Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Widow's Walk

There was this one time when I had to write a really really really long paper. It took me like, a long time and some of my friends and family wondered, while I was writing it, where I was at. It was 180 pages long and the guy that was grading it wouldn’t let me do things like end a sentence with a preposition or use the word like. Unless I meant that I liked something. The guy that was grading it also said I could only use the word really one time in a row. The guy that was grading it was really really cool even though he had that hang-up about me using up all of my prepositions early.

When the paper was done I handed Bowling Green State University the 180 pages and 30,000 dollars and they gave me a cool wall hanging. And now I can write whatever I want and no ever grades it.

It took me 2700 miles to write my dissertation. At least that’s the joke I tell myself. Its not really a very funny joke.

But it is true.

Technically I write while sitting down at a keyboard but the reality is I need to be moving to think and I need to be thinking to write. Sometimes I think that my brain must be wired directly through my hind-end because I cannot think and sit at the same time. I barely made it out of elementary school for this very reason. Sitting in a chair being lectured to was a sure recipe for a trip to the principal’s office and a reserved spot in the lowest reading group. High school was a tiny bit easier than elementary school because we changed classes every hour or so. College was better yet and physical therapy school was like a dream come true. By the time I hit my forties and was writing the dissertation I discovered that a niche existed within the academy that allowed me to go for a twenty mile run and come back home with 10 new pages of content, for which I would receive academic credit. That skill set, mixed with a big wad of cash, and several hundred cups of coffee, earned me one of those terminal degree thingys.

Writing the dissertation wasn’t really that hard because I love to write. I still love to write and I still come home from long runs with pages of content. Some of that content ends up here and some does not.

I started to write a lengthy piece, for this blog, about the negative characteristics of arrogance, and pride, and obsession as they relate to the positive characteristics of commitment, and patience, and persistence. They all are, I think, a similar breed of cat and somehow symbiotic and yet in conflict with each other. I also think that they might be related to Jacob’s angel but each time I resume the writing the words get stuck because I have been sitting on my butt more than usual and, knowing what you now know about my ass-mind connection, you can imagine the writer’s block I have going on.

The reason that I have been less active is because my legs have gone absent without leave. Win, lose, or draw it is not even a little bit unusual for me to have dead legs following Mohican. The fact that I only made it 65 miles this year hasn’t relieved the disconnected feeling I have after the event. It just makes my daydreams while awaiting the return of my legs less happy.

My runs since Mohican have been short and unpredictable. I spent an entire year believing that I was building an unsinkable ship only to learn that there is no such thing. I was supported by the world’s largest, most experienced, and most loving crew and still foundered.

I’m disappointed but I am not embarrassed. I have learned to not take myself seriously enough to feel humiliated. Maybe those that live in greatness can be disgraced by failure but those of humble dwellings, like me, have a short trip home and very little explaining to do after a fall.

Not having a buckle burns a bit but the part that really troubles me most is that I do not know where I went wrong. Figuring out why I fell short will take some time and some thought. But I am not thinking well these days. Maybe when my legs come home I will regain purposeful thought and solve the problem.

Until they return I will run a bit each day and watch the horizon, awaiting their return.

In days of yore the captains of seagoing vessels were highly respected members of their communities and could become quite wealthy. The wealth could come at a high cost in terms of safety and the wife of a Captain spent her life worrying and watching for her husband’s return. Sometimes the vigils lasted for years; long after the time when most would have abandoned hope. Apparently these women ignored the “watched pot never boils” platitude. They actually had walkways built, complete with guardrails, along the tops of their oceanfront homes where they could stroll and watch the sea for signs of a mast in the distance. These structures were known as ‘Widow’s Walks’ and can still be seen on the mansions of the east coast today.

My runs since Mohican have, almost exclusively, been on very short trails measuring a mile or so. I run these trails because I never know when my ghost legs will simply grind to a halt, forcing me to walk back home. I hope that one day, on one of these runs, I will spot a mast in the distance and some spring will return. I hope it happens soon because YUT-C will be here on Sept. 17 whether my legs are ready or not. My legs are no longer sore. The muscle aches ended a few days after the race. The symptoms of my lost legs these days are simply due to their refusal to take orders from my mind. They aren’t speaking to each other.

Again though, this isn’t unusual. I feel certain that my legs will return. I have just completed the best running year of my life, after all, and so maybe they are on a beach somewhere with an umbrella drink taking a much needed break. Maybe Henry Kissinger is sitting next to them urging them to forgive my stomach and open a meaningful dialogue with my mind…or maybe he is just chain smoking and bitching about how Nixon was misunderstood. Who knows?

They will come home when they get hungry. They know that no amount of nagging will get them there. They know their limits.

My personal widow’s walk is Seymore Woods Nature Preserve. It’s a tiny plot of land identified by a two foot by three foot wooden sign that is hidden by the forest it is meant to advertise. The plot of land, donated to Delaware County by a farmer many years ago, lies partially buried in weeds and contains a trail that is approximately one and one quarter mile around. I go to Seymore Woods when I want to see more woods. Its another little joke I tell myself. I also go there on occasions when a run is simply a run. The run I took there last week was neither a training run nor a recovery run. It wasn’t a taper and it wasn’t a tempo run. It wasn’t a pre-race “shakeout” or a heat adaptation run. And for the first time in a long time it was a good run. A run doesn’t need a title to be a success and neither, I suppose, do I.

At the conclusion of each loop I would decide whether to do another one or not. I was pleased that for several loops in a row I decided to keep going. I noticed, for the first time ever, the stone base of a homestead built in 1830. I also noticed a side trail leading into the unknown. I will take that trail someday when my legs can join me.

The trail at Seymore woods is pretty rough. I guess if I was required to describe the venue it could be called ”technical”. But since I had no need to categorize this run or the trail I simply thought of it as rough.

At one point I took a tumble and ended up directly under a very small tree. The part of the loop in which the tree existed was so heavily canopied that it appeared to be dusk even though it was noon on a sunny day. There were few other small trees that managed to survive in the gloom of this part of the woods and so this tree’s presence was notable.

The tree’s existence really made no sense. The lack of sunlight should have signaled the end of its life. I scanned the canopy for a source or light that simply had to exist and saw a tiny patch of sky high in the trees fifty yards distant. As I lay there I realized that that patch of light must sweep the forest floor as the sun moves accross the sky, arriving at my small tree some time each afternoon on sunny days. Then I noticed a trail of small green weed-like plants that traced the path. This tree used a small spot of light that existed for moments each day to progress slowly toward the canopy. I presume it lays mostly dormant not only during the winter months but at shady times as well. It grows when it can grow, even if those times are rare. I imagined it as a tall, mature tree at some time in the very distant future. I also imagined that it might take it a while to get there at this rate, and then I imagined that it will hit its goal in time.

I also imagine that all of the planning and worrying in the world won’t speed the process up one bit.


  1. The widow possum says "Figuring out why I fell short will take some time and some thought."

    The honey badger asks humbly, "What if it can't be figured out? What if all there is, is to return and try again? Might that be enough?"

  2. As always very well written Mark. Hope those legs come around soon!