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" …I insisted that I was henceforth Aunt David to him …"

Andrew, who must be eight now, always wants to take the steepest trail. Christopher, a couple of years older, insists upon zooming ahead of everyone else, blazing the trail, leaving the rest of us in his dust. Lilly stays close, intermittently screaming at Chris to slow down. I cede the lead, though I'm the only one who knows the way to the top of the peak. Everyone becomes just who they are when hiking.

I'd suggested a hike to the top of the mountain with the three middle kids, nephews and a niece, to fill that awkward hour between their arrival and supper time.
We quickly established that the neighbor kids weren't home and erected the child gate to prevent little Julia from wandering down the steep deck stairs. What to do then? How about a hike? It took the oldest the longest to find his shoes, but we managed to get away with each kid carrying their own water bottle, up the short steep drive to the trailhead. Yes, some impatient someone wanted to know if we'd ever get there. Eight minutes after leaving, we'd arrived.

The choice of walking stick and the necessity of making such a choice cannot be discounted, for it is in this choice that the true self begins to manifest. Lilly was the first to choose, finding a slightly splintery one though she does not complain about the slight wound it inflicts on a thumb. Chris denies the need for one, saying that it would just be in the way for someone jogging ahead of the group, though he points out several candidates for anyone else to select, including a downed sapling taller than any of us. Andrew chooses then chooses again, selecting a series of okay-ish sticks culminating in one that looks just like a pirate's displaced peg leg, so I declare him a pirate, which seems to please him. Lilly confides that Chris can be a real pest much of the time. I asked her what she was if her brothers were a pest and a pirate. After a moment's reflection, she declared herself a flower.

I designated myself the resident chicken. When Andrew Mathias wanted to divert to the steeper (perhaps snake-ier) paths, I'd veer the intention back toward the better-trod one. When Chris zoomed out of sight, I'd call for a quick shady rest for a sip of water. I figured that he'd be back, since his need for an audience easily exceeds his need to be first. Lilly has an eagle eye for wildflowers and anything interesting. She found the mushroom. The resident chicken refused to allow any picking of wildflowers, even those small white ones that smell like cotton candy. He also nixed the notion that anyone should be carting a five pound chunk of petrified wood back to add to their collection.

Thunder started rolling just after the chicken had diverted progress off yet another rocky, snake-y alternative path. We stood by patiently as Andrew tried every steep side path. He never strayed far. Sometimes the kids would take the steeper way, but I'd declare myself, chicken that I am, taking the chicken trail. We'd quickly reconnect. Later, Lilly confided that I didn't seem so much chicken to her. "You're a very nice gentleman," she insisted. I clucked and fluffed my feathers, but could not convince her otherwise.

In the end, the thunder added some urgency to the return trip. Lilly, claiming much knowledge and understanding of "nature", insisted that we get to the car before something terrible befell us. Andrew did get hit by two rain drops, which was all the roiling rain clouds could muster for us that day. We retired back to the house where the kids helped me grill bread for supper. Of course they ate mostly bread for supper before we ever managed to make the table, but nobody got horribly burned in the process and even Andrew, who I swear can declare himself completely and irrecoverably full following his first bite, consented to eat almost half his meatball and almost all of his pasta, though his salad was different and therefore probably poison. I helped Lilly appreciate the subtle bitterness of the unfamiliar greens to the point that she finished her allotment and started stealing Andrew's otherwise wasted portion.

They'd arrived about fifteen minutes earlier than planned to find me in my last minute of my afternoon meditation. Andrew barged in loudly exclaiming, "Hello Uncle David!" I quietly asked him to give me a minute after which I insisted that I was henceforth Aunt David to him before exchanging a goofy fist bump. The evening ended with me reading the first few chapter of Stuart Little, E. B. White's original, not the Disney abomination, which landed on receptive ears even though the story's older than Aunt David, which is old, though he still apparently seems gentlemanly enough. I asked night owl Chris after I'd finished reading if his Captain Midnight self might manage to fall asleep and he groggily thought he might after hiking three times further than the rest of us. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat came out of hiding about then to collect her late supper before crawling up on a big chicken's lap for a long-delayed nap and purr.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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