Ask the old couple

One of the treasures of being old is pausing. The run, walk, camera-trip, whatever today’s trip to the trails was called, was over. We were sitting on the picnic table watching water go by; listening to the bell on the buoy; analyzing the snow on the shoulders of the Olympic Mountains across the strait and, as always, hoping for whales.

A couple walked up from the parking lot, paused, looked here and there, then walked over to the small information sign. I know it as being too faded to be of any real use. They looked at it, glanced here and there, the taller of the two women pointed at us and said to her companion, “Ask the old couple?” Intentionally, or not, it was said loudly enough we could hear. I wondered why it sounded like a question. They came over.

Hello. Hello. Hi. Hello.
Do you know anything about what we are seeing?
Yes, we do.

The never-quite-the-same interactive interpretive talk took place. The Strait of Juan de Fuca; Vancouver Island–yes, that is Canada; the Olympic Mountains; it was a World War II coastal artillery installation; trails–yes, about thirty miles of them; the yellow flowers are Scotch Broom…

Eagle! Kathy pointed and all eyes followed.
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Is there a campground? Yes, but it is closed for the winter. Bits and pieces, scraps and fragments of descriptions and questions about trees, trails, a bird or two, and even a conveniently appearing ship were meted out to these two inquisitive women. Is there a short walk we could do… an hourish? A description was given. They got up to leave. The gift of a conversation of exchange was ending. I asked, “And the ‘Ask the old couple?’, where did that come from?”

They both smiled. The tall one said, “At Chiricahua we were thanking a ranger for all the information; telling him our winter trips make information sources scarce.” He told told us if we don’t see a ranger, look for an old couple. If they are local, they will have the time to tell you of “their” park. The short one smiled again, “It hasn’t failed us yet.”

———-Run gently out there———-

Friends and Strangers

—–Friends and Strangers—–

Little things will keep you inside. “Injured” has so many names; damaged, impaired, hurt, harmed, wounded, ruined, and none are conducive to getting you out the door. I’m not injured. I kept telling myself it is just one of those nagging little aches that intrudes into consciousness just enough to worry and distract.

That settled, I headed down the trail–walking and waiting for the first twinge. A quarter mile passed, walk turned to shuffle and off onto Humpty Dumpty, down into the kettles again. Friends and strangers are always in the kettles and the gradual drop to the old cedar is an easy warm-up. Two spotted towhees burst out of the undergrowth, looking like robins in plaid coats, still partly covered with the down that marks them as babies; they spot me and disappear back into their leaf-strewn world.Sometimes the directions were unclear to me.
Just as I make the turn to the big cedar Woody Woodpecker laughter fills the woods. It only takes a few seconds to spot the two pileated woodpeckers, crow-sized, easily the largest of the woodpeckers, their red, white, and black heads bobbing back and forth as they chisel a hole into an aging cedar. On around and down into the hole left by the big ice cube some ten or twelve thousand years ago.

Sometimes speed calls for agility, sometimes a hundred yards of six-foot tall nettles calls for agility…or do I yield to the occasional sadistic pleasure of brushing nettles to wake up tired legs. I look at the old cedar, hidden down here in the bottom. We have guessed it to be six-hundred years old. It is the only old tree down here, alders and ocean spray off to one side, a field of thimbleberries on another, a scattering of wings as this year’s generation of bushtits learn their acrobatics–the ever-still, never-still forest draws me in again.

The distraction of the birds and the rolling zigzags of High Traverse are interrupted by the awakening thought–no pain, no discomfort, no twitchies–of relaxed running. Suddenly aware of everything seeming to function as intended, I change directions and head away from the trailhead, going, instead, to Lake Pondilla. There were two ospreys there last week, not full-time residents, but frequent visitors. And the trail goes through the biggest wild blackberry thicket of the area.

