded a little closer to an emergency. I wasn’t too worried because I know my wife and she is well equipped to battle wildlife. I continued soaking my feet.
“PSSSTTT!!” she insisted. Now I was worried. A bear? A machete-wielding psycho?
I turned and saw Janell jerking her head in the direction of the family upstream. They seemed to be having a good time; the puppy was running in circles and the two boys were standing by the river in a nonthreatening manner and laughing excitedly at something.
I looked back at Janell and shrugged, unsure what the problem was. She gave me an exasperated look and pointed sharply at the boys.
“They’re PEEING in the RIVER!” she declared in a desperate stage whisper.
Sure enough, the boys were giggling and hosing down the rocks, trees, leaves, moss and anything else they could reach. Their mom was busy not noticing.
“GET. OUT!” Janell hissed, gesturing with one hand at the current flowing towards me, and windmilling the other arm like a third base coach urging a base runner to home plate.
Realization of what was headed my way dawned on me.
I splashed out of the river with all the grace of a wounded hippo, dragging a perplexed Lilo behind me, our peaceful morning suddenly transformed to the beach stampede scene from “Jaws.”
With me and the dog safely on the bank, we decided it was probably time to go home, though Janell’s grumbling made it clear she was in favor of some sort of corporal punishment. I would’ve hated to interrupt the boys’ obvious fun, though – as we left they were still happily peeing up a storm like a couple of camels with bottomless humps.
I’m sure we’ll make our way back to our lovely early morning spot again soon but when it comes to outdoor etiquette in public spaces, I suppose the lesson learned would be “situational awareness.”