Vaguely remembered from somewhere else:
To someone who understands, no explanation is necessary. To someone who does not understand, no amount of explanation will suffice. I had rolled those few words around in my head for the last several miles, first trying to get them in the right order (while not being sure there was something real to recall), then, while on a trail miles from the nearest Google point, trying to attribute them to someone. I could not; then comes the hardest thing to do with a phrase or tune that has settled into the conscious mind while on a run—I tried to forget it until I got home. To someone who…
It had started with “Why are you running?” shouted at me as I was careening down a set of switchbacks surrounded by dense underbrush. I was looking down, concentrating on roots and footing with only minimal glances forward in case there were hikers coming at me. The question broke in on my concentration. I broke stride and looked up to see four alarmed-looking faces, each trying to see up the trail behind me—behind me? “Why are…—behind me? I looked at them. The woman, evidently the one whose shout I had heard, repeated, “Why are you running?”
I stopped. I looked at her and her companions, two of them looking at me, the other one still looking up the trail somewhat apprehensively. “I was running because, uh, well, these are the trails I run on.” “You mean there is nothing chasing you?” Chasing me? Now I looked up the trail. “No, not that I know of, I was just running because these are the trails that I run.” The woman who had first shouted at me resumed the interview by asking, “Aren’t you a little old to be running around alone out here?” Miffed that my latest dose of Grecian Formula 44 was obviously a failure, I nodded agreement and ran on down the trail.
Why was I running? To keep my resting pulse in the forties? To justify the largest shoe rack in the neighborhood? To continue to be able to wear the same size Levis I wore in high school? Because one of these times I am going to do this 10.2-mile (certified, standardized, scrutinized, and stamped) loop without catching a root? It certainly wasn’t because I was training for something—the earliest I might show up at a starting line was October up on Orcas Island, maybe. Why was I running? The reasons and incentives to run are many and varied. I once ran home because Kathy had got back to the trailhead first and drove home, leaving me a note on the hikers’ registration box, “You can make it before dark if you hurry.”
I might be running because I am in the year of my father’s death. There are weak hereditary links between why he died and why I might or might not. One doctor assured me the overall health running gives me had long ago negated any inherited physiological defect. His assurances were couched in just enough medical qualifiers to prevent them being facts. As best I can determine the chances of my keeling over and becoming a search and rescue object are so slim that on a normal day’s run they don’t raise conscious thoughts or cares, and anyway, it would be preferable to watch one last sunset while gasping for breath ‘neath a tree that first broke ground before Columbus weighed anchor than to rest not quite comfortably on the cold tiles of a kitchen floor awaiting the sound of an approaching first-aid kit on wheels.
We actually went out one afternoon because Kathy found one of those calorie calculators and calories-burned-per-mile charts then asked what I was fixing for dinner. Enchiladas. With guacamole? Yes. Sour cream? Yes, and black beans and jasmine rice, too, why? After a few minutes of silence, the reply came, “We need to run twelve miles before dinner.” Oh, why? You counted what? Oh, hmmm, should I mention the mantecaditos? No. No, it is best not to say anything now. Why are you running? Because the almond shortbread cookies (with flaked coconut added), of which I have been known to eat a bowlful with only one glass of milk, are known to beckon at two o’clock in the morning, and I baked 63 of the little rascals just before we left the house.
Mooses! A quick exclamation, a check of the rearview mirror, then hard on the brakes and I pulled off onto the shoulder. We were out of the car and across the road in seconds. Kathy asked where, and I pointed to the left at a small hill we were approaching. We slowed as we got to the skyline, then edged forward to look down at the meadow—noiselessly, we thought, we crept forward. Oh wow! There were two moose calves just below us, next to the creek at the edge of the meadow. One was standing in the water eating grasses along the edge of the creek; the other seemed to be just enjoying the sun. We had been watching for a few minutes when Kathy quietly asked where Mom might be—hmmm, the calves are sort of small looking—Mom? I don’t think she would leave them alone. Mom! Apparently Mom did not think we should be watching her calves and (how did she get that close?) had come to ask us to leave. I recalled that a quiet voice will sometimes soothe animals, so I started talking quietly (Kathy later asked why I chose that moment to start reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade) as we tried to move backward to get some trees between Mom and us. Mom snorted and charged. We turned and ran for the trees. Someone up above will someday tell me how far we ran (a quarter mile and more fer shure), how far Mom ran (probably only a few steps), which animals bet how much on whom that day just south of Yellowstone, on down by Lewis Lake, and how many variations on why we were running were heard that night in the burrows and caves, meadows and creek sides in the Tetons.
The daydreaming that familiar trails allow was broken by the trilling of the ravens that live about a hundred yards in from the end of the pavement. The trailhead was in sight. I could see a runner coming toward me. As we met she smiled and said, “Beautiful day for running.” “Yes,” I replied, “yes, it is, and that’s a good reason to run,” and the thought came back to me, “To someone who understands…”
Run gently out there