Thursday, April 29
Seems sure enough that it's on the runs to nowhere I'll forget the camera, and consequently want it most, this run in particular one of the most spectacular and beautiful runs I've known. If not ever, that at least since that foggy eighteen-miler in Glacier, August last, and this weather still unmatched. Two hours the run, and those two hours from hail to snow to sun to sleet to rain to sun to hail to snow, clouds lazily circling the lake, weather mischief the inevitable prank. My first run in the park since the snows first started regularly falling, and by god, how spectacular it is to be off the nordic trails. Precipitation and nature's bipolarity aside, the sun'll still somehow shine in the spaces between, a shadowy patchwork quilt of sun and shadow draped across the icy lake, which has only in the last week begun breaking up.
And as the miles accumulate I'll notice the marsh's become a lake; reeds, sedges, and grasses equally lost beneath the snowmelt cold and clear. Small sheets of ice drift asymmetric, testaments to a winter's chill we haven't yet quite shaken. The dirt road will show spottily; as frequently as it does, gravity will make pebble-banked spillways linking the autumn marsh and the yet thawing spring lake. Yet more frequent are the debris-littered snow drifts washing waves across the road, up to several feet deep and as likely crusty, shin-breaking ice as slushy mush, depending on the particular interplay of sunlight and shadow. A cool breeze unfurls unevenly in the yet cooler air, but the sun is bright when it shines, and the miles hold me aloft. There's no sign of others' presence, save the occasional fox or bunny print, no sign of any human presence in weeks, if not longer. The end of snowshoeing season a month back has left the snow once more unencumbered.
And so into this forgotten wonder I'll disappear, silence and sunlight and pitter-pattering snowflakes my only company. Prancing light-footed and lighter-hearted through puddles and snowdrifts, it's no wonder I'll lose myself in the sun-striped peaks poking out amidst misty clouds, no wonder I'll plunge straight through the ice-topped pool, crack the crust with soon bloodied shins and thighs, caught entirely unaware by the presence of water. But no matter. Beauty like this can't be captured or explained, only experienced and lived, and so I'll not mind the misery of flapping shin skin sparkling still with ice, or the way these ankles and knees and hips will twist awkward and uncomfortable in the mess of ice and slush. I'll set aside the misery with the realization that it's perhaps warmer, or more accurately, less miserable, to simply run naked, the only way I'll know to catch more of the warming sun. The snow and sleet and air may still be absolutely dreadful, but this mess just wet enough to make staying dry impossible, the cold'll be simultaneously exhilarating and miserable.
On I proceed, the ridge line sunny, more mud than snow, and the green alpine slopes below me steam, misty fingers sliding both towards heaven and the spottily frosted lake below. Again, experience defies understanding, and the magnificence will not stand still for words. I'll reach the farthest point, then, lake and sky and peaks and clouds my only neighbors, and I'll inhale deep at the pinnacle. I alone breathe this air, I alone feel this breeze, and I alone know this place. The scream will disappear in the cool, gray ether, lost until a ray of sun will pick it up in the memories that only light will store, not knowing time, but I'm alive! and this primal perfection is better than any movie, any soundtrack could ever hope for. I'll savor it long as this goose-pricked flesh'll allow, but lest I freeze, a stone monument to less intelligent life choices in all season, I must run on.
The delights will of course continue on. For if there are few things more deliciously primal than running naked through snowy woods on a sun-spotted wintery spring day, there can be nothing more deliciously strange than that same runner being followed by a large bird. More precisely, a pileated woodpecker, he (or she) being the only avian soul brave (or stupid) enough to fly in such strange weather. Only after my internal dialogue's exhausted my supply of related jokes, only after I've begun to approach those places in the park where I might conceivably see another human, does this companion part. And having grown accustomed to at least the occasional fox shadow when running in the park, it doesn't seem strange until after I speak of it later.
But these are the miles I run, and this is the place I live in, not the kind of place one can be ambivalent about, being the kind of place you either love or hate or both, depending on the season and the weather. It'll be a hard place to leave, that time coming 'round once more. Even when the miles are miserable, what a wonderful thing they are. And that's all I'll ever ask for, my preference being a simple sort of life. Miles of trials, trials of miles, and the days just keep rolling on.
