|Old Man Maple - Highland Park Arboretum|
Courtesy of GC of Rochester
Never Too Late
Stuart's long-time partner died six years ago, and he's been alone ever since. Then he meets Tom. But Tom is twenty years his junior, and Stuart can't take that in his stride.
Their age-difference makes no difference to Tom. This is it for him. All he has to do is convince Stuart.
"Sit!" Stuart ordered. He was summarily ignored. He'd rapidly discovered that walking five dogs at once left their leashes and them in a bizarre kind of random macramé. Now, an hour into their daily exercise, they'd reached the turnaround point and he was more than ready to head back.
"Sit!" The dogs stopped and stared up at him expectantly. Needless to say, no backsides hit the ground. "Come on, guys, give me a break," he pleaded. "Sit, for God's sake."
Stuart patted the jacket pocket containing the bone-shaped biscuits and slowly all five dogs sat, their tails wagging. Stuart knew he'd have a scant few minutes to take the photos of the ancient sugar maple before the pack lost hope and interest, and started milling around again.
He'd been photographing this tree and others in the Highland Park Arboretum since spring, aiming to catalogue the changes through the seasons, and include as much information on each species as he could find. Having a masters degree in botany helped. Stuart was a self-confessed tree-nerd, and the twenty acres of botanical gardens and arboretum were his idea of paradise. Now, with fall beginning to paint the leaves, he was on the hunt again. The website, Highland Park Seasons, was his pet project and abiding interest. But this tree, that he'd named Old Man Maple way back in his teens, held a special place in Stuart's life.
Stuart had first met Harry here, while he was completing a college project. He'd been eighteen, Harry twenty-one. They'd started dating soon after. Harry had proposed under the maple—down on one knee, the whole nine yards. Under its branches, they'd decided to buy a house together, and here, a year before he died, Harry had told him the specialist had given him the results of the tests; he had a congenital heart problem, one that surgery might not fix unless a suitable donor heart could be found. It wasn't, and here at the maple's mighty base, Stuart had scattered Harry's ashes. Ironically, a tissue match showed up a week after his death.
Move on, Harry had said, one day you'll be happy again. Stuart had done his best to do that, with middling success. But the tree still represented some of the happiest times of his life, and here Harry always seemed close. He'd loved the arboretum and its population of beautiful trees and specimen plants as much as Stuart.
He slipped his hand through the loops at the ends of the leashes. With his digital camera on continuous shoot mode, Stuart depressed the shutter release and held it. He panned slowly down the massive tree from its crest toward its roots, and just managed to reach ground level before the dogs took off, jerking the camera sideways. Stuart nearly dropped his precious Ricoh. For once the pack headed in the same direction, making for the low-hanging branches of the Upland Tupelo tree beyond the spread of the maple's canopy. Their leashes brought them up short, of course, but that didn't stop the cacophony of canine protests. They'd probably seen a chipmunk or a squirrel. Highland had its fair share of indigenous wildlife.
For the umpteenth time since they reached the park, Stuart untangled the leashes before handing out the promised bribes, wondering if he'd bitten off more than he could chew. Yes, he owed Maggie Olmeda for the many times she'd kept an eye on his house and watered his plants when he had to be away. She'd also brought him home-cooked meals when he'd broken his leg that time, and when he was convalescing from his heart attack earlier in the year. But these dogs? If they weren't trying to hobble him with their leashes, or making sudden lunges for interesting trees, bushes, or passersby, they were cruising for snacks from those reckless enough to eat their midmorning break in the park. No one was safe from the emotional blackmail of their soulful gazes. And then there was the major problem of trying to scoop the poop and still maintain some semblance of control.
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