Saturday, February 21, 2015

Running along the Grass River at St. Lawrence University
in the fall of 1964
by Mary Stebbins Taitt
background oils pastels.
click to view larger.
Born to Run, a Few Obliquely Related Thoughts

            I am currently reading Born to Run, the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall.  Although I am enjoying it so far (a lot), this is not a book review, I never review a book until I finish it (I learned that the hard way, with River King, but that’s a different story.)
            When I was a Freshman at St. Lawrence University, I joined the downhill ski team (this was long (14 years?) before I learned how to cross-country ski).  In order to get in shape for racing, the coach required ski team members work out with the cross-country running team.  It was autumn.  The cross-country running trails followed the winding bank of the Grass River for miles.  Gradually, the trees turned brilliant with color and I discovered that running made me feel as if I were buoyant, almost lighter than air. I moved into an easy jog and floated for miles and miles, for hours and hours, alone on the banks of the golden Grass River.  I remember green and bronze light, sparkles of sun on water, red leaves sailing downstream like little boats, deer bending their necks to drink, picking up their heads, pricking their ears, and then either gliding into the forest, or, after a few weeks, ignoring me and returning to their drinks.
            Early on, I gave up running with the others, who chatted as they ran about drinking and parties or hopping in sack with me (they were mostly guys and I was a virgin) and took off to run by myself.  I loved the solitude.
            Running was effortless and joyous.  I not only did not experience the tedium that some of my friends groused about, nor the exhaustion other complained about, but instead, I came back both calmed and energized. 
            Granted, I ate like a horse after those long runs, but, hey, at the dining hall at SLU in the fall of 1964, we got all the food we could eat, no questions asked.  We could go back for second or thirds.  (Or fourths or fifths).
            Unfortunately, I spent too much time running, hiking deep into the wilds and partying.  My grades weren't good enough to race when the snow fell.  So instead, I snowshoed deep into the wilderness, alone.
            I ran slightly longish distances later in life, when I was married and had kids, nothing like the 100-miles runs in Born to Run, but I would run around the 3-mile trail at Beaver Lake nature a couple times, or take the longer route, the roads around the lake, which amounted five miles.
            Born to Run talks a lot about barefoot hikers and runners, and here, too, I connect.  I used to trail run in bare feet and climb mountains in bare feet, mountains like Marcy, the highest mountain in New York State, as well as a number of trail-less peaks back when they were really trail-less and required a lot of heavy-duty bushwhacking through dense stands of firs and over rough granite boulder fields. There was no cushy trail, only sticks and rocks.  But I had tough feet.
            I've never been much of an athlete; I’ve never been able to run fast.  As a kid, I came out near the end of any 50-yard dash, which is the only kind of race we had in “gym” class (it wasn’t called phys ed when I was a kid). What I did have going for me most of my life was endurance.  Whether I was running, hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or swimming, I could just keep going and going and GOING. 
            Not any more though.  At 68, and for some yeas now, I have and have had fibromyalgia and it hurts to walk or run. I am writing this while riding an exercise bike.  I read that walking on a treadmill or riding an exercise bike helps with creativity.  I don't know if this is true or not, all I know is, l enjoy walking or biking while writing.
            So, that's what I do.
            My mother-in-law is 93.  She recently fell and hit her head and had bleeding on the brain.  They took her to the hospital.  She seemed so bad, we were afraid she wouldn't make it.  But she seemed incrementally improved yesterday, and that's a good thing.  After lunch, we're going to see her.
            This and a number of other things have kept me from posting lately.  (I wrote this story Saturday morning, 2-21-15.  Since then, I have been to see ML twice, and she’s doing somewhat better, but that’s another story.)
            I’ve probably written more than a hundred stories intended to be posted that I never had time to post.  


John said...

I am not much of a runner, more of a plodder but I used to enjoy it and found it in a way like a meditation, during and the cool down afterwards. Your image is stunning Mary, truly, I think it is one of your best!

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I am a plodder, too, John! And always have been, but I like it.

And thanks!!!!

I've been having fun with the oil pastels. (I like watercolors better, but also like to play.)