I had wanted to go on a hike at Jonathan Dickinson State Park for a long time. It just never seemed to be the right time to do it; I once started a hike there with my younger sister, but the weather was hot and unforgiving out there in the open pine flatwood habitat, so we bailed.
One chilly December morning, a few years back, I finally got my chance to get out there and do a proper hike with the dog. I'm glad I did: there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the temperatures never rose above 55 degrees. The ranger at the main station -- a native Floridian -- even laughed and wondered why I wanted to go out there when it was "so cold." I smiled and shrugged; it's generally no use trying to explain hiking to non-hikers, as some of you probably know all too well.
We started out by following the park's equestrian trails, grabbing a few connecting trails in order to reach the section of Florida Trail that wound through the park. Hiking through the pine flatwood was delightful this time around, and Duchess enjoyed the new sights and smells.
At one point, she became hyper-alert; this is not something she does during hikes, so I knew that there was something out there in the palmettos. Her hackles went up and she became oddly defensive of me, standing between me and whatever "it" was that was causing her such offense.
Then that oily-dirty-musky scent hit me like a truck and I realized we had wandered too close to a black bear. It was in that moment that I heard a sort of huffing growl, and I slowly backed away, pulling firmly on Duchess's leash and calmly calling her off the scent. I continued backing away for a few more yards, and then finally turned around and we continued our hike without incident. I never even saw the bear. But it was definitely aware of us.
We continued along the equestrian trails until we reached the Florida Trail. The photo you see of that bridge was Duchess's first ever trail bridge crossing! She handled the rickety bridge like a pro. I was proud of her that day; she obeyed me while in a stressful situation with the bear, and she tackled new problems, like the bridge, without hesitation. She's a good girl.