A View From the Top



By Gordon Cherr


The wind was whipping up good and the rain was coming down in sheets this morning, before the gray dawn broke. It was by my calculations, quite an exhilarating run, even if just for 5 miles. A good explanation for why I run.

Did I say “gray dawn”? Not to this harrier, feeling the power surge up his legs from the Earth Mother with every stride.

Words fail most us when we try to explain to others the whys and wherefores of this addiction. It is highly individualistic and it even changes day to day, run to run. But for a talented few, the words flow like an endless stream of vivid sounds and colors and of feelings, evocative and emotional. This is our collective good fortune.

It is my honor and pleasure to give you a tiny glimpse and taste of the poetry of Dr. Lisa Butler, better known to me by her email name of “medicinewoman.” Lisa is an ultra runner, plying her trade in the most glorious of ultra running states, Colorado. She grew up in Michigan, of which she unashamedly boasts that the lakes, flowers and rolling hills provided a beautiful backdrop for the beginnings of her budding running career. She majored in English in college and moved to Texas to be a technical writer for oil companies. This proved to “squelch any creativity in my writing.” Following her heart, Lisa became a massage therapist, and ultimately a family practice physician. All the while she continued to run and enjoy the “glorious” trails of Colorado, which still inspire most of her writing.

These, my friends, will help you explain, even to yourself, why you run.

Morning has broken.
Its yellows and oranges have run down the inside of the blue bowl
dripping new green from the branches of the winter bare trees
I have risen before the light
to run in the silence the wind
makes when it draws its breath before it begins to blow

Dark on dark;
the first cloud line of the approaching front
waits with impatient youth looking toward the West
I wonder if the older elements of the storm
more experienced in the art of wreaking havoc
will grow weary crossing the mountains
and spend their might restoring the whiteness
that now fades
or if they will chase and dance across the plains
with the exuberance of a runner who has crested the last hill

Already the trees thrill to the warmth in the breeze
buds reaching to catch the first rays of sun
as I return with muscles wide awake
to stretch into my day
and Harley sighs himself into the patch of warmth on hardwood
to rest his graying bones
Until the coming snow has melted into another day
and spring has shaken off a late blast of winter
I will clothe myself in fleece and flannel
Against the cold creeping through the cracks
And when the night has mended the sky into blackness
Save the one small hole through which the light pours out
I will steal away into the hills to run
Until the sun breaks through again.
-Lisa B
The city is waking under a blanket of cold
to a pace, a little more hurried than usual
preparing to face the slow crawl of a snowy morning commute
but I have already stolen away for a moment of peace
I have run past the frenetic banging of plows
the scrape of steel against stone
and tires spinning on the slick of the parking lot
The hill a wide flow of white
untracked powder
until our footprints wrote the story of our run
on the clean page of winter
Two sets of tracks, running like a girl
one set of footprints, where the Harley roared up the hill
but no tracks to tell of the long shadows thrown by the moon
that accompanied us through the darkness
Like moths we ran toward the light
turning to run away again when we reached the eastern edge
and as the sun rose
the moon played hide and seek behind a wisp of cloud
Returned safely to the day
we wade through the snow into the frenzy of life
with a little bit of peace
tucked into a pocket
to savor later
-Lisa B
This morning I started a collection on my run
not the usual bits of trash
not the pretty rocks that I store in my head
not the memories of wildflowers I’ve not seen before
No, this morning I started collecting energy
Potential energy
Out of the blocks, so to speak, before the sun’s alarm
clock even went off
Up switchback after switchback I collected all the
energy I could find
Up the gradual slopes
and the steep turns
I collected

And when the sun broke free of the burning red clouds
I was released from the queue
following other shiny runners
bouncing from rock to tree
from gully to flat
gaining momentum only to lose it on a bumper
to spare myself from the sanding of loose granite
I listened for the ringing bells
I looked for the sparkling lights
but this was a different kind of pinball
and oh what a glorious ride!

-Lisa B
Can I inspire you
to do the uncommon
to dream uncommon dreams
and run uncommon paths?
I’ll tell you stories
of rivers dancing among the cedars
and David lilies pushing through Goliath rocks.
I’ll paint the sky
in shades of violet and crimson
punctuated with fierce clouds
flashing and bellowing a salute to spring.
Come run with me in gentle rain
on soft trails of pine
and sing in canyons that echo
like a heavenly chorus
we’ll run past all our limits
and past our expectations
until we arrive at our dreams
breathless and sated.
And we will share the uncommon cup
from which one can truely drink deeply of life.