The whole run falls apart as I pull-test a blackberry. If they come off easily, they are (usually) ripe. It practically falls into my hand. The newest aid station of the forest is open. I sacrifice speed for calories–gotta be able to get back to the car, doncha know. A handful or two later and I continue on to Lake Pondilla, where I find school is in session for a family of belted kingfishers. I sit on a stump in the shade and watch as mom, then dad, hovers, dives, gets a fish, goes to perch–then drops the fish back in the lake as if to say, “Now you try it.” The two newest strangers to the lake leave the branch and the Kingfisher Comedy Hour begins. They hover okay. They dive fairly well. They fail to get a fish and appear panic stricken about getting out of the water. The rattling click-click-click from mom and dad scolds and instructs. Eventually a lesson is learned and one of the kids returns to the branch with a meal.

I walk for a few hundred yards up from the lake, the warmth of the afternoon sun feels good as I go from walk to shuffle to run to…well, almost to this-feels-good-and-I-could-run-forever. The waters of Admiralty Passage are touched with whites and blues as the wind from the Straits of Juan de Fuca play with the tidal currents. A freighter with a gazillion tons of resource depletion is outbound. Two kayaks hug the shore, riding the tide back into Puget Sound. The bluff trail is wide and smooth enough to run without worrying about footing–water and mountains pull at the mind as legs and shoulders relax.

The switch-backs and shadows of Cedar Grove wake me up. Roots and turns, vines pulling at sleeves, the climb to the old men is a transition into quiet. The floor is covered with who knows how many hundreds of years of cedar needles. There are a dozen or so trees showing their age, deeply drooping branches, burls and woodpecker holes, trunks twisted and turned from centuries of seeking the sun, and always a raven to scold me for intruding, again. I mutter, “Sorry,” and turn to leave.

The trail finally straightens, then widens. Two hikers at a junction are looking at a map, each pointing in different directions. I pause. Where? Here. Where to? There. Down there, right at the first fork, left at the … at least they had a map. Gravel crunching now, the narrow gravel road has no quiet spots, but it is free of roots and I want to open the stride again, just to check–just to push a bit. It’s effort, not pace, that we want to be comfortable with when on trails. Birds and berries, waves and wind have been acknowledged, now I want to put my mind to running. It is a mile to the car. Old friends and strangers are left behind again as breathing becomes rhythmical and the running on memory returns.

