I had the good fortune to have met a gardening friend who also, by the way, was a very talented long distance runner. Our connection was a shared love of nature, of gardening, and then, of running. When we ran together, we often sought out new-to-us places to run around the city and its surrounds. Conversation between us as we ran along side by side was usually minimal. Brief observations about our surroundings, pointing out an interesting flower here, an animal over there, a bird call, a waft of fragrance, but often just miles of convivial and familiar silence punctuated by an occasional word or two of sharing or encouragement. This shared comfortable silence made us the perfect running partners.
As I got more involved in the long-distance running community, I soon realized it was a style shared by many other runners as well. Perhaps it's because long-distance running is a solitary endeavor, perhaps it's because, in order to cover the long miles, a runner must learn how to "disengage."
Long distance running is the very definition of meditation.
When I can disengage, when I can stop talking, stop focusing on myself or on a conversation - in other words, when I can step into the "here and now" - I notice so much more about my surroundings. I notice the really tiny things that I would never experience if I were "self-engrossed." And I actually run better.
I notice the subtle change of temperature as I run past a storm drain in winter, past a lawn sprinkler in summer. I hear the woodpecker getting his breakfast from a tree in the distance, its pecking ringing out in the early morning hush. I see the momma skunk gently clutching a tiny kit in her mouth as she scurries through the early foggy rainy morning to a new nest. The soft murmury quacks coming from the lake off to the side of the road draw my attention in that direction, where I'm rewarded by the vision of a momma duck and an impossibly long line of tiny little ducklings trailing behind. I've enjoyed some spectacular sunrises and witnessed some dramatic storm clouds. I've paused just long enough on bridges to watch a parade of red-eared sliders swimming in the water below.
This past Saturday morning I did my usual run route in my neighborhood, distance varied only by my choice of "sides" along the way. This 4.4 route took me down a couple of side streets I don't often get to see. I noticed a new "For Sale" sign in front of one house, a fresh coat of paint on another. A bunny greeted me as I turned onto one of the streets. It was just barely dawn, the perfect light conditions to offer camouflage for the rabbit from predators. I caught the flash in my peripheral vision and turned to see it poised to take off. We sized each other up as I ran by, the rabbit finally deciding I was no threat and holding his ground.
Sunday I awoke very early to drive up to the north side of the city to walk with a friend in a park I've never been to before. It was still dark when I arrived and I stumbled along behind in the dark as I tried to get my Garmin watch reset. Being unfamiliar with the park and with this trail, I kept him and his friend in my sights until it got light enough to make out the features of the landscape and to see the trail ahead of me.
A gaggle of geese were holding a large soccer field hostage, protecting it from any interlopers foolish enough to try. One goose stalked the perimeter, honking at everyone who walked or jogged by as the other geese moved as a group, wandering around in the center of the field.
As the path took me past a small pond, I spied a Great Blue Heron standing still in the water, hunting for breakfast. As I walked past that same pond on the next loop around the park, I could hear the adorable and unmistakable clackings of heron chicks as they were fed that just-caught breakfast, and I then spotted a Great Egret fishing in that same pond. (video from Cornell Ornithology Labs nest-cam)
Around one curve in the path, a squirrel stood waiting for me and, as I walked past, fell in behind and followed me for a short distance. Other squirrels in the park seemed so tame, coming up to the outheld hands of other park visitors and providing endless entertainment with their antics.
Walkers and joggers started to arrive and I greeted each one of them as we passed, forging a friendly sense of familiarity with smiles and eye contact each time our paths then crossed and recrossed as we made our way around the 1.25 mile loop. I declared my love to a pair of adorable dachshunds.
A side trail headed off to the south, and some of the runners were going in that direction. I wonder where that goes?? So I followed it for about 1/4 mile until it took a 90-degree left turn, headed over a little wooden bridge and then disappeared around a curve ahead. That looks promising!! Next time...if I ever come back to this park.