A View from the Top – Thanksgiving 2014
The Power Of Place (Or…How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways*)
Five straight days of rain, but now the sun has made her glorious return! I watched the shifting shadows of this perfect dawn through the canopy, the Japanese maples have changed into their autumn best, fiery red, electric acid inspired yellow, the autumn ferns are a contrasting deep green, they will hold their color all through the winter here. It is an idyllic scene.
I refilled the backyard bird feeders, the regular suspects had been eyeing the feeders, the several days continuous rain ruins the seed, so their expectations are high. It is always a bit of an exhilarating experience to be re-filling feeders and getting your head dive bombed by those feathered residents, who, after a few days, lack any patience whatsoever. And fear. Cardinals are bad about this, but not as bad as the chickadees. The wrens are argumentative little buggers too, but the blue jays are the worst of all. They come coasting in, screaming their banshee war cry and have no qualms about sideswiping your shoulder or the back of your head.
There are wind chimes set up in strategic locations in the backyard. I can tell you with complete certainty what time of the year it is by which wind chimes dominate. The wind direction is seasonably variable in general. I know it is autumn when the chimes hanging from the northeast corner of the house begin a more steady serenade outside of our bedroom. It is autumn.
I dug out several ponds many years ago. An upper, a lower, and a short spring run connecting the two. There are two splashing, gurgling waterfalls as well, one for each pond. I see a lot of visitors to the ponds and waterfalls here: thirsty birds, armadillo, raccoons, squirrels, possum, the stray cats that wander on through, I spy on them from the sunroom, often at night. This backyard is just as alive with sound as it is sight. I think the night sounds of the waterfalls draw them as much as anything. I guess the food does too. I mean, I have been burying wet food scarps back here for 13 years. The Good Earth. You can smell it, you can feel it if you take it up into your hands. It rewards us with incredible flowers and vegetables and butterflies and hummingbirds and dozens of God knows what else that I haven’t had the privilege to ever see or hear.
Surrounding backyards are mostly insecticide and fertilizer doused turf grass, and a lonely solitary tree or two. I have always seen the yard as my one person protest of climate change and global warming. It is a giant carbon sink and oxygen generator. It is a tiny refuge for critters great and small. Some times I simply stand out there and breathe and let it wash all over me. Seems to me that we could solve a lot of problems, socially and environmentally, if we had backyards. Real backyards. Just to sit a spell.
God, I am going to miss this place.
What? Yes. We can’t help it. Back to Asheville just as fast as my feet can fly. John Muir once wrote: “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” It is about as simple as that. It sits in my being, it calls me everyday. Ultimately, I am powerless to resist.
But, God, I am going to miss this place.
I once did a 12 mile trail run with David, in the Wildlife Refuge. Many years ago in November, as I recall. We ran among millions (or so it seemed) of flitting clouds of Monarch butterflies on their southern migration to Mexico. Unbelievable unless you were blessed to see and experience it. It was happening there that one day, at that one time, and somehow we were there. I am not a big believer in coincidence. Another time Gary and I took a run down to and back from the river on the Deep Creek Trail. It was like today, the low sun was ascending in the absolute height of autumn dawn, the cypress trees were a bright, glowing, rusty orange, the maples a deep resonant red, the palmetto that contrasting green, and we ran for hours, oohing and aahing until we ran out of superlatives, and then we just ran on in silence, drinking it in. I will miss running the Wildlife Refuge and its soft long range vistas, the gathering dark thunder clouds way off in the distance contrasting against the late afternoon deep blue Florida sky, its sunning gators, the big buck deer that stand like silent sentinels, guarding the forest trails, and, overhead, the silently wheeling bald eagles that call it home.
I will miss running the Cadillac Trail and its ankle clutching roots, the rusted out hulks of the old Chevys and Fords that sit beside the lower trail, and the namesake Cadillac hubcap that is nailed up in the tree. But maybe not so much the barred owls that like to attack your head on the upper trails, in the spring. Maybe a little.
I will miss running glorious Torreya. I can never once run past the Gregory House and not sit on the bench that overlooks the big rolling Apalachicola River and not feel tears welling up in my eyes. No, I don’t know why. Maybe I feel connected to the earth there. Or to God, Torreya is the only place where I have ever been that makes me really believe that God exists. Except for the Blue Ridge Mountains. And except for Logan’s Hill, where you look back to the north and know that you are in the baby foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. There is a bench at the top of Logan’s Hill. Try to sit on it and look north at the gentle folds of the skin of the Earth, and you will feel the rush. Don’t lie to me, you will feel it.
