Category Archives: Books

Running Into Books

Where was I running? Why did I pause? Which pause led to a question? Which question had no immediate answer? What was the first book purchased because of a “pause point”? These were the questions that formed the basis for today’s internal conversation as I ran.

I started running as a release from some problems at work–daily behavior and conversations that lead to what I now know as psychological violence. The cool morning air veiled me in an hour of solitude that was the release, the escape, the magic carpet–the gift that would become part of my life. The first few weeks, maybe as many as eight or ten, the running was a mechanical release with only the barest knowledge–I was running about an hour. There was no more knowledge needed.

The mechanical curiosity of “Can I run a 10k?” came and went. I can look at the inside cover of the first running book to see when the questions about running started being answered. February 23, 1985 is the date of my first marathon. All questions now created by running revolved around pace and training. April 13th a few more questions, still centered on pace, some about heat and hydration were answered as I ran my second marathon. Three weeks later I was at the starting line of the Avenue of the Giants Marathon. A shift was about to happen.

I ran with eyes turned upward. I ran, almost pirouetting as I went, with no regard for pace. I don’t think I actually stopped while on the course. I can clearly recall slowing too much for some runners. It was the first marathon I felt was done with little conscious discipline. I turned where a race official said to, but other than that the “Giants”, those huge, majestic, and ancient trees took all my attention. The next day I walked amongst them. No answers were being sought. I just walked beneath those huge branches a hundred feet and more above me. That was enough–no questions seemed to call. I drove home.

One of many pause points
One of many pause points

As spring turned to summer, my running routes slowly became the trails I stumbled across. The quiet was there. The voices stilled. The running was less structured. The running library had competition from Edward Abbey and Aldo Leopold. The Monkey Wrench Gang competed with Catton’s Overshoot as my feet found Capitol Forest; a multiple-use forest a few miles west of Olympia. I also know that the different tree barks, needles, cones, and silhouettes were not yet asking me to stop and see what I was passing through.

Eclectic education
Eclectic education

A month free from pay-to-run runs let me think more about the where and what; that led to the ‘ologies—biology, geology, climatology, criminology, dendrology, ecology, meteorology, metrology, glaciology, lithology, nephology, orology, selenology…

The rocks at my feet or in the nearby Cascades needed to be seen. The wind that whispered or roared and pushed the rising and falling tides and moved the morning fog to where is should be begged of learning. The glacier was once over a mile thick here—that thought should cause you to stop and look up.

The ‘ologies came calling as the trails and seasons changed.

Tide, rocks, trees, sky...
Tide, rocks, trees, sky…

Scribbled notes were attached to the cobwebs of my mind. They were put there with no particular purpose. They come back with a simple, “Do you remember…” inserted into a conversation. I need to see more of what I pass through. I cannot do that when racing. What if I were out longer than a day? What if what I saw went from a few things to many and I did not keep notes?

Long walker
Long walker

They weren’t notes, not notes as we kept in school. They were notes made on the scratchpad in my mind from standing in front of a tree staring at the bark, at the leaves (even learning to see “needles” as leaves was a learning point). The forests detracts from the rocks, from the sky, from the trail. They demand. They command. A giant redwood on the Aptos No Creek Marathon stood at a switchback and its presence caused me to skid to a stop. The idea of a sub4-hour trail marathon vanished; gone. My eyes went upward. My neck craned. I paused to wonder… how old, how tall, how long have you waited. A book was needed.

Trees--young and old
Trees–young and old

That could be it. The redwoods hold a special place in my heart, but in the Pacific Northwest they have a surrogate, the Western Redcedar. The redwoods are two state lines south. The cedars are around me almost every run. Do I have more books about trees than books about other things?


No. In a totally invalid statistical study I removed (randomly) ten books from the shelves that are never completely organized. There are no books about trees to be seen in the stack–not a one. There are two books about running. There is a book about tides. Tides, as surely as trees, have caused many pauses.

Ships, tides, clouds
Ships, tides, clouds

Tides and ships and fog are part of our life on the island, but I did not live here when the running-driven book collection started. I looked at the books. The book about Death Valley was bought after one of our trips when we camped and ran there–a singleton. Unseen in the picture are the three books about ravens that were next to Matthiesssen and Hutto’s books.

