Monthly Archives: June 2015

Father’s Day 2015

A Last Call to My Father

I almost shouted into the telephone, “Hi, Dad! I won! I won!”

My father replied, “Does that mean you were second again?”

What? Oh. No. I was first overall. I won.

Three weeks ago I had called to tell him of the course record I had set at Le Grizz. Then I had to explain how I could set a course record without winning (I was second overall but won the masters division). Rick Spady, the overall winner, was so far out in front that he probably had no idea a race was going on somewhere behind him. I, in turn, had no idea of the assault I was mounting on the masters record for Pat Caffrey’s 50-mile course alongside Hungry Horse Reservoir just south of Glacier National Park in Montana. Larry Carroll and I had played cat and mouse for many miles. When I finally passed him that last time, I started running against the most challenging competitors I knew—the watch on my wrist and the unsympathetic demons in my head. It would be fun to pretend it was something romantic like the age-old “You do your best and the rest of the day will take care of itself,” but it wasn’t. I had simply raced my watch with little thought about how that would do in the overall standings.

I thought of that conversation and told him no. This time there was no one in front of me. I was the overall winner.

I was calling from a motel room in East Wenatchee, Washington, late Saturday afternoon. I usually waited until the trip was over and we were back home to call and tell him of the latest running trip. His interest was never at the level of excitement from years ago when I ran one lap or less—distances and events he could understand. He had never approved of this endurance stuff, these hours-and-hours-at-a-time runs—not good for your joints, he would say. Still I would call, perhaps still seeking his approval as any other aging child seeks a parent’s affirming nod. These last few years we had slowly bridged the gulf created those many years ago. It might be we had both learned along the way—surely he learned more than I—how was I to know of the abilities he had seen in me, tried to coax out of me during those years when I already knew everything? Surely his inability to talk was more the problem than my inability to listen.

This time, for whatever reason, I called before we started home. The 100k had started at midnight on Halloween, October 31, 1986. There were no aid stations. Kathy was up all night, stopping every three miles to feed and water me and whoever else was near. She was mysteriously correct at judging when I would want a dry shirt, a nibble of this, a drink of that, and all the while punching all the right buttons to keep the frayed ends of my mind together through that night.

Her mastery of my mind reached the peak as I took the lead at just past sixty miles and then labored through the paranoia- and anxiety-laden last few blocks as the course returned us to town and then the final turn up the two blocks to the finish line. I had won an ultra. We sat around waiting for the other events to complete. There was a 50k, 25k, and 15k being run on the same course. The staggered starting times made for quite a mix of finishers at the end. Finally everyone was in or accounted for, then various rounds of applause for awards, “oohs” and “ahhs” and cheers and laughter, rose and fell with each announcement, then finally died as the last runner was hailed.. Those of us from the 100k said good-bye or see you in a few weeks. Kathy and I headed to the motel, too worn out to consider the 150 miles back to Olympia.

The motel had an outdoor Jacuzzi—a Jacuzzi being a major selling point if we are not camping. After a shower and the requisite 47 minutes in the warm, whirling waters I decided I should call my father now instead of waiting. He should know of this one.

Hi, Dad! I won! I won!

Does that mean you were second again?

No. This time I was the overall winner.

Was this another 50-miler?

No, it was a 100 kilometers.

A 100 kilometers, how far is that?

Uh, just over 62 miles.

And you won?

Yes.

That’s a long ways to run.

Yes, my longest so far.

How long did that take?

About nine hours and fifteen minutes.

For the first time there was a conversation with all the old interest from the years of track and field—sprints, hurdles, and jumps. The years where my performances, though erratic on a grand scale and full of high potential, were more showcases of my bullheaded refusal to be coached than anything else seemed to be set aside. We talked for a few minutes, questions about the course, about the field, and so on; finally I said I needed to get some sleep before I fell asleep with the phone in my hand. His last words still echo so wonderfully clear:

Sixty-two miles; John, that’s a long ways to run.

Yes, it was a long night on the mountains.

And you won.

Yes. Yes, Dad, I did.

Good, that’s real good.

I didn’t have to pretend I could hear the soft chuckle of approval.

Bye, talk to you next time, Dad.

Good-bye.

Ten days later when I answered the telephone it was my mother calling to tell me my father had died that evening and I needed to come home.

Over the years I have been thankful many times for that last phone call with my father. We were left with many things still needing to be said, but we had said many other things. I am more thankful for what was said than I am remorseful for not getting to what we still had left to say.

———-Run Gently Out There———

Native Peoples Interlude

Trails have carried us to abandoned mines, logging camps, and a beaver pond one cold grey January afternoon. They have taken us to the historic Gila Cliff Dwellings and a sunrise on what seemed like the top of the Rockie Mountains just east of Pagosa Springs in Colorado. Somewhere in Maryland we got out of the car to stretch our legs–Kathy noticed a historic marker and a short trail took us to the birthplace of one Harriet Tubman. We learned long ago to pause long enough to see the writing on information posts, placards, signs, and such. Today’s gift was encountered on a run on some trails near Rosario Beach on Fidalgo Island here in Washington.  The story combines legend, history, and myth, Native American spirits, and visions of people gathered ’round a campfire to listen to an old story retold.

In case the words on the left in the first picture are not legible,
text
“This is not a “totem pole”. Totem poles were made by Native peoples of the North Pacific Coast such as the Tsimshian, Haida, and Tlingit of British Columbia and Alaska. A totem pole is a record of lineage (family history). It uses a relatively standardized vocabulary of animals and people.”
DSC01764
“Here in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and Georgia Strait), Coast Salish peoples carved or painted the doorways and large cedar posts of their houses. Carved and painted posts were also sometimes used to mark graves. The designs often tell how the builder of the house became wealthy.”
DSC01765
“This pole was made by Fidalgo Island artist, Tracy Powell; for the Samish people. It was raised here in 1983 by Samish families to celebrate their survival and honor their traditions.”
DSC01766
I look at these lines of historical information and am thankful for that day in 2009 when Kathy asked, “What about North Dakota?” I said, “What about North Dakota?” She explained about the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Reservation needing volunteers. We left our beloved Pacific Northwest; paused at Chief Joseph’s grave over in eastern Washington, ran on the trails of the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico with Aldo Leopold’s words in mind.  We even took a picture at one of the bridges of Madison Country before finally arriving in Belcourt, North Dakota for a year full of new people, peoples, stories–myth, history, and legend–Native American crafts and skills, and a constant reminder to always pause to read the story pages along the way.

———-Run gently out there———

Normandy Revisited

norm_blogA June 6th reflection

—–Brown Shoes, 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 have 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 have become two.

Of the two that are left, 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 shoes’ baseball cap. I was flying on the downhill—too fast to stop, even though I was becoming aware of an emerging need. That word 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 scratchboard that morning.

Yesterday as I turned 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—a good “crop” this year, black shoes said; brown shoes agreed and sliced off a piece of a red 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 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—ratz—then Kathy said, “Sainte Mère Église?” Brown shoes looked at her, then looked at black shoes; both smiled.  He asked, “Have you been there?” Kathy replied, “Yes, 2004.” Black shoes looked at her, then at me. “2004, sixty years gone by. Quieter now, I suppose?” Kathy nodded. “Yes.”

Four generations have come and gone since brown shoes and black shoes were born. Kathy and I have seen two more generations. Just long enough to listen to someone pass on the knowledge of which mushrooms to pick for dinner—and other things along the way.