Wednesday, April 28
What's your best feature? And, perhaps related, why do you always insist on calling yourself an asshole, when clearly you're hardly that?
Every dollar counts
And every morning hurts
We mostly work to live
Until we live to work
Stubborn as stone, and free as the wind that'll erode this will. These legs will break, but never bend, and so I'll never learn to work before I play, to find a pay except in forms of play. There's a reason I'd rather my bike for extended company than a woman, you know.
There's nowhere else to go”
But changing roles
It struck me that the two of us could run
She asked me once what I wanted most in the world. At the time a simple answer I gave: "you." But I've since learned these are the lies we tell ourselves under the guise of something we'll call love. Maybe it was true. But now I'm happiest under the open sky, atop the peaks, miles stretched across the open road and untamed west. It may yet kill me... but what a way to go!
Worlds away from cars
And all the stars and bars
Where a little bit of condensation means so much
And a little bit of change is all your little fingers touch
The snowpack so thin this year, and they'll bemoan it, as'll I, given the likely fire season, but goodness, how much easier it's making it to touch the heavens, peaks under only four-to-six feet of snow, rather than eight-to-twelve. Somehow it'll all feel a little safer than it might, that rockslide hasn't taken me out yet, and the thin lines where heaven meets earth, water meets rock, and sound meets the loudest silence are all the more alluring for it.
There's nowhere else to go”
But changing roles
It struck me that the two of us could run
I was happy to settle once. I've since forgotten how. And so another round of job applications, another round of possibilities, and travel's once more on the horizon. Two women once promised, and they've both remained in Minnesota even as I could not.
Honey, with you
Is the only honest way to go
And I could take two
But I really couldn't ever know
So I've traded them each in, one for feet that'll never stop and the other for a set of wheels. I'll run and I'll pedal, and this locomotion will just enough days outpace the memories to keep me in the present, just afore the past. And should the ghosts catch me, I've yet to find a better elixir than the good company of tired muscles and a small-town bar. 'whiskey, whiskey, whiskey, apple pucker,' I said, and the mustached man only nodded and complied. There were miles and miles and the farmland summer sun, and battered I was, and life was paying dues.
So lead my feet away
Cuz all they'll do is stay
And I don't think your eyes
Have ever looked surprised
There's miles of trials, and trials of miles, and these eyes'll measure up to one pair, the hopes and dreams of a once gaunt face and the experience only a mirror knows. The only face I'll answer to my own. Or, more simply: I'll be an asshole if I want to; fuck you.
Ask me anything.
Tuesday, April 27
The full moon's floating amidst wispy, misty fingers; alive as I'm feeling, it'll be a crime not to wander and wonder about, the peninsula park ever my playground. Besides, having earlier spoken of this new-found quiet living, seems inevitable I ought to blow up the whole routine, re-introduce a little of the crazy, especially given the wonder of the weather. So, the day full, I'll blow off work and job applications and school, all those things I should be doing, all in favor of play. So, play then: a morning run, a morning ride; an afternoon hike turned three hour run (with a rock slide near-miss, a snowy peak, and a hot spring, plus six or seven thousand vertical feet); an evening bike ride turned a couple beers beside the lake and altogether far too cold swim; a midnight run and walk.
So into the night I'll wander, fox kits and coyotes yelping and yipping in the clear and moonlight night, spring peepers noisy in the marshy corners of the thawing golf course, reminders of several past ghost-tinted nights. But I'll shrug off the memories, play like five or seven or whatever age it is we first begin learning inhibitions, let myself be wild and free. Under the misty moon I'll prance and hop and skip and jump and dance and barrel roll. Following only where the spirit'll lead, I'll pick my way across the sagebrush, barefoot in sand and melting snow; my feet are their own sense of time, and I am the land, natural and organic. I'll sit under my favorite of those big ponderosas, and the strange freedom of the night will cause me to sing, and once more I'll find myself floating on a river in the past, passing by other trees and other songs and other places, transported away by the cool, clear night.
