Rounding the corner from the paved path to the gravelly beginning of the snail trail, you can see a figure crouched down in the center of the path ahead, nearly where the trees start. The sun is so bright that you are squinting ahead and you know there is someone there but you're not really sure who they are or what they're doing. The problem with the snail trail is, of course, the snails. Or rather the elongated slick brown cigarillo slugs that meander in slow motion across or along the edges of the path. You can't walk briskly with your head up because the thought of stepping on one of them in your open sandals is repellent. So you swing your arms and keep your gaze down, scanning the ground ahead of you for several feet as you quickstep a forward dance of slug-avoidance.
This means there isn't as much time as you'd like, in those quick upward glances, to figure out what you are seeing ahead of you when something is out of place. You draw nearer and the figure resolves itself in the glare of the sun and the shadow of the birch saplings: a woman, crouched beside a large and rather shaggy shepherd dog. His ears are up, the soft tipped edges aimed straight at you, his tongue is lolling between his teeth and he is patiently enduring the fierce grooming the woman is giving him with a wire brush. Behind her and the dog, for nearly six feet, the path to the snail trail right up to where the trees begin is lined with puffy fluffy 5-inch-high rolls and piles of dog fur. She's apparently brushed out enough of his undercoat to make another dog, if you compacted the quivering piles of fuzzy softness and felted them and stitched them round with edging and button eyes.
"Hej," you say as you stride past. "Hej," she responds, but she doesn't look up and she doesn't stop brushing. The dog's eyes are liquid brown, sparkling in the sunshine and his fur shimmers with light. He turns his head slightly to watch you pass. You wish with all your heart you had a dog like that, but you don't know what would possess this woman to be brushing him just here, in the middle of the path, distant from any apparent residence.
Perhaps she thinks the fur will be perfect for nest-building birds, though it's late in the season for babies. Lambs are half-grown at this time of year, and the baby crows in the garage have flown away, leaving a mess of twigs and birdshit scattered among the rakes and trowels. If not for birds, the dense pale puffs of coarse fur would be perfect for lining narrow tunnels in the earth and burrows for the smaller rodents that scamper and creep throughout the pastures and meadows and wooded groves around the edges of the village. Despite the springlike temperatures of the day, the forecast is still chilly. A little fur lining would probably be very welcome to a small and shivering body.
Stop being so hard on yourself. Slipping up once, twice, thrice even, is not the end of the world and does not condemn you as irredeemable. You are, despite your
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