Oh the running was good that evening, especially for a man not so good at it, as I felt the rhythm of my long-distance breathing kick in, felt my shoes cleave to and from the pavement. Moving in the shadow of a big ridge, I made it to the one-mile-marker--a giant oak on Panther Creek. Rounding the butt-end of the ridge I saw the sun's departing rays light up the crown of a hill covered with red and russet sumacs so bright they hurt the eyes.
I'll chase that sun down and make it rise again if I have to run 10,000 steps, I tell myself, jogging up Big Mama, steepest hill on this loop. And then I'm exulting in the full glow of sunshine, and the full joy of running down Big Mama's westward flank into the shadow of the valley of goats, their bells tunk-tunking across the wide creek whose waters surge higher than my head when rains fall in earnest. No danger of that tonight.
Goats gaze in mild surmise as I run past, thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk, steps forming a broken line of sound around their horseshoe cove. Rising out of that hollow, my back straight, head bouncing as if on gimbals, arms pumping, torso leaning forward from the toes, I chase my own shifting center of gravity in an effort “to fall up,” so to speak, the hill I'm challenging. Ah, the sun clears its crown to rise yet again as I climb. Yes!
Riding the crest of the high ridgeline, I turn southward into shadow. The sun sets behind me now, but still I feel the giant's gravity and warmth embracing this turning, yin-yang world, and I begin my devotionals. It's a trick of meditation learned from a better runner than I--my wife, Jeanne. She makes full use of her time, summoning face after face of loved ones and holding them to God's presence, she says—all the significant faces in her life, wishing them well--a way of praying, she once told me. How many faces? Many, she said.
I think of her carrying all those souls along as she runs across the land. I love to watch her blue-clad form, so graceful in this terrain, and I like the idea of such a moveable prayer. So I summon family and friends, starting with Jeanne, holding her blue-gray eyes, fair skin and sun-luminous hair in mind while I think a good word to murmur.
Then I sort through her family tree, holding fast the faces of her parents and brothers and sister and cousins—generous, quarrelsome, fishers and hunters, tinkers, business owners and home makers. We'll see them at Christmas, Lord willing. And I think of her grandparents, ghosts I knew in the flesh for a year or three 'long about 1980. Her grandfather was a round-faced, good-natured retired housepainter, still yet remembered by a fading few as a once-solid minor league hitter. And I remember her grandmother--her tired body and face frozen on one side from a stroke, and yet I've seen pictures of her when she was young and dancing, and I grant her such remembrance for a while.
And running down the road this autumn evening, I hold in mind for a moment each of my dear children and my sisters and brothers, my mother and my late lamented father—that sparkle in his eyes, that whistle, that sudden anger or deep laughter. I conjure as many of his relations as I can, faces or names receding into family trees branching off into time's mysterious terrains.
Feeling unusually connected to life, I round a hillside toward my left and I'm not surprised to see in that sudden expanse of sky a nearly full moon--round, rounder than round—with craters and seas drinking up the blues of evening. I remember famous men I've spoken to who walked and bounced and leapt upon the surface of that moon, and just as I'm taking the full mystic measure of such a concept I hear a rustling and, glancing to my right, I see the broad white-plume tail of a deer that leaps the brush-laden creek below and bounds straight up the hill beyond. The doe scarcely pauses at a four-foot fence and, from the steep lower side, vaults over it hardly breaking stride as she gambols up the far hill and disappears into dusky woods. I pause like some animal peering after the invisible doe and hear myself start breathing hard again—chafing, chafing--feeling this force of life. And then it all comes to me what I've been experiencing these past minutes--worlds turning in tune to provident laws of nature, the miracle of genetic imprints on woods and critters, our family trees of fiber, flesh and blood and so much more. And I consider love and memory's many mystic chords. A wind gusts up from nowhere, as if in answer to no spoken thing and spangles the sky with gold leaves that flutter all around….
Oh yes, the running was good that evening. I traveled pretty far for a man not so good at running, but one who's getting better at giving thanks.