Floating through time, I find myself easily back in the lonely Minnesota woods. Proud norway pines, once ours and ours alone, full of quiet secrets and the dark corners where we'd bed down like the deer, pine needles as fine a bed as any. And if we raked our fingers in the rich black soil, it was only to mark up such pale warm skin. Rolling and playing, we ground ourselves into the earth, and there was no clear distinction between heaven and earth, nor between laughter and song. This, too, was natural and organic, but those woods are no longer ours, and the dirt and bruises I carry these days are mine alone, as is this song. Simple and sweet, just a tad bit sad, this progression, had I my guitar: Gsus, Csus, D, Asus (occasional Am), capo three or four.
Or, farther back, so many summers before: I still just a pup and she four years older, that the summer of greatest insomnia. How well I got to know those trails, if the sixty or seventy daytime weekly miles weren't enough, so much of so many nights spent walking. My only company through the long hours either silence or softly sung camp songs, but in those days that was my peace, simple melodies and simple lyrics. No wonder was it that the night we kissed besides the aspens I'd I Love You Lord running through my head. There was a misty moon that night too.
Monday, April 26
In the loneliness, oh the loneliness and the scream to prove to everyone that I exist in the loneliness. Oh the loneliness, to bring the blood to the front of my face again
Strange it may be, to finally find myself comfortable admitting a loneliness, introvert and recluse and lover of open wilderness solitude, but in truth, that is precisely the position I find myself in: in want of more interactions with people with whom I feel a strong connection, in want of a place that's clearly a home, in want of human touch and the delicately thoughtful conversations that come in quietly intimate small corners in the wee hours of the morning and night. But you saw this long ago and called it so.
Let's pretend I'm attractive and then you won't mind, you can twist for a while. It's the night, I can be who you'd like, and I'll quietly leave before it gets light.
A co-worker told of a dream he'd had, this last week, that I'd hooked up with someone in the small town were we were teaching. A laughable thing, sure, especially if you'd long ago decided I was foolish in love and all imitation facsimiles (and it's true, for I am), but I unabashedly admitted a lack of interest when he brought it up. As it were, one of my chaperones, a student's mother no less, made it quite clear she was divorced and found me engaging; by the end of the week most of the students were in on her game, asking as only fifth-graders can if I "liked her." But the awkward I politely avoided, we worked together with the students to help them see the wonders of the outdoor world, and there was no more.
Some nights you drink too much & smoke too much & just want to snuggle, & its a sad & lonely night. Tonight Imma gonna pass out rather than fight it. And I'll hope you are well...
And so the night'll roll right on into the morning, and I'll ever wonder at what foolish things have been said, this familiar routine mindful the past but ever still in the present. A kaleidoscope distortion, these memories and these words and the way time's all draining into one place.
Help, I'm alive, my heart keeps beating like a hammer. Hard to be soft, tough to be tender. Come take my pulse, the pace is on a runaway train...
But in the van, from empty chatter to actual conversation; he wondered aloud if we ever really saw people. I of course misunderstand the target at which he was firing his idle query and took the metaphysical tack; she of course remembered her coursework and assumed I was referencing Descartes. You know, of course, that your notion of perception creating reality is in direct contradiction to any sort of ecological ethic, she told me, I took a class built entirely on the fundamental flaw of your thinking once. He, being no fan of institutional thought, immediately went defensive, but in truth, my aims were hardly so Cartesian or, for that matter, direct. I assured him as much. Instead of metaphysics, he explained, he meant actually seeing the heart and soul and being of the other person, freed from perception and the minute judgments even of biology and anatomy and evolution. Could we ever really love someone entirely for who they were, love in a universal sense, rather than say the love afforded a wife, the love afforded a daughter?
I get wherever I'm going, I get whatever I need, while my blood's still flowing and my heart's still beating like a hammer...
And so spun the conversation, the three of us going round, a fourth member largely mute, much of this over her head; a fifth intently driving, the canyon a winding, devilish thing; the sixth already miles behind, sitting at a gas station awaiting a ride in another direction. Could we ever think of love not as a verb or emotion, neither as a noun, but instead as a collective universal identity? And could a charter for conflict resolution ever be built entirely on the base assumption that we are good, that love is collective, and the earth will do best? Such questions!