-LB 5/25/03
I run,
lean and long,
with deliberate joyful footfalls
in the wild woods.

I run,
to deliver me from the ordinary;
into the waiting arms of aspens and cedars,
into the dawn and sunstreaked clouds,
from the dirt to the air and back to the dirt again.

I run,
for my life;
through my past,
and into my future.

Light and dark,
sun and snow,
wind and rain,
I run.
I live.

-Lisa B
One moon ago
skipping across the desert gravel
to the song of the coyote
Now, even the coyote are quiet
as the winter fireflies
glitter from every tree and shrub
Only the dawn breaks
the silence
with her loud fuschia, orange, and gold
And Pikes Peak blushes
caught dancing close in the darkness
with the moon
Three frosty runners
breathe sighs
that clatter on the trail like icicles

-Lisa B
Garden of the Gods
Peter Bakwin wrote…
Every day is a gift!
We get 86,400 gifts every day. Live every second
There, but for grace…
Ordinary and extraordinary
just like you
and me
one day living, loving life
the next barely
but not living
or gone
I watch
as our grasp,
tenuous at best,
and know that Now is all
The world slides by in whiteness
to the drumming of wiper blades
and crashes into the guardrail
yards away
sliding to a stop
Warm and momentarily safe
I lace my shoes
and venture into the hush of snow
leaving only angels and footprints
catching flakes of Now on my tongue
and tasting life
drinking deeply while I hold this cup
and raising it in celebration

-Lisa B
An Empty Chair ’94
You once said,
“you never fully understand someone
’til you’ve run a mile in their Nikes.”
And I’m not sure if I ever
understood you.
But we ran stride by stride
and pulled up chairs
to tables laden with life’s breakfast.
We laughed together
over sunrises, mountain air,
weird dreams, and red wine.
We sang so loud once, in the car,
that our spirits are still dancing.
I ran today.
The colors seemed softer and hushed
in the fog
And at breakfast, I tried to fill
the hollow space with biscuits.
I’m still trying to understand it all
and why there is no one filling your shoes

-Lisa B
Park Closed – dusk to dawn
How familiar this road;
every turn and inch, each tree and shrub;
but today, I find no comfort here.
Small leaves clatter in the wake of my heels like
sprinkled bones;
fast breaths echo in my ears,
as if a phantom runner dogs my stride;
the bushes loom dark in shadows, hiding secrets from
the night;
even birds are hushed to catch the whispers.
I run,
my quickened feet pounding away from imagination’s
toward the glow that promises a haven.
Even as I flee, the shadows fall
from the bushes like so many snakes
and slink away along the ground
as if they are as afraid of what dawn reveals
as I am of what darkness hides.

-Lisa B 1994
An Indian summer day on Ute trail
Sweat trickles down my neck
like the Shaman’s pony tail.
Aspens scatter their riches on the path,
gold coins beside the dangerous red of poison ivy
and sharp green soapbush.
I am the only warrior running this trail
to the drumbeat of gunfire across the canyon.
I weave like the moaning cedar wind
between the white and brown bones
of Ancient Ones spreading their shade above me.
Unseen except for the gaze of a white-headed
Grandfather mountain
with a crescent of Grandmother moon at his shoulder.
Today I am in love with my life.
Where last night I ground my teeth
beneath the weight of the stones I carry,
here I am restored, but for a pair of shoes,
and scatter my stones, runes,
among the sun warmed boulders
to change my fortunes.

In the embrace of a mountain fall,
I am lifted.
Surely it is real medicine
to be suckled on warm water and trail dust
and know the pull of mother Earth
on an uphill struggle.
When my soul is so full of this day
that my legs will not carry me up one more mountain
for the weight,
I will rest
until tomorrow’s run.