———-Run gently out there———-

Portabush

Tall enough or bushy enough? I was far enough gone to have started rapidly lowering my standards. When the urge was first noticed, I thought of the campground restrooms. A few minutes or a brief eternity later, I accepted the fact that I was not going to get to the campground. Well, okay, I could get to the campground, but the last two- or three-hundred yards to the yellow building with the gender-specific doors was not something I wanted to do in public view.
portabush_1
So it was back to a portabush or portatree, close relatives of those portapotties we are all familiar with. As with most calls of nature, the logistics of selection come into play as time and locale vary. Today is Tuesday. The park I am running in is not at all crowded on Tuesdays. I think it is unlikely that either trail to the campground will have any wandering nature lovers from the big city who might scream in shock at suddenly seeing a full moon in the middle of an otherwise serene afternoon. I choose left, thinking of the thickets of rhodies and salal in that direction. Wouldn’t you know, here comes Mollie Traipsezlitely with Harold Rootsjumpoutatme and two ankle-biters trailing behind. Don’t they know they are in the middle of—oh great, they are pausing to do the “My, ain’t it beautiful out here?”
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I estimated the pucker factor to still be below five and paused to smile and mumble in agreement, “Yes, it is a gorgeous day,” and turned to continue awkwardly up the trail when Harold asked if I knew much about the plants along the trail. Okay, he only asked if I knew much. He didn’t ask about anything specific, but… if I say yes, I know he is going to ask something more and all I want is to be around the next bend in the trail. “Yes,” I replied hesitantly and all internal shutdown systems went on Grade Two Alert as Harold’s lips pursed to … ha! Mollie pointed at a clump of salal and asked, “What are these?” “Salal. A very common plant. It will have berries on it in a few weeks,” I offered, hoping that was enough. “See, I told you,” was tossed at Harold by Mollie as she paused to scream because one of the small people had discovered a not-great-big-huge, but still pretty-big, slug. They all looked at the slug. Having seen slugs before, I turned and was gone on down the trail while those just-asked-about salal thickets separated me from them.
Over there.
Salal thickets are good thickets for hiding things in or for hiding in. I did both. I don’t suppose it would be appropriate to discuss the various stages of flexibility of decaying salal or rhododendron leaves or how appropriately placed some of the many forms of moss in the Pacific Northwest were that afternoon in this particular portabush. Suffice it to say that my recently changed conditions meant I turned away from the campground and paid little attention to left, right, or people on the trails for a while.
Salal, rhodies, and Dougs along the trail.
One small window in my mind thought about the Falls to Gasworks 75k and a question about just how tall is the grass alongside the ten-foot wide Sammamish River Trail. That question was answered when I saw an errant throw of a dog’s ball go into the grasses. The dog, one of those medium-large blond friendly kinds, disappeared as it leapt into the grass. Hmmm, a little over head high if a person was, uh, squatting? Crouching sounds better. Discretion being what it is when you are on an urban trail, I did do a quick look around before disappearing into the savannah of the Sammamish on that long ago Saturday. Falls to Gasworks being a self-supported run, I had a fanny pack with everything needed so that I was both discreet and environmentally correct in all my actions, even to the extent of exiting my grass-lined loo with no one in sight as I stepped back on the trail and continued to run.
portabush_5
We’ve all experienced solitude out there on the trails, but the loneliness of the long-distance runner does not always present itself at the needed time. You would think in an ultramarathon where the distance sometimes puts a person running alone for miles and miles that there would be plenty of points of privacy to ponder the days unwinding. Some days are just not like that when you need them to be like that. It seemed just as the person in front of me disappeared around the next curve, a runner from behind would appear. A few minutes of adjusting pace to force the runner behind me to pass only duplicated the previous scenario. I would get rid of one unwanted witness only to have another pop up just coming around the bend. I finally satisfied modesty’s constraints, noticed no one behind me and dove into a clearing in the Manzanita bushes. Manzanita? Good grief! Who planned this course? Says right here on page 23 of the NAPBD&SRM (North American PortaBush Design and Stereo Repair Manual) that you don’t line a portabush with poison ivy, poison oak, Manzanita, Oregon grape, or Nootka roses. I suppose I should just be glad there was no saw grass or palmetto fronds in the area… or cows.
portabush_6
And then there were cows. Somewhere north of Outlook, Washington, the original landscapers of the those foothills above the Yakima River ran out of sagebrush, bunchgrass, mesquite, and other landscaping plants we think of as plentiful when driving through the drier prairie region of the Pacific Northwest. As much as I love running in the open region, there is something disconcerting about needing to pause when there are no bushes to hide behind for as far as you can see. It didn’t seem quite right to go over there behind one of the water troughs that are scattered all over the foothills. Why does it seem like time becomes the determining factor in such a decision. I dropped off into a gully joking to myself about the probability of a helicopter from Google Earth showing up in the next few moments. That led to thinking about ‘if I can see as much detail on Google as I do, what can they really see from up there?’ That led to speeding up the process only to pause because I was hearing something out here in the previously very quiet nowheresville. Did you know that cows don’t really go “moo.” What they do is somewhere between “moo” and “uemoohm” and “mmahhnnmoo”—some moos probably being contractions of the other moos or maybe some are structured and some are freestyle. Along the same line of reasoning is the idea that for something to startle you, that something needs to appear suddenly. A cow does not moo suddenly. First it has to decide on which moo to use (I did not list all the choices or dialects), then shift the mouthful of grass to one side or the other, inhale, and, finally, moo. The cow that mooed had probably been enjoying chewing its cud and wandering along in the shade of the bottom of the same gully I was using to contemplate Google Earth. She was not up for anymore conversation, so I left.
We have been back in there rock hunting
I continued up that hillside, sidestepping many patties, both cow and bull, thinking about their thoughtlessness and of the detours I have taken over the years seeking out a portabush here or a portarock there, just so other runners would not have any runnerpatties to worry about.

