Skip to content

Running, Pre-Blog I

July 12, 2012

I haven’t had some of my best runs lately- and the truth is that I haven’t really been having the best time, more generally. So instead of writing about some sort of curious or bright or  funny something or other I just witnessed on the hot concrete of Chicago, this little post is me going somewhere else, for now.

In the summer of 2007, I lived at a retreat center in southwestern Wisconsin. I had spent the previous year in China, and I felt deeply unsettled, and sometimes very peaceful, at my new woodsy spot.

In China, I lived in a typical metropolis of nine million in an apartment building that had rats (or else really big micethe verdict is still out) next to a middle school. On the mornings when I slept past 7, I woke to hundreds of children wearing tracksuits and red neck-ties doing jumping jacks below my window. “Yi! Er! San!” they shouted in unison, and then everyone sang the national anthem, which was piped through scratchy speakers.  And on the days when I woke earlier for a run- for if you want to run without a lot of staring in China, you run early– I threw on my clothes, stumbled down six flights of concrete stairs, and nodded respectfully at the old man who guarded (“guarded”) our gate. I ran through clouds of dust that hung lazily in the darkness as woman swept the street with enormous straw brooms, like strange apparitions in orange suits. I ran past tiny shops with steamed windows that shone bright like stars in the black alleyways, the smell of baozi and tea-boiled eggs and cigarette smoke thick in my nose. I dodged gummy pools of blood in the market, high-stepped the jagged pathways above the dirty river, and returned, often coughing from the smog, to so many shouting little kids in their red neck-ties. I liked it, then I hated it, and then I didn’t think much about it. That was a year.

Afterwards, I moved across the world to a tiny cabin/nurse’s station in the middle of roughly 400 acres of unglaciated wilderness. It was a strange decision and a strange year, to be sure. Any time, day or night, I could step out my front door and, depending on which way I turned, run on soft cushioned earth through a silent pine forest, or up a dirt road beside a corn field that sloped to the east like melting ice cream. I could run along a steep, rocky bluff that led to a question-mark-shaped pond in the center of an enormous grassy valley. Or I could go further, to a horse trail that opened to Governor Dodge State Park and another 5,000 acres of lush, quiet, nothing/everything. (“Nothing” in that there were no shops, no cellphone service, often not any people. “Everything” because that really leaves everything: songbirds and deer and foxes and eagles and wolves and fish and flies and snakes and enormous trees and huge walls of stone and the thick smells of the season.)

It was truly idyllic, even holy, and yet -given this little contrast I’ve set up- you can imagine that it often felt just very different. And sometimes inhibiting. The most radiant night skies you can imagine, the most eerie owl-calls, the most still, clear water- the most, most, most… So many “most’s,” when all a girl really wants is a mass of shrieking, dark-eyed little ones and soot on her face and arms.

It’s hard, sometimes, to make the most of things. It’s hard for me right now. But I’m fairly sure that once all expectations and wishes and ideals are set aside- and this never happens right away, and sometimes it only happens when one is very, very tired- the “most” will slip in.

It happened towards the end of my stay in Wisconsin. It had been a hot, confusing night, and all I could think to do was run. I was driving a black truck at the time, and I steered it mindlessly around the twisting curves that led to Gov. Dodge. When I parked, the light was dim. My feet traveled up the first steep hill into the trees. It was like running into a shadow. I had entered the mass of leaves and branches that, just minutes before in the parking lot, had waved in black silhouettes against the purple sky. Too unsettled, still, to think carefully about what I was doing, I ran on, and up, for about two miles. The trail crested in a grove of young trees; it was lighter there, and I wasn’t scared. I ran calmly, hopping over the occasional downed tree and ducking swiftly to avoid low branches. It’s a wonder I didn’t think more about what it would be like when the night was full and I couldn’t see those things; in my memory, though, I was only aware of my breath. It was even, steady.

I ran a series of switchbacks down to a marshy area, and in the darkness, as my feet sunk in the spongy, wet ground and the bull frogs sounded their deep, effervescent night songs, I was convinced, finally, of the value of good gear. Like a headlamp. It was a little scary, truthfully- I was about four miles from my truck, and most certainly about fifty miles from the nearest person. So I kept running. The trail was a loop I knew well, and I traced the rest of it that night by memory. I knew I was passing the tall boulders that reached out over the lake, and later, the lake itself. I heard it. I smelled the grasses by the beach, and my feet felt the dirt path become gravel. I was close. And as I emerged from the woods, the trees no longer a silhouette but black as the night itself, the field before me lit up with a thousand fireflies.

And that, dear friends, is the most.


From → Favorites

One Comment
  1. Anne permalink

    Beautiful reflections lady. I hadn’t thought about what a massive shock to the system it would be to move from Chengdu to the wilds of Wisconsin but I can imagine since I’m surrounded by the metropolis now, trying to get ride of the pollution-induced sore throat.

    Also: there are WOLVES in Wisconsin??! I did not know this. Now I know to be scared! J/K
    Last: yes headlamps are the best investment and I love fireflies. I wonder if they used to be here before urbanization?? I bet they did – they had them in Yunnan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: