Bitter Air

The leaves remaining on the trees were brittle and brown, waiting only for the next hard breeze to blow before falling. Most trees were bare, already fully surrendered to the short, cold November days.

The calendar said there were still three weeks of autumn left, but late fall is winter’s twin.

I had woken up with nothing planned on a vacation day that would be lost if not taken. When I was younger, I may have let it go, but time is too precious to me now.

I drove to my favorite running place, got out of the car, and did some active isolated stretching. Then I spent a few moments standing in the cold, deciding whether or not to shed my running tights. I took them off.

I left my car behind with a slow forward shuffle, typical now for the first few moments of a run. I left the road in favor of a dirt trail, traveled more on horseback than foot, and I was alone. I don’t tolerate the cold as well as I once did, but I do love the isolation it brings.

The bare trees lining the pathway were still. I wondered if they knew I was passing, and if so, did they remember me from the last time. I smiled at myself; the most interesting notions enter my brain while I’m running.

I’ve been recovering from a calf strain, and most of my recent runs had been short and timid. I was prepared for the calf to nag me, but it didn’t, and it felt good to move along without concern.

There were no clouds to block the sunshine, so every beam reached the earth, making everything seem happy. Even the grass, once defeated by the morning frost, rose just enough to feel the reaching warmth.

I felt it too, and I was glad I left my tights in the car.

I’m not training for anything in particular, and I haven’t for a long time now. Running used to require a purpose, some driving motivation to keep me going. But for now it’s become a welcomed escape, releasing me from the pressing responsibilities that sometimes rule my life.

I ran as far as the dirt trail would take me, and then found an old country road to explore. I climbed a long hill that winded me, but otherwise ran along feeling more comfortable than when I’m slouching in a chair.

Seasons begin and end on their own whim, at least that’s how it seems to me. Sometimes it’s a gentle transition. Sometimes it’s a jolting change.

How I feel about the weather has more to do with perspective than anything else. A 40 degree day in November feels cold, but the exact same day in February seems perfect.

Life is the same way. A child may think I’m old. My father says I’m young. Some people think I’m fast, but when I compare my younger and older selves, I feel slow.

We all view the world through our own eyes. Each day has been scripted by all the days that preceded it. Our awareness equals the sum of our experience.

Since I chose this running life, I’ve been defeated and victorious. I’ve run through miles in weakness and in strength. I’ve started and finished runs in all kinds of moods, and run in every imaginable type of weather.

Running showed me that even bitter air can become beautiful if you’re willing to immerse yourself in it.

If you’ve never run, you probably think fatigue grows with every passing mile, but that’s not how it is for me. As I ran on that old road, I felt completely free.

I found a grass trail that led me where I wanted to go, and I left the road to cross it. My flying feet landed on the barren ground, reshaping it, and me, if only in the smallest way.

I reached my car and stopped, and then I stood for a while, looking at the surrounding fields and hillsides. Everything knew as well as I did, the hard freeze will be here soon.

I can’t wait to run through it.