———–Run Gently Out There———-

Wind and Wind Chill

Wind, but no wind chill. I used that phrase before. I could find where I used it, but it really doesn’t matter. It is just the first thought I had about this morning’s run. There are two phrases from the scientific world that, consciously, or not, are part of our running world. The first, as mentioned, is wind.  The second, wind chill, is the more difficult of the two to know about in our immediate running environment, i.e., what is the wind chill where I will be running today.

The Internet has given us immediate access to trail maps, conditions, lengths, and enough other tidbits that our information expands to become a blob of useless data. Valuable time is spent sorting through maps picking out the “right” one. Yes, I rely on a map, a printed map, cut to size, folded just so and covered with transparent tape to render it absolutely waterproof. I don’t use a GPS unit. A simple watch is on my wrist. I will have an idea of distance and elevation by consulting the map. I could easily write another article about my mysterious lack of desire for gadgets electronic. I might do that soon — it will probably be titled, “Old School”. Oh, well–for now, suffice it to say, I have my map.
a_topoMy map tells me nothing about the wind. The information of importance starts with a check of the thermometer on the back porch; the one in the shade. The mercury sits at 42° Fahrenheit. The tops of the two Western Redcedars, well over one-hundred feet above me are dancing–the music they dance to is barely felt here at ground level. My first guess at today’s wind speed is about 25 mph. My two layers of a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt suddenly seem one-layer shy of warm. My educated guess is that the wind chill make that 42° feel closer to 30°. I have no intention of running into the cold and making adjustments from there. Adjustments made late in wind chill can be too late; not too late in a fatal sort of way, just too late for a run to be enjoyable.
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I studied the tops of the trees again. The dancing seems the same. I watch long enough to make a guess at the wind’s place of origin. It is coming out of the southeast. Wind from the southeast tends to mean warmer than if it were coming out of the northwest. The Aleutian Low brings the cold. The Pacific (or Hawaiian) High brings relative warmth. They are the two main contributors to our weather in the Pacific Northwest and were studied early as I learned, often the hard way, what I needed to know to make running trails enjoyable. Anabatic (winds climbing mountain slopes), katabatic (winds going down the mountains), land breezes and sea breezes and that one simple important idea–winds always blow from cooler temperature regions to warmer temperature regions. Perhaps the simplest lesson was learning which direction to look to judge the day’s weather and what the sky will tell about the next few hours. There was one other thing to learn and commit to memory. Reading about the wind as told by the forest and prairie.

The Beaufort Wind Scale is a series of thirteen wind descriptors with Force 0 being calm and Force 12 being hurricane conditions.
a_beaufortOur (runners) concerns are nature’s signs that tell us when the winds are about Force 3 (8-12 mph) up to Force 6 (25-31 mph). A Force 3 wind causes leave and twigs to blow about, small flags are held out from their staff. Wind at Force 4 (11-16 mph) moves small branches, blows pieces of paper about, causes tall grasses to bend. At Force 5 (17-21 mph) small leafy trees begin to sway — the trees are dancing. When Force 6 (22-27) comes a calling, large branches are swaying and there is a whistling in the wires. You don’t need to carry an anemometer around with you to measure wind speeds. Simply remember those keys for what moves at Beaufort Wind Scale Force 3 – 6. Forces 3 through 5 will give you clues as to how many layers to add. If you think you see indicators for Force 6, you might want to give consideration to getting out of the woods.

Recognizing, through reading the grasses, limbs, or trash moving about, the winds below Force 6 will give a person a head start in dressing for the wind chill factor, i.e., dressing for how cold you might feel, regardless of what the thermometer shows.