I will miss running Phipps Park, especially the hidden single track further west, nearer to Lake Jackson. I escaped there many an afternoon and found peace and a quiet tranquility on those trails. I also found busted up knees too and scrapped elbows if I got too complacent on the trails, though. I never fell anywhere as many times as I fell in Phipps. And I deplore the gravel dropped on some of the trails each years before the horse trials, but nowhere else have I ever seen the silent stare of an inquisitive bobcat. They are there.
I will miss running Lake Overstreet. I will always remember how wonderfully cold the water feels at the fountain by Lake Hall, where you turn around and head back. But I will more terribly miss running on Dana’s Trail. Oh, you may call it Ho Chi Minh east, but Dana showed it to me when it was first carved into the forest floor as something more than an old game trail, and in my log books it shall always be referred to as “Dana’s Trail”. By the way, Gary, that trail is jammed up with Coral Ardesia, and you will never get it all out. Leave it alone. It is just part of the bigger migration of plants and animals as they extend, expand or retreat in their ranges as they populate the Earth. There is no such thing as a native plant or animal. Their ancestors all came from somewhere else. People too. Get it? Ease up on each other.
I will miss running from my home in Killearn. There are a multitude of quiet neighborhoods with little traffic. You can find people out there walking and running all hours of the day and night. I have watched the sun set and the sun rise so many times there. Waived at the Three Sisters before dawn and marveled at the Harvest Moon, almost close enough to touch. I have run there during hurricanes and tropical storms, the relentless heat and humidity which really characterizes running here, I have dodged too many teenagers who think running you off the road is funny (it isn’t, you Meathead). I guess I’ll waive goodbye to the Walking Man, and the Three Amigos (I think that only one is still alive) who still play golf on the Killearn golf course, in the dark, before dawn. Yes, he does. Well, maybe he is visiting his girlfriend in the wee hours, the thought has crossed my mind. Ain’t none of my business. I won’t miss the dogs. And surely not the golfers. Hey, I didn’t make you miss that shot, you blowhard.
I will miss running the Munson Hills. Even though I hate what has happened to the trails out there. But, I was out there last week and the trails have softened up some as they age. And the wind still makes music through the tall pine trees if you take the time to listen. The Apalachicola National Forest is a local blessing. I will remember it best for the big land tortoises I have seen and heard there, plowing ahead at their unhurried pace through the underbrush and wiregrass, and for the curious fox squirrels who scamper, albeit slowly, up the slash pine and pin oak. And the coral snake that I picked up by mistake, thinking that it was a pretty corn snake. I wonder where he landed. Sorry. Really.
I will miss running the Greenways, especially the quiet, shaded trails east of the interstate. And the big grassy field that borders the interstate. Despite the drone of passing trucks and cars that try to invade your psyche when you run there, the big field is home to bluebirds and families of purple martin like to roost in the hanging gourds. I will even miss the three hilly miles from Thornton Road back to Fleishmann. The Greenways has a way of letting you know exactly what kind of shape you are really in if you press yourself on the way back. Big hills have a way of helping you get your head on straight and to dispense with fairy tales about your running.
And so it goes: The Fort Braden Trails. St. George Island. The Atlantic Beach off of Jacksonville. For gosh sakes I have been running here since 1971, when the “old” Northwood Mall was an open field and cows grazed there as part of the Borden Dairy. My children were all birthed here, and I think of that every time I run past Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Or the time I ran at midnight on the Capital City golf course, for no particular reason at all. You might not know it, but you can get a really good 5 mile out and back hill workout in Eastgate, but the best hill workout around here is to run the streets that parallel each other, south to north and back from Call Street to Pensacola, from Franklin Boulevard to Monroe Street. Or come up out of the Lake Jackson Mounds and run that hilly neighborhood. Good stuff. Tough stuff. Good running.
In the final analysis though, I will most miss you, with whom I ran so many miles. We commiserated as the miles mounted, we nursed each other through our injuries big and small, the birth of children, the death of friends and loved ones, we argued over politics and more important stuff, we collectively sweated, complained about being too hot, too cold, too slow, too fat, too old, told bad jokes, said some stupid things, and every now and then, some very smart things too. Sometimes we mistakenly believed that we were philosophers. Other times we were full of cr*p. We ran too many miles, not enough miles, went to races across the country to crew, pace and help each other, volunteered at countless events, set up tables, filled coolers, designed awards and T shirts, manned the finish line, an aid station, and even drove one of us to the hospital. We busted our collectives butts running intervals on some deserted track somewhere before dawn and in all seasons, and tripped over roots on the Blair Witch Trails.
Running is primarily a solitary endeavor, but I couldn’t have kept on without you. Thank you hardly seems adequate for all that you did for me. But, thank you.
So, in a few months back to the mountain trails. There will always be a spare bedroom or two, don’t be shy. We’ll run the big mountain trails together until we drop from exhaustion. Or from laughter.
* Elizabeth Barrett Browning.