If my life is mine, what shouldn't I do? I get wherever I'm going, I get whatever I need...
But, fitting. These curls growing back out, dirty and tangled, a windswept mess, and twisting thoughts slowly coming back round again to those glorified philosophies of years past, where I'm ever the idealist, ever the cynic. Sure thing I'm a romantic and a fool, and he's calling for a poet revolution, of language-less love, an abstraction made concrete. Of course we're dirty hippies, he and I, and she – with her policy degree and aspirations of environmental law – will naysay as often as agree. The topics get heady as if a late night college dorm roundtable, as if we were all somehow nineteen again, drunk on potential and ideas and the soft blanket of the company of a few good friends. The air'll be clear in our lungs like a late autumn evening, an early spring morning, the wee hours of a crystalline summer night. It's all remarkable, of course, but perhaps most of all for it's infrequency – for what could be more talked about than love, and yet talked about less?
Love, loves. Stranger friends, be well.
Saturday, April 24
Most comfortable as a stranger, clearly introverted, and quite possibly (okay, likely) at least a little insane: these are all things I readily admit. I do not like large groups of people, and have never been any good at commenting on others' blogs, no matter how much I may love their words. At parties, I'm the guy in the corner by the snacks, unless there's a quiet place to disappear outside, or a stranger equally apart, that we might chat. I am not a people person, except maybe with the people most easily forgotten, the quietly hushed and dirty corners, best a teacher with the kids no one else wants to teach and most comfortable in a group from the outside looking in.
And yet? There are those of you I'd love to share drinks with, together watch the night run into the wee hours of the next day, hangovers likely to follow - and that such a small cost as to not warrant a second thought. At least once, I'd like to try the group thing with all of you beautiful people, stranger friends. As such, this weekend had a strange allure: Vancouver, strangers, alcohol, laughter. All things I like. Having skipped each year previous, for reasons of economy or a fear of groups or work commitments, this was the year most likely to work. Still, it remained dependent on several variables outside my control, and the stars will only align so in the rarest of cases. It was not to be, and so it is not.
Instead, I'll take this crew of stranger children and we'll climb green ridge lines, cinnamon-trunked ponderosas and brilliant spring ferns, the Clearwater sprawling below, a thick grey-blue vine parting seas of green. We'll catch salamanders and garter snakes and listen to the ruffed grouse drumming and turkeys calling, howl like wolves and hear the echoed responses of other, lower groups. We'll smell the soil and catch bugs and hide in blackberry patches, apply yarrow and white fir sap to the resulting scratches, classify water bugs and nab a couple fingerlings with a hand net. It'll rain and the sun will shine and we'll laugh and I'll remember just how fun fifth-graders can be. And this weekend? There'll be copious amounts of springtime fun, between the miles ridden and run, the drinks had and laughter shared and salmon grilled. Mountains are calling, the sun is shining, the weekend's begun.
Friday, April 16
And so, in the absence of much work, this is what will happen, especially should the weather turn nice: I'll play and play and play. I'll play as much as time'll allow; I'll fall in love with the world, and it will be a beautiful romance indeed. Sunday a celebration, spring finally arriving, and so I, even still sick from the night previous, will struggle through the first two hours, these hours of intermittent rain and slushy soft snow and coughing, coughing, but how perfect it still will be, the day beautiful and the miles bounteous, four hours of primal running fun. And sure, there was Monday and work to follow, but as it happened, one more full day of prep work was all this project needed. So Tuesday off we went, exploring a few potential presentation sites, the sun shining and snow melting and mud thawing, the kind of day that'll make even the confederate flags flying in the valley less an eyesore. And then we promptly spent several hours shoveling a fifteen-passenger van out of a three foot snowdrift, slush and mud; digging our way around the van, underneath the van, behind the van, all of it wet, cold, messy. Finally ranchers came to our aid. Yesterday, then, no more work needed on the project: of course mountains and trees and mud and wonder calling, off I dashed. Ridgelines beckoned, and so I went, this time five plus hours the sum run. And if somehow the Nomex and ash and the sheer ridiculousness of our presentation weren't enough to dull the ache my legs knew this morning? Well, how the sun still shone this afternoon, and high fifties, warmest it's been all year: of course I ran! A planned forty-five minute recovery of course becoming three hours of snow and slop and muddy play, and an opportunity presented, the route back being what it was... of course I finished with a hard 5k. If I'll go by my common definition of long runs being three hours or more, that's three long runs in five days.