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Weather is a constant companion when we are on the trails. Make friends with it, or, at the least, learn to recognize it as winter unfolds.

———-Run gently out there———

Walking, pace, effort…

Blathering about walking, pace, effort, and the Mongolfier Brothers
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When to walk…, I suppose the first, or primary, decision factor would be the course. There are courses where you hit the first walking point within a quarter-mile of the start because of hills. There are courses where your first walking point will be determined by the watch (or distance) as decided by you in some secret prerace strategy meeting with your inner self–flattish courses or track runs.

I knew one fellow who walked the first 30 minutes of an 8-hour track run and still covered 50 miles by finishing time.

Running versus racing might determine tactics as you go. What are the day’s intentions?
a_balloon_2So, what to do…  I practice walking uphill stretches, working on form. I sometimes will  go out with “run no ups today” in mind.

It is nice to have some places (flat, rolly, hilly–we have all three) with known distances where I could see how fast (or slow 😐 ) I was walking–we were always using 15 minute pace as a guide. Trying to get below it on flat stretches and hoping to not fall too far below the dreaded 18 on the ups (18 times 100 is 1800, 1800 divided by 60 is 30 … that is 30 hours and a cause for a certain amount of anxiety in some runs.)

I’m not giving you much of an answer, but there isn’t a well defined one. The body will feel better some days. The mind will be more cooperative some days. The course may determine it. The course may allow you to determine it.One last little up and
Walk early so you can run later. Don’t overdo the walking.

You need to practice (train) for walking just as much as you do for the rest of the stuff.

I don’t know anything about heart rate methods. I have never used one. If I am running and notice some people are walking as fast as I am running… time to switch to walking. It isn’t a pace thing. It is an effort awareness need. You need to run enough to know what effort you can hold for how long–that could trigger the run>walk switch.

You might also use the walk segment to get a nibble or drink down.Where Arlo Guthrie waited?Where Arlo Guthrie waited?

Find a course with a little variety in it. Practice running, practice the run/shuffle/walk [run the downs, shuffle the flats, walk the ups]–see what the time differential turns out to be. You slowly become comfortable with what you are doing to get yourself able to cover longer distances.

Practice the transition–
run>walk — don’t suddenly slam on the brakes. Take a few steps to change. The sudden decrease in effort is enough to cause warm muscles to cramp.
walk>run — don’t resume running too aggressively or you might suddenly grab a calf you just strained.

Sorry for the rambling, incoherency, and whatever errors you might find. I deleted a page or two from something much longer.

———-Run gently out there———-

Thanksgiving 2015

I have slept in the cold by the railroad tracks;
–I am thankful to have a warm house.
I have wondered where the next meal would come from;
–I am thankful for food in the kitchen.
I have buried friends and relatives;
–I am thankful to be amongst the living.
We have enough to share;
–I am thankful for the gift of sharing.
I have a loving and loved wife;
–I am ever thankful for her patience.
I am still upright, able to be in the forests I love.
–I am thankful.
—–
I think of the many in darkness;
–hoping you each find a light.
I hope the many doors to loneliness are opening;
–that you may find companions for your journey.
I pray the hatred goes away
–and smiles replace the scowls of anger and fear.
I hope more learn what a gift we are to each other;
–and those gifts are shared.

Peace and prayers for Thanksgiving to all — all.

