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Playing Soldier

I made good time going down Whiting Road even though I had to keep stopping and climbing back until I saw Lynn waving and jabbing her poles against a fall as she crept down the double track. The clatter of chains alerted me to the mountain bikers sweeping through Sleepy Hollow, but I was surprised when I saw another hiker in front of me, a man of average height who wore one of those green boonie hats that one associates with Vietnam. He draped himself in camouflage and wore black combat boots. The only thing out of keeping with his casual uniform was his blue backpack and the tube from his Camelbak. I followed in silence for several steps, watched as he stopped to tie his shoe then resume without noticing me.

“On your left!” cried a voice behind me and “On your right!” as it passed me. The mountain biker shouted the same warning as he passed the trooper, who turned around and noticed me for the first time. He jerked as if he was thinking of reaching for his gun and then realizing that he was unarmed, picked up his pace a little and fast-footed it down the trail, glancing behind every few seconds to see if I was still there. We parted ways when I turned to go up the Concourse Trail to my home.

I thought about his dress and his gear. Was this some sentimental journey for him? Was he remembering old companions? Or did he miss life in combat zones? I thought about what a bad option camouflage was when you didn’t need to hide from people. A nice bright color — a white or a red or an orange — were my choices when I went afield. I made sure that I could be seen should there be an accident. Plain brown and forest green suited this man. We didn’t talk, so I didn’t know his mind but I wondered about his march and his mental destination. This landscape of golden oats and dead mustard stalks was like none of the places that America has battled in our lifetimes. People came to Whiting for the peace. This man found himself walking in war, an adventure in which he would not die or have to kill someone.

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