Then there's the stars so bright and clear, and these roads finally consistently ice free and nighttime safe, the first time in months a it could be a night run rather than a night ski. Moderation not being much my style, I ran once more. A fool's a fool, but I'll not mind. Hamstrings goaded me the whole way, but a spring in my step just the same, this being the best sort of living, and if a red fox cared to join, who was I to complain? More the merrier, and by god, how this world's my plaything.
So when I can't walk in the morning, there's always this: even at the height of my training (spring-summer-fall 2008), even in my highest mileage weeks (162, early-September 2008) and months (590, June 2008), I'd never done three long runs in five days. Three in a week, a few times, but never three in five days. So I guess there's that. And the weather's supposed to be back to its usual gross the next couple of days, so maybe my legs will get a rest. They could certainly use it.
Wednesday, April 14
Limits existing if only for testing, I'll of course take this free day and fill it; as the great Cassidy would say, miles of trials, trials of miles, and as I all too well know, the difference between 50k/50mile shape and 50mile/100k shape is vast. My hamstrings would clearly tell you (and knees and hips and ankles and feet, for that matter): I'm much closer to the former than the latter. Sure, the snow and elevation and long runs three days apart won't help much, but this aching's so delicious I'm hardly all that sorry, even knowing ibuprofen will be a necessary sleep aid. Maybe, the logic goes, if I really push boundaries, if I really make it hurt... well, maybe then I'll find myself back at that illusive racing shape all the sooner. These are the things I tell myself after Sunday's four hours and today's five plus.
But that all misses the point. For it's less the miles, more the outside hours; less the running, and more the freedom of a snow-covered ridge with no sign of humanity but my own tracks from days previous. It's about the exhilaration of standing atop a peak, bare-chested and bent over, gasping for ragged breathes, knowing full well it hasn't likely been claimed in weeks, months, perhaps even since before the snow first fell in the fall. It's about running only in how these legs will get me away faster, get me quicker to the joy of the backcountry and these wilderness miles that not even the snowmobilers'll claim, least not with the snow so soft and cruddy, and my god, how beautiful this escape is! Sure, there's once more familiar aches, and blood that'll pulse so strong through them; sure, there'll be aching knees and roughed up hips and weary ankles, cut-up shins and water-logged toes and sunburnt shoulders; sure, there'll be that nagging little voice that comes with the territory of tiring hamstrings, fatigued hip flexors – but good god, what payoff! And then, the extra little gifts, getting stronger and leaner, fitter and faster, seeing how limits peel away, change, expand into the bodies a body'll so quickly forget in the name of play. Or, say, the confidence of knowing, intimately aware, those muscle fibers – every sinewy one! – are back in a place you'd thought maybe they'd forgotten, weren't sure they'd recover. And if not quite as quick as the dreams'll be, well, still, one step closer to those primal ancestors all the day steadily across the savannah, slowly tiring their prey; still, one step closer to the snow leopard and the Tarahumara and the mountain goat. Hips and ribs and collarbones finding their way back to angular, fewer corners soft and round, and this too, is a clear sign I'm closer to fit. It's spring, a new start, and a mountain man must ready himself for the ventures of a summer ahead. This I'll forever know: the wilderness calls.
For clearly, it is in fact finally spring, the still multiple feet of snow not withstanding, and clearly it is calling. The birds cry it so, the now near-constant puddles of dirty slush attest doubly, and that buried bicycle in yurt village is once more visible. Even more clear evidence: turkey prints in the woods once more (first since the fall), geese calling at odd hours, fox and rabbit tracks at higher elevations, bird calls now reaching all the way up to the burned higher slopes of Crestline Ridge. I'll hardly be immune the charm of such a place, ripe for the blossoming, giddy even with the prospect of more ventures. These woods and mountains are my own, for I've declared it so, the wilderness my playground. Truthfully? I'd not have it any other way.
