With my morning run all but complete, I increased my pace for the last kilometre, which was a mix of boggy trail and boardwalk. As I transitioned onto the slick boards, I knew my speed was too fast, but I wasn’t worried about slipping – I’d run it a million times. The morning sun had penetrated the forest canopy enough to cause a mist to form along the planks. Through the haze I noticed what looked to be a middle-aged woman and a menacing Labrador about 200 metres away. Even from this distance I could see that the woman was wearing the requisite West Coast garb – rain-shell and gumboots. She was moving purposefully, intent on her morning walk. The dog looked young and sleek; its fur was shiny and jet black. It was out in front of her, leash-less and running two and fro, head down and
sniffing everything in sight. The boardwalk was about a metre wide, too narrow for us to pass without hugging each other on the way by – one of us would have to relinquish the right of way. The trail on which the boardwalk was perched was slightly wider than the boardwalk itself, allowing for a one foot divide of waterlogged trail between the boardwalk and the forest. I stepped off to give them passage, my trail shoes sloshing along the soggy ground. It was at that precise moment that the dog noticed me.
Now, I know a thing or two about dogs, so I was very attuned to the aggressive posture it was exhibiting when it abandoned its trail sniffing activities and stared right at me. In spite of this, and I admit, foolishly, I kept running hell-bent toward it. My eyes oscillated between trail and dog as I navigated the narrow corridor: one leg next to the boardwalk and the other brushing against the sword ferns of the encroaching forest. But as the gap between us decreased, the dog became my primary focus. Suddenly, without warning, I felt intense pain in my quads. Stopped dead in my tracks, I collapsed to the ground. I looked up to see what on Earth had leveled me.
Hidden by sword ferns beside the trail, was part of a fallen tree: a half-foot diameter log about a metre from the ground, but parallel to it – and treacherously camouflaged by a combination of foliage, mottled sunlight and mist. I was stunned and dazed; I imagined this must be how a bird feels after it has flown into a window. Then I heard it – nails on the boardwalk – and moving fast.
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I looked up to see the Lab running hard towards me. I was still lying incapacitated, half on the trail and half in the undergrowth, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I braced myself for the imminent encounter. Before I could move, the dog was on me. I quickly turned away to protect my face. I felt its breath on my ear, and then it attacked. I struggled to get up as it viscously licked my face, battered me with its wagging tail and squealed loudly into my ear. The woman had finally caught up and was attempting to leash the dog that had now discovered my bleeding leg and was relentlessly trying to lick it. I slowly managed to get to my feet as the woman assessed me. She was very concerned as to my physical (and psychological) condition, not comprehending why I had run smack into the log that was clearly visible from her direction. I petted her dog’s head and tried to explain, but found I couldn’t tell her the main reason I had run right into the log was that I was so focused on her “dangerous” dog – the one that had just tried to lick me to death. I half-ran and half-hobbled away in embarrassment, looking back and assuring her I was fine as the Lab stared after me, head tilted and tongue hanging out, wondering why playtime was over.
Steven Crabb is an essayist, photographer and dog lover based in Nanaimo, B.C.