Migration, turkeys, solitude
Migration, turkeys, solitude

It could easily have been ravens, or a single raven, that finally forced the needed learning, haphazard and random as it may be, to start. Birds are ever present. They are barely visible high above and clearly heard under the brush at my feet. Birds are large, small, skittish and quick to flight or bold and full of curiosity. They tell of seasons changing–with some luck and blind trust they can be used as a compass. Ravens or owls or all the birds I have seen or ever will encounter? Could one more book selection (randomness of the draw guaranteed) tell me?

If you see a pattern...
If you see a pattern…

No. The only clues offered from these six would be of the eclectic nature of the reading in this house. A last resort is to seek assistance from the local research center.

“Do you remember the first book I bought because of pausing on a run, or why?”
“Owls, you bought a book because of an owl in Capitol Forest–on the trail near Wedekind.”

Fog, prairie, bird, grasses
Fog, prairie, bird, grasses

Owls? Yes, that would work. We watch migrating birds high overhead. We see an eagle, seldom up close, and it often flies before we are through looking. Quail are skittish and gone to the bush before truly seen. Owls, thank goodness, are curious. They wait to see what you are doing. One watched me as I changed bottles one day. An owl can cause me to stop and sit–the sudden stillness on one or two occasions caused a slow descent on the branches as it watched me for sudden movement. They are large, medium, or small. The live in trees or in burrows. They are beautiful in the silence of their movement. Yes, an owl seen on a run could cause a pause that would pique the curiosity that would lead to buying a book not related to running.

No rhyme nor reason
No rhyme nor reason

It certainly wasn’t women…

———-Run gently out there———-

Terry Tempest Williams

Running influences my reading just as reading influences my running.  These  five books written by — Terry Tempest Williams — fit very well with open spaces, running, and things real or imagined as we see where we are.

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

Finding Beauty in a Broken World

Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

The Open Space of Democracy

Coyote’s Canyon: A Collection of Stories

———-Run gently out there———-

The Last Season — book review

The Last Season -- Eric Blehm
The Last Season — Eric Blehm

In my weird way of classifying books I read I have put the following on the same shelf:

John McPhee — Encounters with the Archdruid
Bernd Heinrich — Ravens in Winter
David Laskin — The Children’s Blizzard
Aldo Leopold — A Sand County Almanac
Edward Abbey — several
John Vaillant — The Golden Spruce
Jon Krakauer — Into Thin Air
Diane Ackerman — The Moon By Whale Light
Gretel Ehrlich — The Solace of Open Spaces
Timothy Egan — several
Edwin Way Teale — his four seasons series
Barry Lopez — Arctic Dreams
John Muir — several

David Roberts’ Alone on the Ice and Finding Everett Ruess and Alfred Lansing’s Endurance are, oddly enough, in another room.

Last night I finished Eric Blehm’s The Last Season, a story about a back-country ranger who worked many summers in the High Sierra, only to one day disappear. I added it to my eclectic shelf. Blehm captured the outdoors, the high country and the low; the cold and the hot; forests and water and quiet as well as any of those occupants of that same shelf his book now rests on. In a book about the outdoors, he brought the occupants to life as much as the mountains in which the story takes place. As I read The Last Season I went back, either in memory or by footsteps to the bookshelf, to check, relive, or reread something I had almost forgotten. It is one of the most captivating and pause creating books I have had the pleasure to read in quite a while.

—–Run gently out there—–

Thinking — required or not

Thinking… a not oft’ occurring condition in these parts. Kathy and I had dinner with a friend yesterday. He is 82. He returned a book, Blame It On the Rain by Laura Lee. The book led to conversation about how weather guides our activities — if we can at least guess at what is out there waiting for us.

Sundown on a guessed-right-about-the-weather run
Sundown on a guessed-right-about-the-weather run

Living in the Pacific Northwest weather sneaks up on us from the southwest as the clouds are pushed over the Olympic Peninsula; from the southeast when the Aleutian Low moves down and inland as the seasons change; from the north and northeast when the Polar Vortex exercises its influence on the weather systems north of the 45th Parallel. The North Pacific High draws the cooling air down from the Alaskan coast and keeps our summers mild and, in ‘normal’ years, keeps the snow at a viewing distance instead of a driving challenge.

