My Friday afternoon run is usually a welcome relief, a reward for spending the week at work, the day inside, my time hunched at a computer or over a stack of papers. I started the tradition last fall, using the Friday afternoon trail run to simultaneously shed the mental weight of the week and get my head on straight again.
Last Friday though was a tough sell. I had spent the morning in the class room, teaching one of my favorite labs, to some really engaged students, but I still felt awful. I was exhausted, hungry, and feeling like the last thing I wanted to do was run. The weather wasn’t helping matters, after a morning of light pretty snow, it was 36 degrees and raining. I knew to trust myself and to have faith in the idea that a run would make me feel better, regardless of the rain and cold, but it was still hard to look at the rain hitting the window and want to go outside. I am well aware, mine is not a unique discovery. I am not the first to come to understand this phenomenon, that running makes me feel better, nor will I be the last. I am but a place holder in the long line of human beings who have discovered (or more accurately rediscovered) that doing something that consecrates the act of being alive makes you feel more alive, and that feeling more alive feels good. Sitting inside in a concrete building under florescent lights, not so much; running around outside in the rain, you bet.
So out I went, running down the street in the small coastal village where I work. I didn’t feel any better. Then I found a feather; I picked it up and ran with it, feeling a little better. As I ran along the street lined with empty waterfront houses, I had an idea; even though the snow in the woods was deep and wet, I would run there, hoping that perhaps, there was a packed trail, that the town’s retired dog walkers had done their civic duty and tramped out a path that I could use to out run the tar, the concrete, the fluorescent lights and the stale air. I ran to the woods and up the hill and indeed, there was a path in the snow, sort of. The footing was not great, but as the paved road receded behind me I immediately felt better. The path was a mix of foot prints, and ski and snow shoe tracks. The jumbled trail consolidated the further in to the woods I went, and I slowly made my way, still clutching my feather. As I went deeper into the woods, the trail changed. First the foot prints stopped, either turning down a shorter trail, or simply turning around, I don’t know for sure. I ran further and the ski tracks disappeared. Next the fresh snowshoe track I was running in veered off the trail and down a steep embankment, and the only thing left on the trail was fresh, wet snow, ankle to shin deep. Snow and the tracks of a deer who had ambled along the path sometime the day before. It was me and the deer and no one else. Just the feather, just the bay, just the rain, just the deer, just me. And I felt good, I felt really good. I felt restored. And grateful, as always, grateful.
Fast forward less than 24 hours. The sky was blue and cloudless, the sun bright and warming, ready to do its job of bringing life back to the landscape. I’d just met my friend S at the Wildlands in Orland, for a run or ski or outdoor adventure of some sort, conditions pending. I thought the running looked possible, all that wet heavy snow from yesterday was packed down and saturated by the night’s heavy rain; perhaps the snow shoe track that was visible was solid and weight bearing. We headed out and nearly a mile in had to admit defeat. The snow was not a solid base, just a hard frozen matrix our feet broke into with every step, we felt like football players running the obstacle course through the tires. We turned around and went back to the cars to attempt plan B, skiing. We headed out again, cursing the fools who had run in the ski track, and eventually made it to where a snowmobile trail joined the main road through the Wildlands. The skiing suddenly got better. As we skied, the sun warmed the snow, and the snowmobiled surface got creamy soft. In a matter of minutes the conditions went from ugly to giddy, and something about the morning shifted, the crystalline structure of a perfect moment locked into place. I was there in the valley between small gentle swells of granite, surrounded by the narrow trunks of smooth gray bark of stands of beech, and the green of patches of hemlock, under the wildly thrown open blue of a late winter sky, the sunlight amplified off the surrounding snow, lighting the world from all angles. It was an hour of sweet perfection, conditions made all the sweeter by their relative rareness; it must be sunny, the sky must be blue and cloudless, the ground must be snow covered, it must be 40 degrees or more, and I must be on skis of some kind.
The juxtaposition of these two perfect moments, scarcely 18 hours apart, in vastly different conditions has made me realize, joy comes from inside you. It’s not something you find outside yourself. It comes bubbling up and out from a spring deep inside when you are delighting in the possibilities.