THIS ... is my B(R)OOMSTICK!

Rich is at a charity hockey game in Richmond tonight, and I really needed a relaxing weekend where I spent less time in the car or a cold hockey rink and more time at home surfing the internet in my underwear. Having had my fill of the internets, I took off late this evening for a long walk. On Thursday night, Rich was at another hockey game and I had decided to head to the beach. We have the luxury of living only a few short blocks from the ocean and this time of year is perfect for moonlit walks on the water's edge. The water is still wonderfully warm without all the hassle of UV rays crisping my delicate skin. Now that our beloved dog is getting to the age where she can't go for extended walks, though, I don't have anyone to go for a walk with me if Rich isn't home.

Thursday night and again tonight, I pondered if I should head off after dark alone. I feel perfectly safe in our neighborhood, but the beach is public and can be a bit isolated from bystanders or streetlights. Perhaps it's old age setting in, but I just didn't want to tempt fate by taking off with nothing but a cell phone and house key with me at 10pm. I think it's also Rich's concern I can hear in the back of my head, worrying over my traipsing into the night while he's away.

Since the dog has moved on to the shaking her paw at the neighborhood puppies from the front porch phase of her life, I had to find another companion for my walk. I settled on a yellow broomstick handle from the kitchen since it was lightweight, bright and seemed to convey the message of "I don't want to pick a fight with you, but please just leave me alone or I'll have to smack you with this colorful stick I brought along." That seemed to be the message I was going for, so broomstick and I headed out to the beach.

I smiled at the folks I saw on the sidewalk and public access boardwalk. I left my shoes unattended at the beach entrance like I always do. I walked a mile or so in the surf. I petted some big labradors who were chasing floaty balls out in the ocean and waved to their owners. I did all the same things I normally do at the beach alone and I felt fine about it all. But part of me wondered why I needed a broomstick with me instead of traveling solo.

I don't think I would have felt unsafe without it. I just wanted a little something with me so I didn't feel so alone out in the dark. If I were a man, would I have needed a broomstick? I'm 6 feet tall and not slight of frame. Is someone really going to hassle me and if so, will a length of fiberglass slow them down? I haven't thrown a flat snap since my freshman year of college, but I think I could remember how to wack someone in the side of the head should the need arise.

The larger question for me is what's the difference in being cautious and being paranoid? What steps should a woman take to be safe without sacrificing freedom?

I think we might be in the market for a second dog soon, because while my broomstick serves its purpose, it's not very good company for my long walks.