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August 16th, 2010 - 02:01 PM
As I arrived at the Iron Bridge Trailhead, I quickly exited my truck to capture a photo of the Iron Bridge sign. As I removed my camera from my eye, I saw a hunting dog wagging his tail and smiling up at me. To put him and myself as ease, I patted him on the head and said "Hi, buddy." in a comforting tone. I climbed back into my truck and proceeded to drive down to the official parking area. As I readied myself by stuffing my pack with water and snacks, my new found friend had followed me and was waiting patiently. For fear of someone looking for this handsome hound, I commanded "Stay! Go Home! Go Back! Go Away"..but he did not adhere to any of my commands. I did not want him to follow me. I took my time at the river taking photos, hoping he his curiosity with something else would hold his attention long enough for me so sneak away. Finally, he went into the water for a drink and to cool off on this sweltering Florida summer day and a I stepped up my pace to the trail. I had not made my way a few hundred feet into the forest and I heard the ...padump..padump.. padump.....of his paws as he tracked me down. Not sure that I would have enough water for both of us, I saw no choice but to give into his persistence. "C'mon buddy. Lets go hiking!" I gave him a pat and he licked my face. We were bonded. For the next five mile we trekked through the hardwood forests and river floodplains. Along the way, I was taking photos and Buddy was finding new scents to keep self entertained. He proved to be the perfect hiking companion as he would jump into seasonal ponds to keep cool and hydrated and nary a complaint about the distance or the heat. As we reached the parking area, I knew I could not take him home. He was a beauty, in great shape and well cared-for. I was certain that he had just gotten lost. I headed for the picnic table for a quick snack before my long drive home. He went to cool off in the River again and socialize with some people fishing. He came over to me as I was packing up. I gave him my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich hoping this would occupy him as I tried to depart in my truck. I wasn't quick enough. As I started the engine he was sitting outside my door looking at me. I had to give him one last pat on the head. "Thanks Buddy. You were a great trail angel for me today!" I pushed him back to close the door. My eyes welled up with tears as I watched him try to chase the truck as I drove down the dusty forest road. Sorry Buddy, you are a hunting dog and this is where you needed to stay....