Friday, February 25, 2011

Making strides

I remember the walking more than what we saw or talked about. Winter of 95-96 in Oxford, the town was snowed in and Colin was snowed in with us at our apartment.

It was dark, maybe 10pm or later when we set out on a walk to explore the town and the snow. We talked and walked through a good bit of the night, undeterred, actually excited by the weather. I don't remember what time we got back.

One of those walks, those experiences, that sticks with you. I've had a few of them.

Sometimes I think I'm a runner because I'm an impatient walker. A group of us will cover our 10-mile Tuckahoe trail run or a run around town of the same distance in under 90 minutes--covering ground, heart pumping, endorphins cranking, body feeling good. But you aren't really seeing things the same as when you set out on a meander.

Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals. -Rebecca Solnit

Last week I sent some running quotes to a group of co-workers training for their first half-marathon. I stumbled across this gem from Thoreau, "Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow." I've thought and lived and written about this same thing (though less eloquently) for some time. My mind works better in motion.

I'm reading Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking and it's hard to sit still. It reframes my mind and body and place/relation in the world and makes me want to walk.

My favorite runs have the same quality as a walk--unscripted, unmapped, done for the sheer act of being in motion, of being outside, of talking it all in. Not in a hurry.

Exploring the world is one of the best ways to explore the mind, and walking travels both terrains. -Rebecca Solnit

Some folks espouse walking meditation. I'm with them on that. I find it more difficult and less helpful to sit cross-legged than to be in motion. My mind wants to ramble.

I'm glad I wandered across Solnit and her book. Thinking about what I want out of running, out of life, where I'm going, sometimes I need to be reminded not to be in a hurry. Not to be indoors. Not to miss what's going on around me. Some of the lessons inherent in walking somewhere. Anywhere.

...a certain kind of wanderlust can only be assuaged by the acts of the body in motion, not the motion of the car, boat, or plane. -RS

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Boulder rolling

If Sisyphus had worked with Fred Flintstone, he might have been happy. To work at a quarry, to have a chance to smash that f%#@ing boulder, or at least to hear the quitting bell (or bird) and know he could put his toil down, if only for an evening.

But maybe that's what Sisyphus knows... that every morning, when the alarm goes off, that the boulder sits next to our bed, anew, waiting for us. That our evenings, our weekends, our vacations are really only our time walking down the hill to fetch our rock and start rolling again.

I like to think of Sisyphus sweating, with his back behind the boulder, his shoulders splitting, thinking, "Dude, I gotta work on my resume..."

Funny though, if Fred and the boulder-roller worked together and had a brontosaurus smash the rock, reduce it to pebbles, free Sisyphus from his torment--would he miss it?

Would he stand there, relieved but perplexed, wondering, "Now what?"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Paying attention

Noticing the unnoticed. Or maybe it's making you notice those things you see all the time but don't pay attention to.

Maybe it's the way they yolk things together that had no business hanging out, but by seeing them grabbing drinks in a booth you wonder how you never put them together.

Illuminating the universal through the particular--those shared details that light the cartoon lightbulb over your head.

Seamus Heaney says, "Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable." I love that line. But I'm not sure it says what I mean.

My mind inhabits the city more frequently (or vice-versa). The daily commute, the NPR interview with the author who says the city is the answer--the spark for creativity, for innovation, it is people and community at their best.

It isn't. I don't buy it, nor would anyone who has watched a sunrise with a fishing pole in the river, or climbed trees for no reason, or smiled walking the woods on hearing a woodpecker go to town.

There are things the city lacks. But Gay Talese's New York intrigues.

Plus it's baseball season. Which has always brought with it trips to the city. And time in the stands. But not passively. More than a spectator.

Being a part. Paying attention.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A letter to Mike Tomlin

Dear Coach Tomlin,

Up yours. Let me explain. I say this not as a Ravens fan (though I do bleed purple), but as a 38 year old. The same age as you.

At 38 most of us are still paying our dues. Maybe we are on the path to our dream job, maybe not yet, but career nirvana is supposed to be attained at 50, or late 40s at best. We're still under the thumb in our 30s.

Perhaps you didn't get this memo? At 38 you've become a dominant, iconic head coach of one of America's most storied and celebrated football teams. You've won a Superbowl and come a last-minute touchdown from a second.

