WALLA WALLA — A black rooster — an escapee from a local farm? — struts along a quiet mud flat, thankful to not have sunk in to his comb.
A pair of eager golden retrievers, bookends, splash in a bay, alarming a blue heron, which shows them its tail feathers as it takes flight to quieter environs.
Birds hopped up on seeds flush from groves of chest-high weeds as the flock prepares for fall migration.
All are scenes from a recent hike around the 50-acre-plus Bennington Lake.
The Walla Walla treasure is a fine place to celebrate the start of fall.
Just a couple miles east of the city limits, the Corps of Engineers flood-control reservoir provides hikers, horseback riders, photographers, anglers, bird watchers, nature lovers and colored leaf aficianados an escape from the urban hustle.
I am here on a Friday afternoon.
To reboot a brain fried from a week of work.
The trail around the lake provides ample opportunity to shift down and get into weekend rest and relaxation mode.
I begin my nearly 3-mile hike along the dam’s 125-foot high heavy gravel face.
Near the bottom of the boat ramp, a solitary angler sits on an overturned bucket and waits patiently for the rainbow trout to wake up.
Several hundred yards east, along the shore, grandparents introduce a grandchild to the piscatory pleasures.
Soon, I take a side trail down to a beach.
There I see, far out in the lake, a flotilla of ducks, their webbed feet churning the water as they bob on small waves.
Closer to shore is evidence of industrious beavers who have used their powerful four front teeth to cut twigs for their winter culinary pleasure.
Nearby trees also show signs of their ambition.
At the southeast end of the lake, in sight of rolling harvested wheat fields and the majestic Blue Mountains looming beyond, I catch a quartet of hikers. They have taken outdoor icon John Muir’s words to heart and are sauntering.
A patch of red sumac may have caught their designated photographer’s eyes.
As much as I try to saunter, tendonitis in my right foot slowing my progress, I pass them and continue my hobbling circumnavigation of the lake
On the east end of the lake, I take a break on a bench.
Two anglers in a boat try their luck in a bay below.
It’s quiet, as internal combustion engines are not allowed.
I drink in the scene, a feast for the eyes, and in today’s rackety world, ears.
I soon march on — hardly sauntering — into the woods.
Presently, I meet an old man with a leashed young dog, small but all muscle, that greets me rambunctiously with two paws to the chest.
A strong south wind fills the sails of the leaves, rustling in the capricious breeze, days away from sporting fall colors.
When the wind ebbs, I hear crickets, performing their entomological rite of passage, a harbinger of cooler weather to come.
The trail leaves the lake then and heads north, along a dry channel. In the chest-high weeds, flocks of birds in the hundreds, on their migration south, are feasting on seeds and insects.
It’s not as easy work as partaking at a fully stocked backyard bird feeeder, but the birds seem to be nervously energized with the travel bug.
I create bird washes as I walk along, their wings wooshing and fluttering as they dart to and fro, dreaming of a green Christmas.
The stiff south wind pushes me along. Its song ebbs and flows, providing accompanying music.
I reach the creek crossing point, now dry, and turn south.
Soon I encounter a woman with a pair of well-mannered, smiling golden retrievers. They ramble over to say hello and then return to their business of investigating powerful scents emanating from the underbrush.
A little later, I take a side trail to the north-most bay.
Across the way, I spot a beachcombing rooster.
The goldens soon follow, leaping into the water joyously for a swim, scaring up a blue heron and causing the rooster to scurry for cover.
The goldens, after their impromptu bath, return to shore, wanting to share their joy.
I get a little Bennington Lake on my hands and legs as I give the goldens love.
If I were braver, and wanted a full Bennington experience, I’d jump in myself, but summer’s blistering heat has given way to fall’s more sobering temperatures.
Soon, I reach the mostly empty parking area, drink some water and enjoy the overall scene — still mostly green but soon, with shortening daylight and cooler temperatures, to explode with color.
It’s a feast for the soul close to town yet far away.