Monday, September 23, 2013

Life, death, it's all good

I went for a run at my favorite trail this past weekend, on the first official day of Fall. The leaves haven’t turned yet, and there was still enough light and warmth after I finished for me to sit in the parking lot at the trailhead drinking the requisite cold beer, but despite these lingering notes of summer, there were definite signs of the changing of the seasons. Gunfire, for starters.

I would have been lousy in combat. I was nearing the end of my 13-mile run and I didn’t see them until I practically ran into them, until I noticed that tree up ahead actually seemed to have a human face like the ones in The Wizard of Oz. Damn. Now that’s camo. I didn’t like those trees in the movie—freakier by far than the flying monkeys, in my opinion—and I didn’t like seeing a similar sight in the woods, especially when the trees-with-faces were armed with shotguns and not just apples. Fortunately, the faces smiled at me. I nodded—that runner’s nod you do because you know if you try to speak it’ll come out as a gasp or a blob of spit or worse—and kept running. Of course, that’s probably what their prey would do, but then their prey doesn’t have cool trail shoes with high-tech inserts.
Fall is the season of contradictions, of life and of death. The leaves are dying, the light is dying, the year is dying, but all the critters in creation are frisky as hell, hoping to get in one last good shag before it’s time to hibernate. The apples are amazing, but with every sweet-tart crunch comes the sickening knowledge that this is just about the only source of fiber you’re going to get for the next seven months. Bu-bye, blueberries. So long, strawberries. Good to know you, nectarines. We’re truly apples-to-apples now.

Fall has the best running weather of the year, in my view. Spring is a mushy mess, summer is a sweatfest, and winter—let us not speak of winter just yet. In Fall I run in the chill-but-not-cold, in the sunwarmed-but-not-roasty, and I feel more alive than ever. And yet I know the end is near. Another year is coming to a close, and where have I gotten in that time? What am I doing? Who the hell am I, anyway?
A writer I know once made a poster that consisted of a photo of himself as a child and the caption, “This Boy Is Dead.” And you think I have a dark side. What he meant by this, he explained, was that if you really thought about it, the caption was true: the boy depicted in the picture does not exist at all at this point in time. Yes, of course he grew into the bleak-humored aspiring author I hung out with in the bleak little town where we went to grad school (the town’s claim to fame being that Twilight Zone's Rod Serling was born and raised there), but the boy in the photo was gone forever. Kind of puts a morbid pall over scrapbooking, doesn’t it.

Sometimes I think about what the person I used to be, the Dead-Me, would have said about doing these trail ultras I do. OK, so, you are running up and down steep hills where there are rocks and roots to trip you and nettles and bees to sting you and holes you could step in and break an ankle and ravines you could fall into and stay down there forever or at least until some hungry carnivore or other starts gnawing on you, and this is supposed to be fun? And yeah, so maybe that’s the worst case scenario, but what’s the best case scenario, you do this stupid thing nobody cares about but you and you get all sweaty and dirty and possibly injured because, what, because you have to do something meaningful before you die so it might as well be this freaky thing only other obsessive freaks do, and this is supposed to be fun?
And Living-Me answers, it isn’t supposed to be fun, it is fun. And because Dead-Me is dead, I win the argument. Always pick fights with those who no longer exist; victory shall be yours.

But maybe Dead-Me isn’t quite dead yet, as a certain too-often-quoted British comic movie might say. Maybe she’s still here with Living-Me, reminding me how much things can change. I’m sure one day everything I’m saying now will seem like dead-speak, like something said by someone else I can’t imagine ever having been. I can only hope it’s because I’ve become an ultra-running-astronaut who can’t believe I used to think running was confined to a single planet.


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