A View from the Top - Red Sky at Morning

Gordon Cherr, December 27, 2020

Sitting on the front porch, lacing up my Altras in the dim but slowly brightening pre sunrise, I chanced to look east. The heavy and racing clouds were riding the morning wind, rainstorms and perhaps tornadoes are in the day’s forecast. Shoes laced, I headed down the driveway with no particular run in mind, and then it struck me, that is, how absolutely red the eastern sky was as the rising sun underlit the racing clouds. My mind began to spin.

The old, long since deceased runner and philosopher, Dr. George Sheehan, hypothecated that when he ran his mind spun out of control. Or maybe he ran because it allowed his mind to spin out of control. In an instant mine was somewhere else. Fortunately for most runners, our bodies run just fine on autopilot, no conscious mind needed, thank you. So, off we went, my body first, with my mind trailing somewhere, behind..

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Many years ago, almost more years than I can count, before I became an attorney and later a Magistrate, I was an oceanographer. Not any old oceanographer either. I was a sea going oceanographer.

I didn’t like to sit behind a desk and later a computer all day and night or in a laboratory or classroom. I preferred being where the action was, or where I thought that it was. On large and small boats and research vessels at sea, collecting data, riding the beautiful and heavy weather, always a little afraid. Maybe that’s why I later became a litigating/trial attorney. It was where the action was, or so I thought. It was always a little bit scary, on the edge, there often seemed to be a lot at stake. There is a lot at stake, everything, when you are on a ship or boat outside of sight of land, far from home. That’s just the way it is.

Maybe that is why some people are runners too, who, from time to time, let it all hang out and tempt the fates in races large and small. Or even in daily workouts. And we like those meandering woodland trails and lanes where you cannot see around the next turn. You gotta be ready but being on the edge can be a pretty heady experience too.

At sea, in boats and ships great and small, far out of sight of land and loved ones, in such darkness that it pierces your entire being, I saw things and felt things that I could not describe, and much that I did not understand. It wasn’t all wonderment though, I mean I did my share of “riding the rail”, i.e., seasick. If you are lucky you do learn to read the winds and the waves and feel the sometimes subtle shifts in the weather, the falling barometric pressure, you study the weather, what was coming, what was passing through, always with that little apprehension.

Running is the same for me. In daytime or at night and all times in between, all seasons, all weather. I have seen and heard things that I did not understand or maybe I misinterpreted, could not explain, frightened me, thrilled me (ever get chased by a bear? Frightening and thrilling at the same time, but mostly the former as opposed to the latter), but nothing has ever become mundane. Yes, I have run in the middle of hurricanes and tropical storms too. Or the searing midday sun. Or at midnight for no reason whatsoever. I am not alone. You know who you are.

I don’t feel apprehension this morning though. The wind is whipping from time to time, autumn leaves are falling like a rainbow of winter snow. Reds, yellows, purples, greens. Tree branches are heaving to and fro, pine cones rain down with each gust. I guess that I have reached that point in running and in life, where I am not feeling particularly hurried. But I have never more appreciated the running life and the ability to be out on the roads and trails every day should the spirit continue to move me. Which it does. Literally every day.

When you are at sea for days and weeks at a time, you learn to study the face of the Captain too. That tells you a lot. Maybe this makes no sense now, but if you have ever ridden in 30-40′ swells in a small research vessel, on the edge of an oncoming hurricane as your little boat/ship/safe haven races all out to reach a safe harbor, it does. It really does.

Runners are the captains of their own ships too. And are the crew too. And there always is some inherent danger in running any given day. And don’t you forget it. But be as responsible or as irresponsible as you please. It is your life you know. Throw caution to the wind from time to time if you choose. Well, up to a point that is. As long as we don’t endanger others.

I was reminded this morning of all of those wonderful and likewise scary times at sea and on land. The weather is changing, a strong front is coming through, the wind is passing through in great gusts, and as I stepped outside to breathe the air and feel and hear the wind, the early morning sky was a fiery red. Odd how a sound or aroma or a simple word can bring it all back. Or even a color.

It is no joke, it is true, not silly legend:

“Red sky ay night, sailors delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”

Red sky at morning, runners take warning too. This runner does anyhow. The wind whistles through the tall old pines and oaks, branches sway ever so gracefully. The blizzard of autumn leaves continues. I am glad to have both feet on solid land. But I do miss the crusty old salts we rode with on the ships and boats, the lousy food, the inexplicable moving phosphorescence in the deep water, the sounds that we could not explain, the lone gracefully sailing albatross so far from home, and a darkness so rich and solid that it could not be broken by a sledge hammer. And I so appreciate that the burning red sky this morning brought all of that back, if just for an instant. I never understood, for me, the deep connections between sailing the deep oceans and running the roads and trails.

So now, off to follow those roads and trails and tides and currents again, to see where they might lead. I’ll see you out there.

 

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