Saturday, April 10
And so it comes around another Friday, and feeling pensive or something akin, I'll have myself a drink. That first'll of course pour itself a second, and so it goes, and now, still no one having returned from their week elsewhere, I find myself on the edge of drunkenness, feeling particularly aloof, but even more so philosophic. And I've not told you Wednesday's shenanigans, feeling a bit cruel actually at the bait I laid, knowing you'd jump for it, even as I knew I preferred not to tell you the whole story. She's told me I'm writing in circles these days, and but of course I am, no longer sure what's fair game and what's to be held to the chest. It's rum tonight, rather than whiskey, having conscientiously avoided the liquor stores these past few weeks in an attempt to drink less. It's perhaps been working - but could also simply be that I've few days back finished off all my beer. So it goes, or other such cliche.
I've these games with you, see, but it's only fair, for you've games with me, too, talk of this other fellow I'm keeping you from even as you continue on. Jealous he'll be, you'll say, but still we chat, and there's no right move here, so I'll just point out the game, call you out, gently as it were. As always, I shan't play by your rules, never have been able to, even as I'll ask you to play by mine. Unjust, sure, but so it is. Still: the story at hand. In hand, even, perhaps.
And Wednesday, how we sat around and talked philosophy, and if he brought out the idea of people inherently searching for the good, then I countered with this thing people have, an obsession with the idea of 'original sin' and the need for penance, a fire of hellfire damnation, which neither of us could make sense of, but still countered the point. And so an epic hike into the woods, munching on ice (water crystals made edible by the heavens, he declared) and our tent renamed the Paradise Bungalow, and by and by, what a good fellow he is! We're all fools, all fools in love, even when not particularly in love it's true, but this love now is the world around me, no matter how damn cold the lake. Near enough ice on our nuts, this frigid thing, and by god, how few times I've had more need of a roaring fire, nor been more thankful for one. Or pizzas roasted in a flaming hollow stump turned upon a side, makeshift oven, & how perfect our improvising was. Shenanigans, sure, but still I skirt the story.
'Peripatetic Matt,' you'll say, but how little justified, and I'll admit to needing the dictionary on some such occasions. As ever, I'll play the fool... but at least now I perhaps know enough to skirt some stories, the bigger question usually along the lines of 'what damn fool thing've you done now?' In truth, it amazes me I've not worn your patience out. But you're too job-searching, a strange creature as well (& that meant a kindness, you know, not a jest), you too ever wondering. But, caution: I'll write best a drunk, or drink best as writing, and it may be that neither's the same without the other. Or, you know: this liver'll yet be an author.
And, of course, I still haven't told you anything. So, let's just go with this: I'm a drunk, and a fool, and I like you. Oh... and let's agree to forget those things we'd rather not remember, alright? Besides, I'd prefer to pretend I'm still somehow a stranger. You know how it is, don't you?
Tuesday, April 6
Green hills and rain and snow and mist, and every so often how a slant of light'll show through the gray blue skies, and if it's not a beautiful thing than perhaps I've misunderstood the entire idea of wanderlust and traveling. For this is a return to that, then: the bus heading south, winding through all the littlest of Idaho towns that dot the Palouse, a home yet to come and a home left behind. Seems these visits are always too short, but such is the matter with working, at least in theory, that the job will always call you back, and so it is; a second spring break I'd taken, and now I find it ending.
But such glories there besides the Columbia: the innocence ('you're not a shenanigan, Matt') and admiration ('so you could probably just run back from here, huh?' he says, the distance being a good hour's drive) and ideals ('really, a high school class should not include coloring,' she says) of children, the beauty of friendship and conversation and drink, the wonder of mountains and snow and rock and cold, cold water. The spatial sense's coming around, the map more readily tactile as I learn the lay of this land, and as many sorts of family there may be, common interest or common blood or connections less concrete and yet more real, this too is becoming a home.
She says, 'tequilacon!', and it's not likely of course, given just how little I have been working as of late; she says, 'summer?', and that's more likely; they all say, 'again! soon?,' and if the latter's unknown, the former's certain.