And your success has come from your mind, determination, leadership. It's easy for us (me) to dismiss the athletic success of younger men or women as unattainable. At 5'10" 175ish pounds, I'm not playing linebacker in the NFL or power forward in the NBA. I'm okay with that.

But you've risen to the top of an older man's profession. We're supposed to be looking for incremental progress. Setting our sights on the mountaintop and then settling into the long marathon pace it takes to get there. You've Michael Johnson'ed the career track in 200 meters. You've fu%^ed all this up.

Now I can't say, well I'm 38, I'm about where I'm supposed to be. Now I've gotta think, yeah, but what about Mike Tomlin??

You've set the bar so high that we all may just wind up at the bar.

So way to go, Coach Tomlin. Congratulations on your success. Now I've gotta get the drawing board back out and try to game plan for reaching my dreams... a lot faster.

Thanks, Coach Tomlin. Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

To wonder

The sky is the color of the snow on the roof next door,
so that it looks like all sky, no house.

Trees frame the lack of house,
branches arched in a question
as to its whereabouts.

Either the trees don't know
or they're playing along, part of the ruse,
or it is just their nature

to wonder.

*photo from Purdue University, ash tree.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Field Work, your own

...the far saner 18th century attitude, which viewed nature as a mirror for philosophers, as an evoker of emotion, as a pleasure, a poem, was forgotten. --John Fowles

Probably the coolest thing about kids movies is the personification of everything that isn't us. Animals, toys, trees--nature itself--isn't just alive, it talks (and speaks English, to boot).

While scientists and my veterinarian brother-in-law will correctly poo-poo this worldview, the upside is that kids have a correct perception of the world, nature, reality as a living place.

Not only does it not hurt that kids want to hug trees when they are two or three years old, it's probably the only way out of the ecological Armageddon that a lot of folks are stirred up about.

Trail running, I frequently feel like a kid in the woods, though I do stop far less frequently to build forts or look for cool walking sticks.

I've had a big three of books going this week: John Fowles's The Tree, Seamus Heaney's Field Work and Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation.

The marsh, the woods, the river, the beach, besides being a playground and/or an escape have always been for me places of contemplation. I dig being at any of these places now with our girls and just watching them, or playing alongside or spearheading some adventure or another.

Heaney's Field Work is his record in poetry of four years where he went to live in a country cottage with his family. There is a music to his writing that wouldn't seem like he could have heard living in the city.

I think we all have/need our own field work. I've got a long-time friend who finds his in the Outer Banks. I'm not sure my own field work is a particular place so much as a return, or a turning to, again, those wild places with our girls, making their horizon eyes, scooping hands, climbing feet, and mine... new.

*photo from Seamus

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Tree, tending to

I suck at sitting still. I can sit, but the still part, I've gotta work on. My mind is flighty, unmoored.

In this respect, being sick this past week, and not running, has given me something I had fallen out of touch with. I dusted off the mat and got back to yoga. Note to self: you get stiff quick if you don't put in some time.

And hitting a bit of the mental immersion back into practice, I read a bit of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra. I've always gleaned a lot from that honed style of writing, from The Bhagavad Gita, The Dhammapada, where you are reading fragments, distilled to the fewest words and simple cadence. In the introduction to the Yoga Sutra, Mark Whitwell talks about the "Sutra" style like this:

The style known as Sutra, that which has few words, yet is free from ambiguity, full of essence, universal in context and affirmative.

And with further study and practice, "the message takes on a deeper resonance and becomes more relevant, more revealing."

And that's sort of it. The cats who write like that, whether poetry, aphorism, sutra--few words, full of essence, universal in context, more relevant and revealing upon further reading--those are the folks I come back to.

Balance and patience don't come easy for me. But I also recognize how much trying to incorporate or practice each gives back to me. This time of year, cold but not enough snow to have fun in, too cold to dig being outside, I see photos of trails, of mountains, of singletrack through the woods, and I want to be there.

But, still being a new year, I also think about all the shit that I've left untended. That I've been meaning to get to, work on, read, what-have-you. One of those things for me is a book I'd forgotten about, John Fowles's The Tree, which kept getting bumped for something else, but is all those things I dig about reading and I settled into this morning. It could be one of those ass pocket of wonder books. We'll see.

Another one of those things is yoga. And as Patanjali says, "Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind." I could use a little of that.

The other stuff? Well, I'm working on a list. I'll get back to you on that.