The parking lot was empty when I pulled in.
Not many years ago it would have been starting to fill with the cars of early morning golfers. You might say that Wakefield Valley has seen better days.
I walked between the large clubhouse building and the historic Durbin House, both wrapped in a wire fence to keep intruders away. Based on the deterioration, you would think that the dwellings had been deserted for decades. Things age with nonuse.
I reached the old cart path trail and started running slowly. On either side of me, land that was once plush and green was now overgrown. The winter cold had withered the tall grass into brown clumps.
Just recently, the City of Westminster acquired the Wakefield property, and without much fanfare opened the trails for public use. There’s been no effort to spread the word, and I was alone.
I do most of my running alone these days, and that suites me. My body can be unpredictable. Some days I can run long and free, but those days are fewer now. Running alone allows me to take what the run will give me and accept it without fitting into someone else’s plans.
The solitude has other benefits. Running alone gives me time to think, and I have much to think about. I contemplate my experiences, consider things I’ve read, and dream about the years that lie ahead. Life is mostly good.
But my thoughts aren’t always positive, and on this particular day I found myself drifting towards regret. Sometimes, it feels like the I have much in common with the physical decline of the Wakefield buildings.
I shuffled along the trail, looking around at the ground that was drifting back to what nature intended for it. Tee pins and out of bounds markers were scattered here and there, the only signs of what used to be. The place is beautiful in its primitive form.
And then I drifted into myself, the soulful meditation that often comes on quiet runs. Once that happens, my body moves on autopilot. Turns are made without any conscious thought, and footfalls land safely on their own.
It was the sudden movement that snapped me back into consciousness. Not more than twenty feet in front of me, a graceful animal leapt from a tree.
It was a large, black bird; that’s what I saw first. And then I saw the striking white of his tail, and the equally striking white head.
I stopped and watched him, the first bald eagle I’ve ever seen fly, as he graced the field that I stood beside. His huge wings allowed him to glided to the other side of the old fairway, and he landed on a barren tree.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, enthralled in the magnificence resting a hundred yards away. When I started running again, the eagle was still there, and I finished my run with no more speed, but far more gratitude.
I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, and yet somehow I am; running always gives me what I’m looking for.
When I was an apprehensive child, it gave me courage. When I was a needy young man, running gave me accomplishment. In all the years since, it’s given me freedom and stability.
Running has rooted me in the principles that guide me through life. And on days when life turns even the slightest shade of ugly, it shows me something brilliant.
The City of Westminster has formed a task force and charged its members with making a recommendation for the long-term use of the Wakefield Valley property. The task force is receiving letters of interest, proposals for how the land might be used in a productive way.
I don’t know what ideas might be received, but I do know this – our community needs these trails.
From a practical perspective, there are few safe places to walk, run and bike in Westminster, and it seems we’ve been gifted with an opportunity to change that. But I don’t have many practical reasons to offer. I just know what happens when a person is blessed with open space.
The clutter of life goes away. We connect with our true selves, our spirit if you will. We feel the emotions that have been lingering inside us, deal with them, and then let them go. We find beauty in a world when we’re having trouble finding it elsewhere.
Our community deserves such a place, where families can go and just be together, where individuals can stroll and collect themselves, and where runners can craft the virtues that running provides.
How do you place a value on a place like that? How can you tally the financial worth? You can’t, but things most valued are seldom listed on a balance sheet.
I’d like to think that my own running hasn’t been completely selfish. I hope others can say that I’ve shared something of value from the experiences, and that I’ve used the good qualities I’ve gained to give back.
And that’s how life works. First, we create worthy qualities in ourselves, and only then can we make contributions to the people in our lives and to the community at large.
The Wakefield Valley trails can become a place where the direction of a person’s day, or even their life, is changed for the better. That should be value enough.