Lisa B

My feet are beautiful
The calluses long since peeled away
blisters healed
Perfect shiny pink covering equally pink nails
No tender reminder of a trail rock
that made me stumble in the thin mountain air
Even my calves are slack from the stretches
no runner’s tension
And my palms can move to ostrich pose
without protest from my hamstrings
Barely even a hint saddle sore
from the boring indoor bike
I miss that ache
and ache for that I miss
Winter has crept in among us
whispering tales of apathy
and warmth to us while we sleep
The bright lights of the indoor gym hold
few enticements at 5 a.m.
and it seems winter has crept into my bones as well
Now is the time for healing
for bringing into balance
for seeking abs and shoulders
to match the cut of quad and calf
But like the manic
I like my imbalance
and hear the whisper of the mountains
always calling for runner’s shiatsu
my feet on the backbone of a ridgeline
Perfect beauty is overrated
What of the attraction in the colors
of a healing bruise, well earned
or in the first few limping steps
that turn to grace on trail
the perfect tension of a well trained muscle,
not quite stretched
Perhaps this version of beauty will thaw with spring
into gorgeous exuberance
babbling down the trail like snowmelt
I cannot wait
But I will
Lisa B
Summer solstice
magical moments
punctuated by hail
building clouds
driving rain across the ridges

Therapy found
in the early sunrise
and fairie primrose
in forget-me-nots
reminding me of daze on trail
Renewal in the trickling sound
of snowmelt
and the sensation of sweat
melting from the drift of winter
returning to the flow
Breathless moments
in thin air
reactivating the life-breath
gravity grounding
even as we climb toward the sky
Weeding the garden of my spring
pulling up roots
removing the vines that tie me down
and reaching down deep
for what is beyond me at this moment
I walk
I climb
and finally I run
there is magic in the simplest of things
-Lisa B, 6/21/05
It would be easy
to slumber until the sun is well risen
and all the pink has drained from the mountains
into the Cosmos in the back yard
To drink coffee there, among the flowers
To appease my limbs and dog with three miles
and call it adequate
But I have hitched a ride
with a friend who inspires me
and have set foot on this, my favorite trail
My eyes trained on the fool’s gold of sunrise
spreading across the smooth surface of the water
And on the strength of the mountain standing watch
And on the false nearness of the dam
All pulling me forward
My feet grind in the gravel
my quads groan softly in protest
with every up
and every down
My chest heaves as I gulp ten thousand foot air
And my belly clenches at the chafe of a pack
heavy with water
My friend’s baby has learned to pull himself
to standing
He wobbles there for upwards of minutes
before sinking back to the embrace of gravity
He can walk a lap around the room, giggling,
if you hold his hands
He is getting in shape for the first time
instead of the thirtieth.
I wonder if his body inherently knows the reward
my body now craves
The reward that moves me from my bed
onto this trail.
With every step I become stronger
I find ease and flow
And now and then I find his laughter in my mouth
wanting to throw my arms into the air at the top
as I rollercoaster over the hills
With every step I take shape
Like the fireweed that has lost its pink flowers,
leaves turning yellow
that soon will orange and red into flames
that lick the forest floor but do not burn
Or the trees that reach out with wet kisses
It would be so easy
to have missed this morning
to not see the day or myself taking shape
tasting life
waking up
It is so easy
putting one foot in front of the other
if we remember that simply this
is reason enough to giggle
The Mountain must be like a grain of sand
in this giant oyster of a universe.
I know,
because this morning, in the saddle,
just North of the peak, sat a great shining pearl;
perfectly round,
opalescent against the western sapphire sky
perhaps lit by the topaz glow in the east.
As the light rose,
illuminating the emerald trees and
the golden path of gravel,
I ran
tracing the facets of the foothills
with my stride.
The day shimmered
with the glory of the closing of the summer
and again, this afternoon,
I ran
circling over the trails of Mount Falcon
toward the pinking of the silver strands of clouds
away from the diamond lights of Denver
and back again.
In the velvet box of my memories
this day will shine.
Sharp air like ice wine
pouring intoxicating morning into my soul
a crystal sliver in the dark sky
calling me upward
through the steam
Venus dances over the Peak
reminding me
as is the Christmas cactus
heavy with love and beauty
Jack has run before me
painting the branches that reach
to tug at my sleeve
if that frosty sparkle were contagious
it would rest in my eye for the day
I blush at the chill
or perhaps the thoughts of my flannels
hinting of a warm hug
and the sweet smell of silky sleep
left in the wake of my shoes
I cannot resist the temptation
of chasing the cold
into the waiting arms of the sun
and running away
from a long winter’s night.
-Lisa B