The Tiny Madness of Forgetting – Part 1


Mike Baker,


I would rather run more than run fast.

It took me six months to own this fact. It took watching my running partners drop away because they could not bear to slow down, could not stand the sight of my failing again and again, trying to keep up with them, my self-flagellant excesses taking me apart.

I have learned to run alone, again. The same 5am run without another runner to meet was a struggle. I was accountable to no one. I started wearing my Garmin. I could be accountable to the GPS and the clock.

I have grown to dislike the sound of other people talking, monkey chatter other people call their own thoughts and their constant need to express. I don’t mind my own boundless fevered ego expressing itself. I just can’t stand theirs.

There is a certain trail I have always been a little afraid of running. Every time I go there, I panic a little. It isn’t as hard a trail as Torreya. It’s the quality of the woods and swamp it contains; its lonesome murky soul is too much to bear.

I would go there every day when my girl-dog died and run until I couldn’t run and then I would scream and cry out to God for answers. It is the kind of place one goes with prayers already refused; you go full and well knowing you will only hear the bird’s call and the deer’s swift patter away from you into the brush.

This place is like that for me. Some days you stand to hear the song and some days the first few chords drive you from the room. It has the same effect on your heart. It’s just that some days you rush to suffering and some days you hide from it.

I have taken now to running this trail as often as time allows, running in my lazy fashion until I felt good and done enough to leave. Once recently, after a heavy downpour, I took a nap on a wet slimy bridge that spanned a now rushing creek.

I woke up in the dark and had to make my way back through high stepping hoop roots, twisting at the crinkling and hooting around me, wondering frantically if this was bear season, wondering what old cracker ghost might roll my way.

This forest has two trails, one for hikers and one for horses, which constantly intersect. I have taken to braiding the trails as I run, first running the hiking trail, catch and run the horse and then back to the hiking trail. It strips away, for now, the little certainty of knowing where I am.

It’s what Jesse Owens said about running. He loved how running could take you from place to place, all on your own steam, on your own will and courage. I love moving through the woods, slow and cautious, sometimes tripping down rooty hills and, with a staggering catch, keep moving.

I mumble to myself, curse or laugh, sometimes just staying quiet, not even waking up my human mind long enough to ruin all that spills before me like so many magnolia leaves and spiders. I have grown used to wearing spider’s webs like garland.

Last week I was fasting and running the forest on my second run of the day. I should not have run there. There is a certain trail split that separates two of the loops. I caught it a quarter mile before the lake. I chose badly but instead of turning back decided to bushwhack toward the lake.

It’s all swamp and briar, empty plastic whiskey bottles, crushed cans of Natty Lite and disposable lighters. I reckon it’s where the kids in these parts go to get high. I struggled lost through the brush for over an hour before I found my trail and then a clay and gravel road.

It had rained quite a bit and now the sun was out and dirt exhaled in deep hot steamy breaths. This road has a long slow hill and I had caught it on the bad side. I was empty, not on empty but wholly without substance.
I could barely think enough to move. I was shuffling. I just wanted to be done. I used to pray for courage, to protect my family, to do right. I stood on that road, that hot day, looking up at the heavens and prayed for God to protect my family, the thought floating carelessly away.

I know how it must seem dramatic or histrionic and thus false. I accept that but there I was, out of the swamp and onto a clear and simple road with one mile to go and I could not make myself walk. The act was beyond what my mind could make my body do.

Imagine the road laid out before you, a long hot hill, the stupid clear blue sky and all the dry pebbled ground at your feet. We runners often abide between our selfish need to do this lonely thing and how much we truly disdain our own botched and failed existence.

The sun would set eventually. The road would end eventually. All that there ever is, is the relentless forward way, one step at a time and in these moments, holding the need to continue and the need to quit, each like ropes pulling us apart, we find the answer to the prayers we came to the forest to ask.