These two systems, the Aleutian Low and the North Pacific High, create a slight problem for us as we head out the door. Do we look to the southeast, northwest, west — where will our weather come from for this run? How should we dress?

A not quite friendly sky... but, still beautiful
A not quite friendly sky… but, still beautiful

A second weather book: Weather Wisdom by Albert Lee, became a read-several-times book as I learned I needed to be able to look at the sky, not the weather channel. Oops… something in the oven… be back in a few minutes… this is not complete.

Sunrise at Seiku, Washington -- Vancouver Island, BC, Canada on the left
Sunrise at Seiku, Washington — Vancouver Island, BC, Canada on the left

When we are on the road I try to get up before sunrise, partly to see the sunrise, partly to look at the sky–hoping I am looking in the direction we will travel.

The sunrise that went on and on and on...
The sunrise that went on and on and on…

Most places we have lived the weather comes from the west. In Arkansas the thunder would boom and roll in from Oklahoma. In North Dakota the winds from the north would be cold; from the west would bring snow—here on the island the morning was filled with a sunrise that went on and on, while the weather-bringer, the sky behind us, was calm that day.

This is not the day to try to run the beach around to the zigzags
This is not the day to try to run the beach around to the zigzags

Somewhere along the way I started looking at tree branches or flags, looking at the movement of a flag almost straight out from its staff–listening for when the trees quit swaying and started cracking. We have left the woods quickly on some days. Other days the wind stayed gentle, the trees merely danced for us as we ran. If the wind is not here, a rare occurrence, the fog comes to play or stay. The sound of the wind in the trees is replaced by the many-toned fog horns. The ships don’t really care what is out there. They just want to know where it is.

Visibility never got over a half mile on this day, but we saw an owl
Visibility never got over a half mile on this day, but we saw an owl
An hour later I was running in open desert
An hour later I was running in open desert

Only (almost) in the Pacific Northwest can you leave the rain forest green sogginess, cross a pass like this an hour later and in another hour be running in open desert enjoying the sun—with the almost always present grey clouds capping the Cascade Mountains just an arm’s length away.

A partly-cloudy day -- looking into the Glacier Peak Wilderness ≈65 miles away
A partly-cloudy day — looking into the Glacier Peak Wilderness ≈65 miles away

If we can see those mountains… we might forget most of our weather comes from behind us.

The run is over -- time to sit and watch for whales.
The run is over — time to sit and watch for whales.

On this day the Seattle weather people talked of heavy rain. The snow was falling thick and heavy about forty miles to our right. We are in a “rain shadow” and seldom have snow on the ground or days above 70ºF during the summer.

—–Run gently out there—–

Book Reviews — Joss Naylor and Bob Graham Round

Two smallish books arrived in the mail yesterday; maybe properly called booklets; one about twenty pages, the other a few over forty.  They can’t be about any significant adventures being that few in pages, can they?

naylor_scan0001 naylor_small

Here in the U.S. they might be more appreciated by runners east of the Mississippi where the valleys and peaks are many, but not so tall as those out west.  The debate over which is more difficult–a series of medium length ups and downs versus the five-mile, six-mile, and even longer climbs or descents of the Rockies, Sierra, or Cascades–will never be settled.  That is as it should.  It is there as conversation as well as physical and mental challenge.  These books deal with those lesser nuisances; the constant ups and downs.

The books:

Joss Naylor MBE Was Here : A personal account of the complete traverse of the ‘Wainwright’ Lakeland peaks, Joss Naylor, M.B.E. (The shorter one.)  KLETS, Braithwaite, UK   ***A special thanks to Jacqui Byrne for alerting me to this being available.***

42 Peaks : The Story of the Bob Graham Round, Paddy Buckley (2005) & Roger Smith (1982), Brian Covell  — Hayloft Publishing, Cumbria, UK

were written long before blogs, e-mail missives, and other text limiting devices came on the scene.  The pictures are black and white–leading the reader to view and imagine.  Midges and rocks, roots and burning sun, grassy slopes where naps should be taken are only to be crossed as quickly as possible.  A finish line awaits.

Both books provide just enough words to lead a person to put the book down and let the mind wander–and wonder.  They both remind us that the challenge someone faced in 1932 is still there in 2014 (maybe all our batteries will go dead).  History begs us to come, retrace!

—–Run gently out there—–