chuckanut 008

———- Run gently out there ———-

Still not used to it

Something to add ramblings to…
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The giddiness of crossing a finish line has varied in degrees, but has never gone away. It might be because the ultramarathon does not lend itself to visualization. How many times do we hear (or utter), “I don’t even like to drive that far.” This is often accompanied by noting, on the way home, when you have driven the distance just run. jul_17_18 017My first ultra was a ten-lapper 50 km run at Green Lake in Seattle, Washington. There was no Internet, no Facebook, no nothing back then–the training had been done in solitude with no one to consult. There were days of training runs several hours long; my feet taking me here and there in the forest west of Olympia. A phrase that still wanders in and out of my mind was born on those trails, “No footsteps but mine”. There was little to write about except some idea of how long I had ran here and there.  A day’s run would end with a sandwich, a drink, and a look at the surroundings, “Did I really just run up there, across to there, down there, and…” The paradox of knowing I had, while always doubting I could, would grow into the unending appreciation for covering ground, sometimes quite a bit of it, on my feet. Even those days when I outran the water I carried or the days when the leeward side of the mountain was needed because I had neglected to look at the weather, again, were ended with a certain joy—joy for being done; joy for knowing I would return.late_summer_2011 072
Adjustments were made. I learned to eat for the running I was doing. A Three Musketeers candy bar was in a small bag attached to the web belt.  A conversation with someone whose name I never knew led me to having a second bag in that bag;  second bag  being full of chunks of baked and salted chunks of potatoes. A gallon jug of water was hidden at some allegedly strategic point as I drove to the day’s starting point. I paid attention to the westerly sky.  A small, but useful knowledge of the sky and its clouds, both good and bad, was slowly learned.  Gloves were carried most of the year.  Fog and wind were felt and tasted–salt on the wind told me it was an ocean breeze and rain would soon be on my shoulders. A pause at a junction; was the wind strong enough I needed to turn down into the protection of the valley?  Silence greeted most of my questions.  It would be a line of one of Gordon LIghtfoot’s songs, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy, that would come to mind on days when the wind was still; the rain somewhere unbidden; “When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.” IMG_2325
The absolute thrill, inner of shared aloud, of pointing at distant hills or valleys and saying, “We crossed that.” We had been at starting lines together.  We had left them with varying intentions.jul_17_18 143
Simple pleasures outweighed iowa_mn_end02aug 172
Where would you run if you had just one left?a_watching

———-Run gently out there———-

Veterans Day

U.S. Cemetery, Normandy, France, 18 October 2004

normandy
We had been walking around, looking here and there, and feeling the deeply emotional undercurrent. Kathy pointed at the beautiful white sandy beaches, saying, “It’s hard to imagine a battleground here.” I looked at the beaches, at a few rusting steel remnants of a beachhead from long ago; sand and water swirling around them–soon to be gone. I said something like, “Nature and sixty years can hide a lot,” and we paused to sit on a bench in the warm afternoon.

I started watching one old guy. I don’t know what drew my eyes to him, but I turned to watch him closely. He had a piece of paper in his hands. He looked at a cross; moved on. He bent to look at a cross; looked at his paper and moved over one row. I could see his head look to the left, then behind him at the rows. I still swear I could see his head nod as he counted, then he took a step to the right and looked. He bent briefly, touching the cross as if to steady himself–then he knelt. I nudged Kathy, “He found him.” “Him?”

He had found someone who had stayed behind so he could go home.

Thank you to all veterans. All. Everywhere. Always.

———- Run gently out there ———-

Veterans Day – 1

IMG_0340Brown Shoes and Black Shoes

There are these two old men that I see wandering here and there, never quite entering my running environment for some reason.  I have seen them when I am pedaling to the store, driving to the post office, or from a bus, but had never encountered them while on foot.  When I first saw them their number was three.  Time, being what it is, their age being what it appeared to be, a reduction in numbers was not unexpected, but I watched more closely during their next few appearances–yes, three had become two.

Of the two that are left and having no names to put with them, I know one always has on black shoes, brown corduroy pants, green flannel shirt, khaki jacket, and a herringbone hat with a blue ribbon that almost matches blue eyes that are undimmed by the passing years.  The other wears brown shoes, khaki pants and shirt, creased from the years of wear and many years of ironing.

On one bike trip to the store I was close enough to see the word “Normandy” on brown shoe’s baseball cap.  I was flying on the downhill, too fast to stop even though I was becoming aware of an emerging need.  That image on his cap, two smiles, and a chuckle as I zoomed on by were all that managed to be recorded in the abstractions of my mental scratch board that morning.

