Though the winding dirt road offered no hint of what was ahead other than more winding road, I forced myself to continue jogging, even as it narrowed and the thicket of live oaks on each side closed in on me. Some reached out into the path as if to grab me with the their thick, gnarled branches. As the distance from the ranch house increased, my urge to panic did the same.
Each curve was quickly met by another. And with each, I fought the impulse to turn and run, not just jog, as fast as my legs would move, back to safety. Safety from exactly what, I had no idea. Any fear of being approached by another human being out in the middle of my brother's ranch was foolish.
I was all alone.
With no clear vision of what lie ahead.
It's only natural to fear the unknown.
Leaves rustled to my left as a dove fluttered from one tree to another, followed by a second dove. The sudden interruption of the early morning stillness startled me.
It will get better. You'll see. It just takes time.
I kept my eyes focused on the road ahead, tried to do the same with my mind. Ray had warned of the possibility of crossing paths with a snake, possibly a rattler. I wanted to see it well before it saw me.
A small creek bed crossing the road filled with about a foot of water interrupted my jog, but only momentarily. Large rocks filling the creek worked as stepping stones, allowing me to cross without getting my Nikes wet.
I removed my hooded jacket and tied it around my waist. I glanced at my runner's watch. Only a few more minutes, and I would reach the halfway mark of my determined five mile jog. Only a few more minutes, and I could turn around and head back.
I heard more rustling, this time to my right. A quick glance of a cotton-tailed rabbit scurrying further into the woods made me smile, something I had not done in quite some time. I'd had no reason to smile.
One more twist in the road, and the world opened up before me. I stopped, though I had not quite reached my turnaround point. The road continued ahead, winding to the right, but to the left was a large brush-filled valley. No doubt during a heavy rainy season, water ran through it, but at the moment it sat dry.
A small herd of black cows grazed on the open grassland just on the other side of the valley. In the distance, at the top of the hill, nestled along the edge of a grove of large oak trees, stood what appeared to be a large barn. The bright sun glistened off its tin roof.
A beaten-down path led from just left of the barn down the hill, stopping at the barbed-wire fence that divided one property from the other.
I stood, hands on my hips, taking in the magnificent view. The smell of fresh-cut cedar was strong in the air, as if someone had recently done some clearing of the native trees. I started to turn and head back when something else glistened in the sun. It took a second to realize the object was the front bumper of a pickup coming up the hill from the other side. I watched as it continued down along the path toward the fence.
The white Silverado truck appeared much newer than Ray's old Ford. It stopped a few yards short of the fence line. I continued to watch as the driver's side door opened and a man stepped out, closing the door behind him. He was dressed in denim jeans, a long-sleeved plaid shirt, and a straw cowboy hat. Though he was too far away to tell for sure, he appeared to be in his mid to late thirties, around the same age as Ray.
He approached the fence, tugged at the loose top strand of barbed wire, then glanced down the length of fence line in both directions. He returned to his truck and raised the lid of the large toolbox that stretched across the back of the truck just behind the dual cab. He pulled out a pair of thick gloves. As he slipped them on, he turned and looked back in the direction of the fence. That is when he saw me. If my presence startled him, he showed no sign of it. He simply tipped his hat in greeting.
I suddenly felt incredibly vulnerable, as if I'd just been caught naked, though I was decently clothed. I tugged at the hem of my jogging shorts. He turned back and again reached into the giant tool box, this time pulling out a few large tools. When he glanced my way a second time as he approached the fence, I felt my whole body tense. I quickly turned and headed back the way I had come, my pace much faster than before. I welcomed the narrow road and the trees, as they hid me from the man's view.
Several minutes passed before I slowed my pace, realizing my heart was pounding, and I was gasping hard for air.
As I made the last curve in the road and my brother's small ranch house appeared in view, I slowed my pace even more.
All was good inside that home, and I was thankful to be there.