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We were long used to finding things at the entrance to Hoffman Evergreen Preserve off Route 201 in Stonington: a hat, glove or scarf found on the trails, a good strong walking stick that might stand another hiker in good stead. But this was a first, especially in December: a bouquet of flowers.
They were white, gold and lavender carnations, freshly wrapped in clear Cellophane as if from a florist, accompanied by a note addressed to "the owner of the big beautiful black dog that was taken from you too soon."
The giver was anonymous, writing only that the flowers were from "one dog lover to another," whose "heart and prayers are with you."
Dogs are numerous on this and other land owned and maintained by the Avalonia Land Conservancy, and because they insist on greeting every other dog they see, more often than not they define the interactions along the trails. So who was the big beautiful black dog that was taken too soon?
We had an idea or two, but could not be sure, and as we hiked the trails that day with our German Shepherd dog, Darcy, we thought of all the other dogs that enliven these woods and connect us to our neighbors.
We look for familiar dogs, not necessarily their people, and relax or gird ourselves accordingly. There's the young male Boxer, crashing through the brush. Better take a detour until his owner calls him back. Here comes the unflappable Golden Retriever. Take a little time out for pleasantries and play.
And did you hear a bell? Maybe the Beagles have wandered far away from their hunting duties again. Remember how the oldest one once attached to us, and we strung the whole pack on Darcy's leash to lead them to safety?
We first saw the bouquet of flowers in early December, and were sorry, although not exactly surprised, when it remained unclaimed in mid-month. Damp, and the carnations had faded, but the note inside the Cellophane wrapping was undamaged.
All who entered the woods these past weeks have surely read it. All either remembered the big beautiful black dog, or searched their memories for an image. Many probably stopped other hikers to ask if they knew the dog and owner.
We can hope the owner of the big beautiful black dog will find the flowers before the petals are all gone, but he or she may be in mourning, and not yet ready to walk these trails without the four-legged companion.
Perhaps the bouquet will never be found, not by its intended recipient. If so, the giver can at least feel gratified that many have been touched by this simple act of kindness.
Bethe Dufresne is a former Day reporter and editor, now retired.