Yesterday as I turned to run up the last quarter mile of trail I could see Kathy talking to, hmm, two old men.  As I got close I could hear words, then a laugh, then black shoes pointed at me and said, “Better give the lad some room” and motioned for them to move over.  Kathy laughed and I stopped.  She explained they (brown shoes and black shoes) were picking mushrooms for soup, and they were showing her which ones not to pick.  Minutes passed, old fingers, bent from age, pointed at white mushrooms, red mushrooms, tan and black were disapproved. It is a good “crop” this year, black shoes said, brown shoes agreed, and sliced off a piece of a tan cap for Kathy.

A part of my mind was playing with faces and numbers–1944 minus 16 (some 18-year-olds had lied about those last two years just to be in uniform) would be 1928, which would make them 82-years, or so, old.  Okay, seemed to fit.

Mutterings about mushrooms continued back and forth.  My curiosity killing me I finally asked brown shoes about the cap.  “Were you at Normandy?”  “Yes.”  “What outfit?”  A pause, they looked at each other, then, “The 82nd.”  “Oh.”  There was an aura of quiet, me and my stupid curiosity and question asking.  “Rats.”  Then Kathy said, “St. Mere Eglise?”  Brown shoes looked at her, then looked at black shoes, both smiled, then he asked Kathy “Have you been there?”  “Yes, in 2004.”  Brown shoes thought out loud, “2004, sixty years gone by, quieter now, I suppose?”  “Yes.”

Four generations have come and gone since brown shoes and black shoes were born, just long enough to pass on the knowledge of which mushrooms to pick for dinner, and other things along the way.

———- Run gently out there ———-

Veterans Day – 2

Old Men and an Old Man on the Trails

jem_31_mar_2009_ft_ebey 132 (Medium)

Fall in the Pacific Northwest and the running gets quieter as the rains soften the leaf covered trails.  I parked the car and started running down the Kettles Trail.  I was headed for the old men up on Cedar Grove Trail–cedars and firs that have been shedding needles for two or three hundred years.  One old man, limbs bent from fighting the wind while seeking the sun for these many many years, always brings me to a stop.

Six feet thick he stands, most limbs bare, bark deeply grooved and fire scarred on one side.  Many times I have asked him what happened those summers and winters gone by.  Just as many times no answer was offered.  Three ravens were perched on his lower limbs one day.  They told me tales of winters gone by, of summers long ago.

Today at the fork leading to the old men was another old man.  He had a walking staff and stood to one side to allow me to pass.  I pointed left, saying he was okay.  He asked where my fork led.  I slowed.  You never know which interruption is to be an “important” one–which one is to becomes a memory–but the woods are not to be hurriedly passed through.  I paused.

I told of the loop I was heading up, to the old trees, the “old men” as I called them.  He said he was walking the trails trying to remember them from before the war.  They weren’t trails then.  They were logging roads.  Oh.  That war.  My father’s war.  He spoke of living and working out here, days at a time, never thinking of returning to town.  The sounds of the axes would stop in the evening and the bluffs would call.  He told of watching whales and ships and sunsets from the bluffs.

He asked of my running.  I said it’s not really running.  I pause to talk to trees and ravens and listen to the early songs of fall’s migrating birds.  I run the bluffs answering the same calls you did those many years ago.  Perhaps some of my whales were his whales before he left for less peaceful lands.

We talked of Vermont and of Georgia, of France and Germany, of the Pyrenees and the Rockies, of scattered families and friends, some gone, some remembered, some somewhere ever unknown to us.

He looked at his watch, smiled, “I must go and find my car,” he said.

I gave directions, offered my hand in thanks and farewell.  The twists in the trail separated us quickly as I headed for the old men to tell them of an old man.

Perhaps they would remember his passing.

Run gently out there.

November 2005