He asked me to go for a walk. I arrive at his house to find him dressed fully in hiking attire, complete with an over-the-shoulder knapsack, a bottle of water, and a handkerchief around his neck. I feel unbelievably silly standing with my cell phone in hand, wearing jeans and New Balance sneakers. He chastises me for arriving sans-water and prepares me a bottle. I wonder how far we must be going. I suddenly wish I had been explicit in asking more details.
Off we go. Ten seconds into the ‘walk’ and I realize my companion is a whistler. Constant whistler. He stops to ask me a question and then whistles as I give my response. I wonder what is in his knapsack. I also wonder if he can her me over his annoying melody. I wonder where we are going as a I follow along with my professional hiker through the downtown blocks.
We arrive at the park and my questions are unexpectedly answered. Out of the knapsack comes a saw. A hacksaw. Huh. I think about running. He is unaware of my sudden change in color as he starts pruning a small tree. Is this legal? I have no idea. But he’s not planning on sawing off my limbs from what I can tell, so that’s good.
As our walk turns into a two hour affair, he shares with me me the intricacies of ever single tree that we pass (and sometimes prune). Also from his knapsack and pockets come a small trowel, some mulch, a few bits of twine, and some grass seed. We spend at least 10 minutes on one “poor soul” getting her back into good shape while he talks with her and shares that she is a valuable member of this park and we don’t want her to die just yet.
He fills my pockets with acorns and interesting rocks and gingko leaves. He rushes us to get home before the sun sets so that he can show me a “surprise.” Johnny’s surprise is found in his kitchen inside a Mason jar. A butterfly that he nurtured from when it was still a caterpillar. And now, “TODAY, my dear, together we will be blessed to witness her first flight!”
With tears in his eyes, he opens the jar and we watch the creature alight, landing quickly on a tree in his yard. He cries openly and deeply. I feel awkward. And that, my friends, is how I learned about Johnny Appleseed.